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Year-End Review of Korean Films in 2023

Dec 29, 2023
  • Source by Cine21
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The Year 2023 in 6 points


Although the COVID-19 pandemic has ended, the Korean film industry has not fully regained its pre-pandemic vitality. Nevertheless, various noteworthy and high-quality films have attracted audiences, compensating for the lost viewership. Here is a summary of the Korean film industry with keywords to mark the end of 2023, focusing on the Korean box office.



Two movies with more than 10 millions admissions: THE ROUNDUP: NO WAY OUT and 12.12: The Day


In the cold atmosphere of the 2023 Korean theaters, two Korean films with over ten million viewers each were born. The first half of the year, The Roundup: No Way Out, and at the end of the year, 12.12: The Day brought spring back to the theaters.


After the pandemic, it seemed like the guarantee of success in the Korean box office had disappeared, but looking at the momentum of The Roundup series, actor Don Lee might be the only actor with ticket power. His starring and produced action film The Roundup: No Way Out (released on May 31) surpassed 10 million cumulative viewers, breaking the cold streak of consecutive box office failures for Korean films in the first half of the year. As of December 22, according to the Korean Box-Office Information System, the exact number of viewers is 10,682,813. While it didn't surpass the 12.69 million collected by the previous film, The Roundup (2022), it became the first Korean film this year to surpass 10 million viewers, continuing the series' successful streak with back-to-back hits.


For reference, the first film to record over 10 million cumulative viewers this year was Avatar: The Way of Water, released on December 14, 2022. Avatar: The Way of Water became the first foreign film to surpass 10 million viewers after the pandemic.


The second Korean film to achieve 10 million viewers of the year recorded this milestone on December 24. 12.12: The Day starring Hwang Jung-min and Jung Woo-sung, drew a cumulative audience of 10,065,533 in just 33 days after its release on December 24. Even in the sixth week of its release at the end of the year, 12.12: The Day's seat occupancy rate remains strong.


Furthermore, 12.12: The Day, which is based on the December 12 military coup, caused a sensation among audiences, creating an interesting meme. Evidence of the audience's anger was seen mainly among viewers in their 10s and 20s, who, while watching the movie, checked their heart rates with smartwatches and shared them on social media, leading to the trend of the so-called 'Heart Rate Challenge.' The actor Hwang Jung-min's previous work, Hostage: Missing Celebrity (2021), in which he played the lead role, was even unexpectedly re-screened. The distributor NEW discovered interesting memes about the released film on social media and, along with the CGV theater chain, decided to re-screen Hostage: Missing Celebrity. This film is a reality action thriller in which actor Hwang Jung-min, even within the film, is kidnapped as a hostage and engages in an extreme escape drama for survival. The concept of the special screening was introduced as 're-screening for vicarious satisfaction.'


It remains to be seen how far the sprint of 12.12: The Day, which conquered the Korean film box office this year, will go this year.





The continued popularity of animation films


From buzzworthy releases to breaking long-term screening records, Korean theaters were predominantly driven by animations this year. Starting in early 2023, the Japanese animation The First Slam Dunk created a sensation, followed by Suzume in March. In June, Disney's animation Elemental surpassed 7.23 million cumulative viewers, securing the 3rd place in this year's overall box office after The Roundup: No Way Out and 12.12: The Day. The cumulative audience for two animated films released in the second half of the year reached an impressive 19,728,006.


The animation that led the way, The First Slam Dunk was released on January 4 and, within 14 days, accumulated over 1 million viewers. It claimed the top spot at the box office on its 24th day. Currently, its total cumulative viewership is 4,791,298, ranking 6th in the overall box office for the year. Furthermore, it continues to set unprecedented long-term screening records, starting IMAX re-releases on December 13 and expanding screenings from January 4 to 17, 2024, including a special screening of The First Slam Dunk: COURT SIDE in Theater, which includes a talk event with the director Inoue Takehiko. Initially targeting audiences who had read comics in the 1980s, the film gained popularity among teenagers and 20s. In response, the film attracted more attention with various events such as cheering screenings and voice actor stage greetings.


Continuing the baton from March, Suzume is the latest work by director Makoto Shinkai, known for your name. With a total cumulative audience of 5,573,778, the film secured 4th place in the overall box office. Notably, Makoto Shinkai, who surpassed the impressive record of over 3.88 million viewers for his previous work your name., met with Korean audiences on December 24 and 25 during a two-day visit. As part of the visit, a special screening of Suzume was held, and starting from January 10 next year, there are plans to screen a documentary about the making of the film, titled Making Documentary of Suzume.


Despite a slight lull in June, Elemental entered the scene, and in October, the much-anticipated return of director Miyazaki Hayao, who had announced his retirement, The Boy and the Heron drew attention once again. The return of the great director was also a hot topic, but it attracted 2 million viewers due to criticism that it was difficult and favorable reviews that it was a masterpiece. There were also memes that transformed the long title and unique poster design. The Japanese jazz music animation Blue Giant released one week before Miyazaki's film, smoothly surpassed 110,000 viewers. It went viral with its live performance and solid storytelling, and audiences who watched the movie multiple times appeared one after another.



​Love Reset



A hierarchical shift in box office results


In the challenging landscape of theaters where even reaching one million viewers is a difficult feat, the success of movies seemed to follow the trend of either a 'jackpot or a flop.' Among them, low to mid-budget films, which were not highly anticipated, also performed well. From August to October, films such as Honeysweet, Sleep, and Love Reset were released one after another, all receiving positive reviews from audiences and performing well. ​Honeysweet, starring Yoo Hae-jin and Kim Hee-seon, unexpectedly attracted 1.38 million viewers, approaching the break-even point in terms of theater revenue. Both Sleep, starring Jung Yu-mi and Lee Sun-kyun, watched by 1.47 million people, and Love Reset, starring Kang Ha-neul and Jung So-min, which surpassed 2.16 million viewers, exceeded the break-even point, recovering production costs. In particular, Love Reset surpassed Cobweb, starring Song Kang-ho, and Dr. Cheon And The Lost Talisman, starring Gang Dong-won, to claim the top spot at the box office in October.





Meanwhile, Korean major investment and distribution companies, collectively referred to as the 'Big 4,' received somewhat disappointing results for their Korean blockbusters released during the summer peak season. Director Ryoo Seung-wan's Smugglers (released on July 26) attracted 5.14 million viewers, and Concrete Utopia, starring Lee Byung-hun (released on August 7), surpassed 3.84 million viewers, allowing both films to break the break-even point. However, Ransomed and The Moon, released simultaneously in the first week of August, despite investing hundreds of billions of won in production costs, did not succeed at the box office. Ransomed, starring Ha Jung-woo and Ju Ji-hoon, attracted 1.05 million viewers, while The Moon, the latest work by director Kim Yong-hwa of Along with the Gods, gathered only 510,000 viewers. Cobweb, targeting the Chuseok holiday season, attracted 310,000 viewers, and Dr. Cheon And The Lost Talisman, with 1.91 million viewers, unfortunately left the theaters.





Cinemas embrace live performances


Documentaries featuring live performances of K-pop artists have attracted audiences to the sluggish theaters in South Korea. In February of this year, the live performance movie BTS: Yet To Come in Cinemas by the group BTS led 920,000 viewers to theaters. In March, trot singer Lim Young-woong's IM HERO THE FINAL gathered an impressive 250,000 viewers. These live performance movies continued to be released almost monthly, injecting vitality into the Korean theaters in 2023. As of now, 11 films have been released, with 2 more scheduled for release consecutively in November and December. They have become a new source of energy for Korean theaters that have seen a decline in audiences since the COVID-19 pandemic.





One significant factor contributing to the success of live performance movies in revitalizing theaters is the high ticket prices. The cumulative box office revenue of live performance movies is more than twice as high as that of ordinary movies with similar audience numbers. In reality, IU Concert : The Golden Hour was priced at 22,000 KRW, and My SHINee World was priced at 23,000 KRW, with no telecom discounts applied. The ticket prices for live performance movies are higher than the weekend prime time ticket prices of ordinary movies, which are set at 15,000 KRW, allowing them to generate revenue equivalent to about 1.5 seats of a regular movie per seat. The audience for live performance movies, mainly composed of fans of the artists, finds the movie ticket prices significantly more affordable compared to concert ticket prices, which typically range around 150,000 KRW



The popularity of streaming shows based on Korean webcomics


Movies and dramas adapted from South Korean webtoons have found success as original content on online streaming platforms. Choosing webtoons that have undergone initial validation for both popularity and artistic quality, these productions are crafted within Korea's robust production environment, and through global distribution networks, they synergize with audiences. Many of the successful online streaming platform movies and dramas this year are based on South Korean webtoons.


The Netflix original series D.P. released its first season in 2021, becoming a leader in Korean content for the platform. Based on the webtoon D.P. Dog Day by writer Kim Bo-tong, the drama recorded 2.9 million views shortly after its release, reaching the 5th position in Netflix's TOP 10 TV shows (non-English) category. The Disney+ original series Moving, which gained popularity in the second half of the year, entered the TOP 21 in the worldwide TV show category upon its release. It also claimed the top spot in South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, and Hong Kong. Analysts suggest that the growth of Disney+ subscribers in Korea, reaching 1 million, was influenced by the success of Moving. Additionally, the Netflix original series Mask Girl, based on the webtoon by authors Maemi and Heesae, secured the 2nd position in the Netflix TOP 10 globally. The webtoon-based Doona! by author Min Song-ah achieved 1st place in Netflix TV shows in nine countries, including Korea, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, and India (data provided by FlixPatrol).





More stars visiting Korea for the promotion of their movies


After the end of the pandemic, overseas filmmakers brought vitality by visiting South Korea. Not only Hollywood filmmakers but also Japanese actors and directors actively engaged in promotional activities in front of Korean audiences. They participated in press conferences with Korean media, walked the red carpet events with fans, and even appeared on popular Korean YouTube channels to actively promote their films.


In May, James Gunn, the director of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3, along with actors Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan, and Pom Klementieff, visited Korea as the first stop on their world tour. In June, Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie, the director of Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One, along with cast members Hayley Atwell, Simon Pegg, and Vanessa Kirby, Pom Klementieff met with Korean media for an extensive 1 hour and 40-minute press conference. This marked Tom Cruise's 11th visit to Korea. In July, the lead figures of Barbie, Margot Robbie, America Ferrera, and director Greta Gerwig created a buzz by making their first visit to Korea.





From Japan, actors Satoshi Tsumabuki from A Man, director and actor Sho Miyake, and actress Yukino Kishii from Small, Slow but Steady, and director Shunji Iwai from Kyrie met with Korean audiences. The film Monster, which recorded the top box office for independent art films in the fourth week of December, brought lead child actors Soya Kurokawa and Hikari Higashi to Korea for a stage greeting on the fourth week of its release. Even at the point of surpassing 310,000 viewers, the stage greeting sessions for the two actors were sold out within 2 minutes of opening reservations, showcasing their popularity.



By Chae So-ra

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