The Korean movie industry has sold 100 million tickets as of Tuesday. On average, a Korean watched two domestic films. Even the U.K. (99 percent) and France (35 percent) did not come close to Korea`s mark of around 200 percent. The Korean film sector has opened a new chapter in its history with its record popularity and "Pieta" director Kim Ki-duk, who won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival in September. Two Korean blockbusters have each attracted more than 10 million viewers: The Thieves and Gwanghae: the Man Who Became King. The milestone was also thanks to other hits that had more than three million to four million viewers such as Architecture 101, Unbowed and All about My Wife. Korean filmmakers did not get complacent and tried new themes and genres to expand the scope of viewers from those in their teens and 20s to those in their 30s and 40s.
In the past, the Korean movie industry relied on imports as audiences liked only Hollywood movies. Things have greatly changed since then. With the growing influence of Korean movies, Hollywood works are released in the absence of Korean movies. Korean movies have made significant progress as talented people created a competitive film infrastructure and a more mature distribution market.
When the government decided to cut the screen quota, or the required number of days that Korean theaters had to show Korean movies, in 2006 before the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement was reached, the Korean movie industry blasted the move, warning of weakening cultural sovereignty. The sector, however, gained more from the opening. When the ban on the direct import of foreign movies was lifted in 1988, many mistakenly worried that Korean movies would die out. The Korean movie industry competed and tried hard to survive the opening of the market. As a result, they achieved the milestone of 100 million viewers.
Of course, the mark also came with an oligopoly in screens, lack of diversity, and the gap between movies. Director Min Byeong-hoon decided to stop showing his critically acclaimed movie Touch earlier than expected. His action was a backlash against showing movies alternately because he failed to get a screen. As conglomerates have stronger power in investment and distribution, blockbuster movies hog screens and drive out lower-budget movies, which discourages the diversity of Korean cinema. Indie movies get no chance to attract viewers because they are aired once in the morning and once at night in the first week of release.
Before raising a toast over the mark of 100 million viewers, the Korean government and movie industry should think of how to retain public attention to domestic movies. Mainstream films can grow stronger only if the sector has an environment for coexistence with innovative and creative works. Success cannot last long if a few movies drive the whole industry.