The South Korean Film Industry in 2011

Made to support and promote South Korean films, the KOFIC has published this detailed overview of the year 2011*, trying to analyze trends & numbers. Quite an interesting reading, here are some of the highlights;


Haeundae (Tidal Wave) was the biggest box office hit of 2009. Two years later, in 2011, the producer & director are back together with another big budget project – Sector 7, in 3D this time, hoping to repeat this past success. The formula seemed right – Hollywood-like entertainment, but it didn’t work as planned.

The major South Korean hits of 2011 were totally unexpected: the feudal action-packed film War of the Arrows (7,449,316 admissions, 615 screens), the nostalgic & colorful melodrama Sunny (7,431,821 adm, 471 screens), plus Punch (4,768,185 adm, 500 screens) & Silenced (4,555,891, 643 screens).


Some of these films have had an impact on society. Raising social issues such as sexual abuse or racism, these films launched a national debate!

It had such an impact that the South Korean Parliament even passed a law protecting young children & disabled women from abuse – increasing the maximum penalty to life in prison. For your information, there was no opposition at all during the vote.

The first film is Silenced, based on a real-life event, a man starts working at a school for hearing-impaired children only to discover that the children are being abused by their teachers.

The other film, Punch, is about a weird teacher helping one of his students to accept his Filipino mother. Knowing that the number of intercultural marriage in South Korea has increased over the years.


Why blockbusters failed to attract large audiences this year? According to the KOFIC, this could be quite easy to understand, 2011 was a pre-electoral year: the audience was more open to political & social issues.

Another idea, the quality of movies. For example, Sector 7 or Quick, from the same producer, were heavily criticized by both critics and viewers: poor CGIs, bad stories…

Sector 7: The Beauty & the Beast in 3D. Hum, yummy?

When asked about the box-office failure of Sector 7, the producer only saidPersonally, I can’t really accept the criticism about the CG technology“, adding, “Of course, I think critics might not be talking only about the quality of the technology itself, but when I think of the hard work MOFAC Studio put in, there is some unfairness to it.” — All about CGIs, is it reassuring?

As for 2012, the KOFIC wonders “what kind of strategy and plan does the Korean film industry have? How do they reflect the public’s interest and bring people to the theater?


In 2010, more than 92% of South Korean screens were multiplexes! That’s 1860 screens out of a total of 2003. That’s pretty huge, considering most major multiplex chains are directly associated with important distributor/production companies.

Status of Multiplex

And sometimes, it’s the same company! For example, Sunny was produced by CJ Entertainment, which owns the multiplex chain CGV. Same thing for War of the Arrows, with another company, Lotte.

The meaning? Obviously, these big companies are producing & screening their own films. There’s (almost) no room left for small/different productions.

Also, these monopolies dictate their own terms. When small projects are lucky enough to be screened, they have no other choice than to accept some constraints: time slots, number of screenings per day…

No wonder some producers are pissed.


2011 was considered to be an important for South Korean animation, as animated film Leafie sold over 2.5 million tickets. Yet, the producer of the film stated he had some difficulties to convince theater owners to screen the film, during the evening hours — they’d rather program a blockbuster.

Why? Because Korean animation has yet to prove itself. Because just like any independent projects, there’s no guarantee of commercial success.

Leafie was screened during the morning hours, attracting mothers and their children, which were hopefully the target audience – after all, it’s a children story. But what happens for a more adult project when the screenings are scheduled in the morning? What are the chances of success for something like that?

Lady Leafie Vengeance ?


An independent South Korean film becomes a success when more than 10,000 tickets are sold. Not much, compared to the previously mentioned hits.

Some of these projects can be selected to film festivals (Rotterdam, Berlin, Cannes…), helping them to gain some international exposure or recognition. Recent exemples include films like Yoon Sung Hyun’s Bleak Night, Park Jungbum’s Journals of Musan, or even Kim Ki-duk’s Arirang.

But overall, locally, it seems complicated for independent filmmakers. Some films can receive financial support from the KOFIC, or to be sold to foreign countries (France, US)… Still a struggling situation?

*The KOFIC publication was published in November 2011, which explains why some details are missing – number of screens, box-office of the year… Should be available in the next annual publication

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