With the country in a buoyant mood after last week's news that Korean films leapt 7.8% to take a 46.1% share of the Seoul market in the first half of this year, the signs are promising that a string of new Korean films will also score at the local box office.
The Spring season opened with the unexpected and encouraging box-office success of The Way Home, a modestly-packaged feature about a young boy who goes to live with his grandmother in an isolated country village. Directed by Lee Jeong-hyang, the film has earned over $20m at the box office, out-grossing Spider-Man and The Lord Of The Rings, and secured a high-profile sale for English-speaking territories to Paramount Classics.
Now, further encouragement is coming from the performance of Kwak Kyung-taek's Champion, which after just 16 days on release has grossed $8.6m from 1.6 million admissions in the territory. Even the frenzy surrounding the territory's co-hosting of the World Cup didn't prevent local comedy Bet On My Disco from achieving a $2.8m gross over its first four days on release. The film has now reached $7.1m after five weeks.
Looking ahead, a number of mid-budget films from talented directors are moving into production. Park Kwang-su, a veteran director known for politically-themed works like Black Republic (1990) and A Single Spark (1996), is readying The Trigger, his first venture into the realm of fantasy. Featuring a massive outdoor set replicating a military guard post, the film will tell the story of a soldier on duty who is visited by a female ghost.
Festival favourite Kim Ki-duk has also started principal photography on his eighth feature, titled The Shoreline. The story of a marine who accidentally shoots a man whom he mistakes for a spy, the movie will mark the first time Kim has worked together with a major star. Jang Dong -gun, who starred in the all-time local box-office champ Friend and the recent 2009 Lost Memories, is expected to considerably boost the box-office potential of this $600,000 film. Mid-level studio Korea Pictures will finance and distribute the work, which is expected to debut in November.
Although Mil-ae (working title) is technically director Byun Young-ju's first feature film, she has already gained a strong reputation for her trilogy of documentaries about "comfort women" forced into sexual servitude under Japanese forces in World War II. Mil-ae, which stars Kim Yun-jin from the film Shiri, is based on a novel about a woman who discovers her husband's infidelity, and then begins an affair with another man. Financed and handled by major studio Cinema Service, the film is expected to bring a feminist sensibility to the year's offerings.
A number of potential box-office smashes are also in mid-shoot. Fresh Wind, Bright Moon (Cheong-pung-myeong-weol) will be Korea's highest-profile martial arts film since Bichunmoo was released in 2000. The story of friendship and rivalry in medieval Korea will star Jo Je-hyun, the talented lead from Kim Ki-duk's Bad Guy, and is directed by Kim Ui-seok, whose romantic comedy Marriage Story from 1993 is one of the decade's most famous works.
Lastly, leading production company Myung Films will unveil its biggest-profile project since smash hit Joint Security Area (2000) with YMCA Baseball Team, the story of Korea's first baseball team in 1905. Amidst the backdrop of Japan's colonisation of Korea, the comic drama will try to take advantage of Koreans' heightened interest in sports after the World Cup. The film is handled internationally by E Pictures.