Monday, February 13, 2006

Busting the myth (Lies) of the Screen quota.

By Haisan
FNY Guest Blogger

There are so many misconceptions and half-baked ideas about the screen quota and what it means for Korea, I find it really depressing. After reading a lot of myths and conjecture and silliness, I thought I would add my 20 won.

Some points:

1) The “real” screen quota was 106 days, not 146. You could get the quota lowered by showing Korean films at high periods. Which, since Korean films make more money than Hollywood films, happens anyway. Under the new quota, however, those loopholes will be closed, so now 73 days really is 73 days, and the reduction is much less drastic than what looks at first glance.

2) Hollywood cannot out-leverage Korean films. Korean film companies control the movie theaters, so it would be suicide to kick out their own films for Hollywood. Korean blockbusters make more money than Hollywood blockbusters. The average Korean film makes more money than the average Hollywood film. A theater owner would have to be an idiot to kick out Korean movies for Hollywood films.

Taegukgi – 11.7 million attendance Silmido – 11.1 million The King and the Clown - 10.0 million (and counting) Friend – 8.2 million Welcome to Dongmakgol - 8.0 million Shiri – 6.2 million JSA – 5.8 million My Wife is a Gangster – 5.7 million Marrying the Mafia – 5.1 million

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – 6 million attendance (biggest foreign film ever) Two Towers – 5.2 million Titanic – 4.5 million Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – 4.3 million King Kong – 4.2 million Troy – 3.8 million

In fact, increasingly Hollywood film companies don’t even bother trying to release their films here (especially the comedies) because Korean usually don’t go see them. For the past 2-3 years, Korean films have been taking in about 60% of the box office, and in the countryside, the preference for Korean movies is even stronger.

3) The screen quota did not stop the Korean film industry from sucking (economically) in the 1990s. So I don’t see why it gets credit for the resurgence since 1999. There is no correlation between quota enforcement and industry success.

Korean films have gotten successful specifically by learning the business of Hollywood — less “art”, more entertainment. While that may make the highbrow crowd sad, that’s how the market works. Unless you have consumers that demand interesting works and go see them, companies are not going to make them.

That said, I find Korean tastes quite interesting. OASIS did quite well at the movie theaters a few summers ago. All the big blockbusters this Christmas tanked,(BLUE SWALLOW AND TYPHOON) while some average comedies kicked butt. Michael Bay’s THE ISLAND made more money in Korea than it did in the United States (thanks Hwang Woo-suk, I guess).

The screen quota is, and has always been, fool’s gold, imho. I have had plenty of people in the industry tell me that they don’t care about the quota anymore, and that they think the quota makes no difference (always off the record, of course… don’t want to get your butt demonstrated by saying the wrong thing).

One of the more amusing things to me is reading old articles from the last time the Korean government tried to abolish the screen quota, around 1998. Many people said words to the effect of “Korean films are doing so poorly (around 20% at the time), there’s no way they would survive at all without the quota. If they were getting around 40% of the market, then we could talk.” Cut to a few years later when the Korean films are doing better than anyone could have imagined a few years ago, and the exact same people are still saying the same thing (minus the 40% idea).

The big problem is not the screen quota, but what it represents to many people. Several people at the Coalition for Diversity in Moving Images (the civic group most responsible for ensuring the quota is followed) are die-hard union guys, with barely an interest in the film industry. For them, this is basically a hot-button issue to rally the masses, and is part of their general goal against trade liberalization — not saying that is good or bad, just that the quota is part of a large agenda for many.

Same holds true for many opposed to the quota… They know that the quota is doing nothing to hurt the US film industry, but it is symbolic of larger goals.

The funny thing is, one of the Korean government’s tools to appease the film community is a 5% tax on tickets to create a film fund to support independent films. So basically the US film industry has lobbied to reduce an ineffectual, symbolic bit of protectionism, and replaced it with a real drain on their revenues. Nice going.

He is so right (Lotte and CJ(CGV) have there own cinemas and Im sure others do as well here in Korea.)Look at Lotte and CGV history of being competetors to see that they do not play nice together. I have seen US comedies here and I am usually the only one laughing. The american and Korean humor is different and this is true.

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