February 02, 2006 19:01
Multi-million-dollar production budgets and stellar casting equaled box office disasters for Korea's most anticipated blockbusters last year.
2005 saw the release of some of the most expensive Korean movies ever made. But the public's response was anything but warm. In fact, box office sales were downright depressing. So where did they go wrong?
For example "Typhoon" drew a lot of hype by focusing on the divided Korean Peninsula and a US$15 million budget, which though tiny compared to Hollywood outlays, made it the most expensive Korean film ever made. But only 4.2 million people saw it, far short of the 6.2 million it needed to break even.
Movie critics say one of the main flaws of big-budget Korean movies is an overdependence on special effects. "Big-budget films like ‘Typhoon’ didn't have strong storylines or characters to appeal to audiences. People couldn't easily relate to the story. Also, Korean viewers these days have grown more skeptical of glossy marketing campaigns,” one critic says.
Let's look at another example. “Blue Swallow,” full of stunning panoramic aerial views cost almost $10 million, but it crashed and burned at the box office attracting no more than 600,000 people. Set during the Japanese occupation of Korea, viewers saw the characters as either oblivious or sympathetic to Imperial Japan.
By contrast, "The King and the Clown", which cost just over $4 million, is on a roll; more than eight million people had seen it 34 days after its release, making it already the third most-watched movie in Korean history. What's working, critics say, is solid acting, a unique-yet-convincing plot and flirting with a taboo topic: homosexuality. Based on a true story about a Korean king and his jester during the Chosun era, critics say the movie could be changing the way films are made here.
"I expect there will be more movies with a budget around $5 million dollars that don't necessarily have a cast of top stars. Instead, producers are likely to start focusing on providing a well-thought-out plot and of course, unique subjects,” a critic says.
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