The Korea Herald


Top film distributors compete with summer blockbusters

NEW, Showbox, CJENM, Lotte Entertainment gear up for releases but there are risks to their success

By Kim Da-sol

Published : July 16, 2023 - 18:23

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Four new blockbusters are set to hit local cinemas this summer, complete with large production budgets and star-studded lineups. Film distributors hope to attract large audiences in the aftermath of the pandemic, but moviegoers' expectations remain low.

With the abundance of high quality content available on streaming platforms and soaring ticket prices, Korean audiences have shown a growing trend of consuming content at home, only venturing to cinemas if the ticket is truly worth the price. It remains to be seen whether struggling film distributors will find success with their upcoming summer releases.

“Smugglers” (NEW) “Smugglers” (NEW)

First on the list of new films this summer is director Ryoo Seung-wan’s crime action flick “Smugglers,” distributed by NEW. With a production budget of around 20 billion won ($15.8 million), the film tells the story of the residents of a peaceful seaside town, many of whom are involved in smuggling. Director Ryoo’s flagship sense of humor and the film's star-studded lineup -- Kim Hye-soo, Yum Jung-ah, Zo In-sung, Park Jung-min, Go Min-si -- are expected to attract moviegoers. However, some speculate that the film will be yet another cliche crime flick, mimicking “The Thieves” (2012), only this time with a female-led cast. The film opens in cinemas on July 26.

“Ransomed” (Showbox) “Ransomed” (Showbox)

Next on the list is “Ransomed,” directed by Kim Seong-hoon, featuring Ha Jung-woo and Ju Ji-hoon, a familiar duo from “Along with the Gods.”

“Ransomed” revolves around the story of a diplomat, Min-jun (Ha), and a local taxi driver, Pan-su (Ju), in Lebanon. Their mission is to rescue a fellow diplomat. The film is Ha’s first silver screen work after he was fined 30 million won in 2021 for illegal use of propofol in 2019, violating South Korea's Narcotics Control Act.

Some 20 billion won has been injected into the project, which involved a 6 month-long shoot in Morocco and includes realistic car chasing scenes, according to the distributor Showbox. Chemistry between the actors and the director is somewhat guaranteed as director Kim worked with Ha on the 2016 thriller “Tunnel,” and with Ju for the Netflix hit series “Kingdom." However, negative public sentiment over the increasing incidence of celebrity drug scandals may hamper the success of Kim's work. The film is set to open on Aug. 2.

“The Moon” (CJENM) “The Moon” (CJENM)

Third on the list is “The Moon,” which will be distributed by CJENM, whose film business has struggled in recent years. The SF adventure “The Moon” had a production budget of about 28 billion won.

Helmed by “Along with the Gods” director Kim Yong-hwa, the film features singer and actor Doh Kyung-soo, who plays an astronaut, Seon-woo, who is abandoned on the other side of the moon. Sol Kyung-gu and Kim Hee-ae appear in the film as characters embroiled in an emotional tug-of-war over whether they should save Seon-woo or not.

The film’s scale, detailed set design and sophisticated use of computer graphics are key points of anticipation for audiences. However, Korean sci-fi flicks have generally been unpopular -- “Space Sweepers” (2021), “Seo Bok” (2021) and “Jung_E” (2022) all failed to attract moviegoers. Coupled with Korean audiences' growing fatigue and sense of deja vu over the slew of Hollywood space survival flicks like "Gravity" (2013) and "Interstellar" (2014), the film's upcoming success may not be guaranteed. "The Moon" opens on Aug. 2.

“Concrete Utopia” (Lotte Entertainment) “Concrete Utopia” (Lotte Entertainment)

Last on the list is “Concrete Utopia.” Based on the second part of the hit webtoon series “Pleasant Neighbor,” the film tells the story of apartment residents whose lives are in danger in the aftermath of an earthquake. The film had a production budget of 20 billion won.

Director Um Tae-hwa portrays Lee Byung-hun, Park Seo-joon and Park Bo-young as desperate residents fighting to survive in their partially collapsed apartment. Although the plot line may be relatable to our everyday lives, as many Koreans spend a lot of time in their apartments, not many webtoon-inspired films have had much success here. There is also the risk that this kind of disaster flick often concludes with a predictable, melodramatic ending. The film, which is distributed by Lotte Entertainment, hits cinemas on Aug. 9.