Amid escalating tensions between North Korea and the United States, it appears to be business as usual in South Korea — one of the keenest, most sophisticated moviegoing hubs worldwide and a major market for Hollywood and local fare.
There has been no significant sign of turnstiles slowing in the country over the past few days as the DPRK and Donald Trump trade threats and fiery words in a combustible situation. Executives we’ve heard from say they’ve seen no impact on box office, with a sense that folks are used to strains with their neighbor. The Korea Times writes today that locals have become “numb” to North Korea’s threats “after living beside the unruly regime for decades.”
On Friday, the leading film at South Korean multiplexes, Jang Hun’s buddy picture-cum-political thriller A Taxi Driver, grossed an estimated $2.65M to take its cume to $44.6M after 10 days. It was up from $2.3M on Thursday. The Showbox release was the previous weekend’s champ.
The No. 2 film on Friday was Lotte’s newcomer Midnight Runners, which grossed $2M, rising from $1.8M on Thursday, per Kobiz. The police comedy from director Jason Kim is followed by New Line/WB’s horror spinoff prequel Annabelle: Creation, which also is new to the market and doing well.
“South Korea’s prime moviegoing demo are teens to mid-twentysomethings,” one exec noted. “It’s a sophisticated audience like the U.S. who also monitor Rotten Tomatoes and make their moviegoing decisions off that aggregation site.”
Entertainment stocks have seen some impact amid overall volatility. Shares in megaplex owner CJ-CGV closed Friday down 9.6%. Distributor Showbox is down 8.2% this week, despite a 1.4% increase on Friday. And, retail and entertainment giant Lotte fell 3.9% this week, including a 3.2% drop on Friday. In general, analysts have said the current situation is not expected to have long-term impact.
Elsewhere on Thursday, the 13th annual Jecheon International Music & Film Festival opened in North Chungcheong Province. The largest fest of its kind in South Korea features 107 movies from 34 countries this year, kicking off with Etienne Comar’s Django Reinhardt biopic Django, which also opened the Berlin Film Festival back in February. The Jecheon festival is expected to go on as planned.
This is not to say that South Korea is immune to the pressures of geopolitics, though its recent issues mostly have been with China. In February, diplomatic tensions increased between South Korea and the PROC over Seoul’s decision to deploy the THAAD anti-missile defense system. At the time, there were reports that Middle Kingdom gatekeepers had placed restrictions on Korean entertainment and entertainers in response to the talks surrounding THAAD. Chinese state media warned Lotte that it was “playing with fire that could inflame regional relations.” Lotte is Korea’s fifth-biggest conglomerate and also owns the golf course site of the U.S.’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense. Some South Koreans themselves protested the THAAD deployment.
Demonstrating the local mindset, the Korea Times reported that the North’s missile threats this week have not even had a notable effect on South Koreans’ plans to vacation on Guam. The same day that Trump responded to North Korean threats, promising “fire and fury like the world has never seen” — to which the DPRK’s Kim Jong-un responded with threats against Guam — 140 South Koreans booked trips to the island through Mode Tour. That’s about average for the season. A spokesperson told the KT, “I think South Koreans are so used to such threats and know that North Korea is just bluffing as always.”
Deadline’s David Lieberman contributed to this report.