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The South Korean production sector's push towards dramas and romantic comedies appears to be intensifying, following the box-office failure of big-budget genre pictures in recent years. This trend peaked in September with the box-office crash of Natural City, the last in a string of expensive science fiction features which were greenlighted in 1999 and 2000.
These days, Korean investors and producers are pushing an altogether different type of film. The autumn season has seen a host of romantic comedies featuring well-known young television actors start up production. Although such films have less international sales potential outside Asia, they can be made on a comparatively cheap budget and are popular with younger audiences.
Most of Korea's big distributors have lined up one or several romantic comedies for the coming year, with Cinema Service (Don't Believe In Her, Nae Sarang Ssagaji, Baram-ui Jeonseol), Showbox (Geunyeo-reul Moreumyeon Gancheop), and Tube Entertainment (Happy Erotic Christmas, Annyeong! U.F.O., ...ing) among the most enthusiastic.
However serious dramas, often based on events from history, are also making headway following the huge box-office success of Memories Of Murder this spring. Cheong-yeon, the second film by Sorum director Yoon Jong-chan, focuses on Korea's first woman aviator from the 1920s, and is set to open production by the end of October. Barber Of The President, which opened shooting in September, presents Korean history from 1961 to 1979 through the eyes of a man who becomes president Park Chung-hee's personal barber. Veteran director Im Kwon-taek is also weighing in with Haryu Insaeng, a politically-charged tale of gang life in 1960s Korea which is expected to be ready by Cannes 2004.
Even the industry's two major blockbusters aimed for release this winter focus on historical events from the 20th century. Cinema Service's Silmido, which wrapped on October 4, is based on a 1971 revolt by spies trained to infiltrate North Korea. Meanwhile the $13m Taegukgi, which has completed 95% of its scheduled shooting, focuses on events from the Korean War.
Apart from these two trends, only a few high-profile genre projects have managed to secure funding this year, and these are strongly coloured by the style of their respective directors. Nangman-jagaek (literally: Romantic Assassins) is the third work by director Yoon Je-gyun, a rising directorial star whose first two works My Boss My Hero and Sex Is Zero grossed $17m and $21m respectively. His new film, which wrapped on October 21, combines martial arts wizardry with a spoof of Hong Kong ghost stories.
Meanwhile Ryu Seung-wan's Arahan, starring his popular younger brother Ryu Seung-beom in the lead role, will hope to tempt audiences with supernaturally-tinged martial arts action, as well as doses of humour. Director Ryu, who has gained a name for himself with the hard-boiled style of Die Bad (2000) and No Blood No Tears (2002), finished shooting on his latest work on October 7.