Erotic movies, often with scenes of nudity, are hugely popular in Korea. Ignited by "Lust, Caution," which drew 3 million viewers in 2007, the fervor continued throughout last year with "Portrait of a Beauty" attracting 2.5 million and "A Frozen Flower" 4 million viewers. Then came "The Reader," starring Kate Winslet, and "Elegy," with Penelope Cruz. About 60 percent of those booking seats for the last two are women, and 20 percent of them are in their 40s or older, according to movie booking site Maxmovie.
Apart from the fact that it stars the winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress, "The Reader" is also drawing the crowds with sex scenes between Winslet and a boy 15 years her junior. "Elegy," too, has been noted besides quality -- it was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival -- for lingering shots of Cruz's breasts.
That nudity alone is not enough was shown by the disappointing turnout of "Shortbus," which was finally released after two-year struggle between the distributor and the rating board but drew only 16,000 viewers.
"Normally, erotic films appeal to the voyeurism of spectators. But when a film contains too many graphic scenes, people are naturally put off by the idea of watching it together with strangers. They usually end up watching such film at home instead of going to the cinema," says Shim Eun-jin, a professor at Cheongju University's Department of Performing Arts and Film Arts.
A film should also have an emotional appeal. "The reason why these films have been successful was because they not only had strong sex scenes but also a powerful story that won the hearts of viewers," said Hwang Sang-min, a psychology professor at Yonsei University.