It was down. Now it’s up. Due to the jamming of downtown areas of Korean cities by political protests through November, the newspaper Chosun Ilbo identified a nearly 50 per cent drop in Korean cinema attendances, when compared to November 2015.
The paper didn’t state whether the drop was because potential ticket-buyers were abandoning cinemas to protest or because movie fans just couldn’t access theaters.
In any case, December’s first weekend saw the trend reverse with an increase of 300,000 admissions for the top 10 movies over the same period in 2015. And if the political protests are fueled by national pride, could it be any coincidence that the charge to usurp Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was led by Korean films — of which the populace is equally proud?
Annoying Brother, featuring Cho Jung-Seok and Do Kyung-Soo as comically antagonistic siblings, while no big hit, claimed a 30% market share, doubling its opening week take to reach 2 million admissions (US$14.3 million).
In second place was M-Line Distribution’s Missing, which is aimed at tapping the peninsula’s seemingly insatiable appetite for child abduction dramas. Featuring actress Uhm Ji-won as a woman who finds that her nanny (Kong Hyo-Jin) has absconded with her baby daughter, Missing snatched US$4.6 million (U.S.) over the weekend.
Patriotic Koreans may well lament their industry’s lack of access to Chinese theaters. On that count, the Japanese production company Toho had plenty to brag about as its animé blockbuster Your Name pushed aside all rivals on its mainland China release. Just a million dollars shy of the revenue accrued by Fantastic Beasts in its opening last week, Your Name rang up a robust US$40 million.
The animé powerhouse will likely have stronger legs than the J.K. Rowling tentpole has exhibited across the region. Fantastic Beasts recorded notable week two plunges in mainland China, Korea and Taiwan, where it saw a 59% drop and was bested by Disney animation Moana.
Paradoxically, the territory where Fantastic Beasts remained strong was Japan
Paradoxically, the territory where Fantastic Beasts remained strong was Japan, where it held the number one spot over Your Name, conjuring an additional US$5.9 million. However, Your Name has now become the third biggest box office hit ever in Japan — no mean consolation prize.
Back in China, Hollywood films — the slightly censored Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (current total US$9.9 million) and Moana (US$1.6 million) — followed Fantastic Beasts in third and fourth place, respectively, pushing Chinese films down the charts.
Occupying fifth spot was Sword Master, a Tsui Hark/Derek Yee collaboration, which took US$7.5 million. And in sixth was Super Express, a street-wise comedy about a Shanghai courier (Chen He) who falls for mysterious woman played by Korean actress Song Ji-hyo.
The Chinese-Korean-French coproduction is Song’s second Chinese project after her appearance in the romantic drama 708090 earlier this year. That film only made US$46,000 when it was released in May, so the US$4.1 million earned by Super Express indicates China’s ban on Korean productions may actually be working in her favor.