24 Hours With Gaspar

Busan Talking Points: Korean Box Office Blues; Netflix Effect & Southeast Asia Rising

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It’s been far too long since I sent out an edition of Streamlined, thanks to a crazy travel schedule with trips to Manila and Jakarta, followed by back-to-back festivals. I’ve been pumping it out for Deadline, but taking a moment here to summarise some recent impressions from festivals and markets – first Busan, touching on a few trends in the East Asian film industries, then a second newsletter looking at Pingyao and mainland China.

As it’s been so long since the last newsletter (and such a busy time in the global film and streaming industries) the links round-up is crazy long, so I’m splitting it into categories across a few different newsletters. This edition includes a round-up of the biggest production, corporate and ‘cancelled’ stories, including recent Middle East festival cancellations.

We were halfway through Busan when the news about the Israel-Hamas war broke and already this tragedy is having a ripple effect across the global content industries. Everything has become politics in these troubled times, but we can only hope that culture and ‘content’, whatever that word means, will remain one way to keep communication and mutual understanding alive.


Korean Theatrical Market Continues To Suffer

It became clear during Busan International Film Festival, an event that has tirelessly supported the theatrical experience in Asia for the past three decades, that the Korean box office has still not recovered since the pandemic, especially for local films. Blockbusters released during Korea’s recent Chuseok holiday (September 28-30), including Kang Je-Gyu’s Road To Boston and Kim Jee-woon’s Cobweb, failed to perform to expectations, following the disappointment of films such as CJ ENM’s The Moon over the summer. Currently there are just three Korean films in the 2023 Top Ten, including The Roundup: No Way Out ($77m), Smugglers ($36.6m) and Concrete Utopia ($27.6m). Last weekend, the Korean box office failed to collectively earn more than $5m.

Cobweb

Many theories were being shared during Busan as to why this is the case, but the most obvious factors are the Korean market’s rapid transition to streaming, with audiences opting to stay at home to consume content, and the fact that cinema chains almost doubled their ticket prices when the pandemic ended. I encountered a similar situation while visiting the Philippines where audiences are also shunning local films.

Meanwhile, admissions are recovering in markets like China and Indonesia where streaming is also popular but exhibitors and online ticketing platforms are keeping ticket prices low. I also heard a theory in Busan that Korea has built one of the strongest film industries in East Asia, but the machine it has created is too large and unwieldy to react quickly to changing circumstances. Ironically, less developed markets have a better chance of turning the Titanic around.


What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Netflix

Comments I heard during Busan regarding the world’s biggest streaming disruptor in the context of the Korean film industry ran from “Netflix is going to save us all” to “Netflix has created a dictatorship”. I also heard many comments about how it’s wonderful that Korean content now has a large global audience thanks to Netflix and other streamers, but how Korean independent cinema is dying, and all the streaming shows are starting to look and sound the same. Meanwhile, issues over Korean industry working practices and non-payment of residuals continue to rumble on. However, no producers or filmmakers seem to want to go on record with international press about these issues because they’re all pitching their latest projects to the streamers…

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