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Monday, June 3, 2013

Korean Box Office: Star Trek Leads Hollywood Onslaught (05/31-06/02, 2013)

Local fare continues to be overwhelmed at the Korean box office as it scored a meagre 17% market share compared with a much healthier 54% last year. What's more, despite a number of blockbusters on offer, business was also down with only 1.69 million tickets sold overall, down from 2012's 2.04 million during the same weekend.

After a record-breaking 1st quarter, business for Korean films has slowed down considerably in the past few months. Though this is traditionally a period of Hollywood dominance, Korea's weak performance is a little surprising. Fatigue due to an underwhelming Spring slate is likely the key factor. Though this slump may continue through June, business should come soaring back this July when a number of hotly anticipated tentpoles (Mr. Go 3D, Snowpiercer) invade the market, though with Korean cinema there's always the chance that something will surprise in the meantime.

TitleRelease DateMarket ShareWeekendTotalScreens
1Star Trek: Into Darkness (us)13/05/3030.10%507,571678,312607
2Furious 6 (us)13/05/2218.10%339,9691,457,181455
3After Earth (us)13/05/3016.90%325,906395,952484
5The Great Gatsby (us)13/05/166.50%121,8841,306,690293
6The Croods (us)13/05/164.70%96,695672,325327
7Iron Man 3 (us)13/04/254.00%77,4318,968,826266
8Rockin' on Heaven's Door13/05/301.30%26,22436,770172
9Before Midnight (us)13/05/221.10%19,937122,87783
10Happiness for Sale13/05/160.50%10,663331,33675

In line with predictions, Star Trek: Into Darkness brought in 507,571 admissions during its debut. Not exactly blockbuster status but still a significant improvement on the former installment's 300k start. The Star Trek franchise doesn't really have any market value in Korea and while J.J. Abrams' films are designed for all comers, most local viewers are looking at this as specialized fare. Though the film has been garnering strong reviews, it's unlikely to perform very well in the coming weeks. Look for a finish that will fall short of the two million mark.

Following a good start Fast and the Furious 6 went the way of its predecessors as it fell 45% for 339,969. The drop is hardly surprising and could have been a lot worse considering the two new blockbusters that invaded theaters this weekend. The film is about 150k from beating the previous franchise entry Fast Five and may make it over two million within a fortnight but that'll be as far as it goes.

The Will/Jaden Smith sci-fi vanity project After Earth, from director M. Night Shyamalan (though not marketed as such) started off on Thursday almost neck and neck with Start Trek but ultimately settled for a paltry 325,906 admissions. The film has been roundly panned by critics and is already suffering from poisonous word of mouth as its market share fell from 22% on Thursday to 16% on Sunday. At this rate, even one million may be a bridge too far.

Going into its third week, the well-received local thriller Montage (starring Uhm Jeong-hwa and Kim Sang-kyung) eased off 36% for 286,987. The film should cross the two million mark within days, making it the only bright note for the Korean industry's Spring performance to date.

Closing out the top five was The Great Gatsby as it saw its take almost halved to 121,884 while crossing 1.3 million admissions.

Further down the chart, Kpop star Lee Hong-gi's star vehicle comedy melodrama Rockin' on Heaven's Door tanked with 26,224 admissions. This flop follows a string of Kpop-movie failures as once again the enormous success of the Korean Wave fails to translate to the screen.

Debuting at number 30 with a slim 339 tickets sold was Sleepless Night, one of the best-performing Korean films on the festival circuit during the past year and my personal favorite of 2012. It's local failure is sadly unsurprising, further demonstrating how difficult it is for independent fare to compete in a studio-controlled marketplace.

After seven weeks of Hollywood dominance, next week should finally give us a new local number one with the Showbox action-comedy-thriller-drama Secretly, Greatly. Reviews are not strong but star Kim Soo-hyun is likely to attract a large youth audience to the mutliplexes that should be enough for first place. Also posting low to moderate numbers will be Hollywood actioner Olympus has Fallen and Horror Stories II, the first entry in 2013's K-horror season.


The Korean Box Office Update is a weekly feature which provides detailed analysis of film box office sales over the Friday to Sunday period in Korea. It appears every Sunday night (Korean Standard Time) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at Korean Cinema News and the Weekly Korean ReviewsReviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

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