Annual cinema admissions in South Korea have passed 100 million for the first time since 1973, according to a report issued by film company IM Pictures.

Continued multiplex growth, a move to Friday openings and a strong lineup of imported and local titles are credited with boosting the total to 103 million admissions in 2002, a 16% rise on the previous year.

Fuelling the rise in admissions has been the expansion of the exhibition sector, with an estimated 180 more screens added in 2002, pushing the total close to 1000. Market leader CGV holds about a 19% share of total admissions with 92 screens in 11 venues.

Korean films are estimated to have captured between 45-46% of their local market, only a shade below their groundbreaking performance in 2001. However, beneath the impressive numbers lie indications that profits are shrinking at many production houses.

Total production costs (including p&a) for the Korean films released in 2002 amounted to some $193m, a massive 110% rise from the previous year. Although increased production explains part of the rise (78 feature films were released in 2002, up from 57 the previous year), a glut of investment capital has led to vastly increased spending on budgets and particularly on p&a costs.

Total revenues, including ancillary markets and international sales, amount to $153m, leaving a $40m shortfall to date. A similar study carried out by IM Pictures last year found a $24m surplus at the same point in time.

Many describe the Korean industry as going through an adjustment phase, as film investment returns to more normal levels after the highs of the past 18 months. The high profile flops of several big-budget films such as Resurrection Of The Little Match Girl also appears to have thrown a new note of fiscal caution into companies' plans for the upcoming year.