Korean movies have drawn over 100 million viewers in 2012. The Korean Film Council on Monday said the number of people watching Korean films this year totaled 99.61 million as of Sunday. "Since at least 200,000 people on average watch Korean movies on a weekday, the 100-million mark will be reached on Tuesday", a council spokesman said.
The 100-million mark is a milestone in the 93-year history of Korea's movie industry -- although there is still some controversy, the first Korean-made film is considered to be "Loyal Revenge" released in 1919.
It means that each Korean watched two Korean movies on average this year. The near 200-percent per-capita viewership of local movies is far ahead of the U.K. (99 percent), Germany (35 percent), France (35 percent) and Japan (49 percent) -- all figures as of 2011.
Start of a Renaissance?
"The 100-million mark heralds a renaissance in the Korean film industry", said Kim Eui-seok of the council. The Korean movie industry had witnessed a sharp growth in viewership since 2000 but peaked in 2006 with 97.9 million viewers before sputtering. The market share of Korean movies, which soared to 63.8 percent in 2006, dropped to less than 50 percent, while the profitability ratio tanked at -43.5 percent in 2008.
But so far this year Korean movies account for 59 percent of the market, and industry insiders expect it will spell the end of the slump.
What is behind the latest surge? Kim Young-jin at Myongji University credits a number of well-made films that appeal to a wide spectrum of viewers.
"The Thieves" and "Masquerade", two blockbusters financed by a major business, set box-office records of more than 10 million viewers, while some other films achieved solid success by drawing 3-5 million viewers with fresh approaches toward their subject matter. As many as 27 films released this year have drawn over 1 million viewers.
Another key factor was the appeal to a wider audience. Korea placed fourth in the world in terms of the number of moviegoers this year after the U.S., France and Australia.
"A wider variety of genres appealed to a broader audience", said Kim Bo-yeon at the council. Retro melodrama "Architecture 101" set in the 1990s and "Unbowed" about social injustice have brought those in their 30s and 40s back to theater. These age groups have complained that the country's entertainment industry has been only keen on targeting teens and those in their 20s.
Can It Last?
But the Korean movie industry is still plagued by problems that critics say need to be resolved to take advantage of the momentum.
"We won't be able to keep skilled production crews unless their rights are protected and they are decently paid and provided with continuous training opportunities", said Choi Jin-wook, head of the Federation of Korean Movie Workers' Union.
And Cho Jung-joon of the Korean Movie Producers' Federation warns, "The 100-million mark could also be a sign that the local movie industry is saturated. We need to tap into foreign markets and other revenue channels, such as IPTV and DVD copyright".