Monster flick "The Host" is poised to overtake the "King and the Clown" with the most successful run in Korean movie history. The film's distributor Showbox says 12,238,450 people had gone to see the movie as of Aug. 31. If the trend continues, a new record will be set around noon on Saturday since some 12,301,289 million tickets were sold for "The King."
The fallout has been remarkable and bizarre. Between the film's opening on July 27 and Thursday, sales of canned bai-top shells -- a shellfish snack -- jumped 56.1 percent at E-Mart superstores over the same period last year, purely due to the snack's cameo appearance in a memorable scene where the hero played by Song Kang-ho opens up a can of the snack, which looks reminiscent of the monster in the film. The actor who plays Song's father, Byun Hee-bong, is a veteran of the movie industry, but it was this role that has brought him star status. Ko A-sung, who made her big-screen debut with the film, is also getting a lot of attention.
Then there is Han Se-a, whose character gets attacked by the monster as she listens to music on her headphones. Although she appears in the film for a grand total of eight seconds, she has been labeled the "monster girl" and has developed quite a following on the Internet. The Seoul municipal organization that manages the Hangang Citizens Park has said it plans to set up info boards in three places including the southern tip of Dongjak Bridge, where the family has their first run-in with the creature, due to public curiosity in the movie's locations.
Now films selling 10 million or more tickets come out once or twice a year. In 2004 there was "Silmido" (11.08 million) and "Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War" (11.74 million), and this year there were "King" and "Host." So how many seats will the next big Korean blockbuster sell? According to statistics from the Korean Film Council, last year’s total number of moviegoers was 145,524,176.
The distributor of "The Host" has estimated that when all is said and done the film will have been seen by 13.5 million: a 9 percent share of the market. Last year, the average number of films each person saw was 3.03. In the U.S. it was 5.2 in 2004. If all the multiplexes that are planned get built and the movie industry expands to fill that capacity, the era could soon be approaching where 250 million come to the theaters every year. In that case, a 9 percent market share would mean 22.5 million tickets sold.
"If you combine the numbers from 'The King and the Clown' and 'The Host', their market share stands at 17 percent," a Showbox staffer says. "It’s a no longer just a dream to think of releasing a 20 million-ticket-selling movie, and even four 10-million ticket movies seem possible." But the hangover "The Host" leaves behind is concerns over a monopoly. The film opened on July 27 on 628 or 38 percent of the nations 1,648 screens. "The King," by contrast, opened on just 272 screens, and by its sixth week, it was being shown on the most screens with 364.
Critics say the movie industry is demanding diversity but has in fact achieved the reverse, even if unintentionally, with the numbers for "The Host." "Since it was shown in all the large theaters, by number of seats it actually took up 68 percent," Prof. Kang Han-sup of Seoul University of Art says. "We have to regulate this legally and institutionally."
Others say it is only natural for the market and consumers to dictate the outcome in a capitalist society. Some also point to the complicated relationships of vested interests between producer and distributor, and to a certain uniformity that exists in Korea. "The monopoly controversy is out of order," said Cho Sung-kyu the general director of Sponge Entertainment. "The number of consumers who enjoy diversity is rather small, so it is ridiculous to call it a monopoly."