The holiday season is finally upon us. It is a time of family dinners, peace, love, New Year resolutions, and -- most important of all -- excitement for movie buffs.
Korean filmmakers have every right to be complacent about their new offerings toward the end of the year as the market share of local films was a respectable 60-plus percent between August and October, helped by the strong box-office performances of Korean hit films including "Haeundae" and "Take-off."
The hike in ticket prices in June, led by multiplex operators, is also a boon for many cash-strapped local filmmakers, who complained bitterly about the dearth of fresh investment funds.
Korean Film Council data also shows that Korean theaters attracted a total of 66.33 million moviegoers in the first 10 months of this year, generating 458.5 billion won in revenue. These figures already surpassed what the local film industry achieved in all of 2008, when it lured 63.54 million viewers and earned 412.6 billion won.
Despite the upbeat performance so far, the outlook in the November-December period is far from rosy for Korean cinema. Complacency or not, there is no sign yet of a fierce fight between Korean films and Hollywood blockbusters, as most Korean films in the holiday lineup -- except for a highly anticipated "Jeon Woo-chi" -- are unlikely to hold up against the onslaught of Hollywood competitors.
Hollywood will offer the big and bombastic -- with 10-foot tall aliens, teenage werewolves, British detectives and even ninjas poised to invade cinema screens in the coming months.
Here are some of the most hyped films scheduled this holiday season.
"Secret," directed by Yoon Jae-gu, focuses on grim, human-fueled mayhem, prompting audiences to weigh several intriguing questions as "why" and "how" instead of "who" and "where."
The film starts with the death of an underground loan shark, a sloppy job by a novice killer. Detective Seong-yeol (Cha Seung-won) swoops on the crime scene, only to find a clue that his wife (Song Yoon-ah) met the man on the day he died.
The plot attempts to add layers when the dead man turns out to be the sibling of a notorious gang leader who embarks on a furious hunt to find the killer before the police do. Seong-yeol`s efforts to protect his wife from the whirlwind of chases help maintain a dramatic tension and suspense, while the wife`s nonchalant attitude offers a puzzling contrast.
The real secret for the director`s success in keeping the suspense at an optimal level is the solid performances of supporting actors including Park Won-sang, Kim In-kwon and Ryu Seung-ryong. "Secret," with a running time of 111 minutes, will hit the local theaters Dec. 3.
Korean Wave star Choi Ji-woo, veteran actress Ko Hyun-joung, and "Thirst" heroine Kim Ok-vin might not have been powerful enough for director Lee Jae-yong. For his latest film "Actresses," he has decided to sign on more, and three more top-rated actresses -- Yoon Yeo-jeong, Lee Mi-sook, Kim Min-hee -- have joined the project.
No wonder that when there was a press conference for the film on Nov. 17, more than 300 reporters and photographers rushed to capture the famous actresses on a single stage -- a rare photo op for star-hungry media outlets.
But the result of such high publicity has been mixed at best. There are tons of photos showing the six actresses on major portal news sites, but few articles are devoted to explaining what the movie is about.
What has been revealed so far is that the six actresses will show off "many things," which involve self-respect, charisma, complexes, jealousy, style and desires. They are also locked in "some conflicts" with each other. The setting is a Christmas photo shooting session arranged by the Korean edition of "Vogue," which will be inspiring if you are an avid watcher of silly style programs on cable channels.
But the movie is not about great cinematography -- the point here is that six famous actresses have agreed to spare some time to chat together in the same film. "Actresses" is scheduled to hit local theaters on Dec. 10.
Director Choi Dong-hoon is a good, if not great, storyteller. He knows how to manipulate scenes in a way that keeps the audiences on edge almost to the last minute, when all things begin to unravel to strong dramatic effect. His previous films "The Big Swindle" and "Tazza: The High Rollers" were huge box-office hits and his latest film "Jeon Woo-chi" is also widely expected to perform well when it gets released nationwide on Dec. 23.
Director Choi has already sold his film to distributors from 13 different countries at the American Film Market, where he played a five-minute promotional clip. The unprecedented sales result underscores the market potential of storytelling set in Korea in particular and Asia in general.
The film is based on traditional Korean characters. Back in the Joseon Dynasty, Jeon Woo-chi (played by Kang Dong-won) is trapped into a painting due to false charges concerning a murder case, and he gets released into modern Korea after a 500-year-long sleep, with a mission to fight against goblins.
"No Mercy," directed by Kim Hyung-joon, is a thriller that will wrap up the Korean movie lineup in 2009, with its release date set on Dec. 31. The casting is notably high-profile: Sul Kyoung-gu, who proved his box-office appeal with a lead role in "Haeundae," and Ryoo Seung-bum, a talented actor known for tweaking conventions on the big screen.
The key storyline involves the confrontation between Lee Seong-ho (Ryoo Seung-bum), a killer, and Kang Min-ho (Sul Kyoung-gu), a renowned autopsy specialist. The plot takes off when Lee kidnaps Kang`s daughter and leaves a disturbingly mysterious message.
Lee wants Kang to pull strings and break rules so that the murder can escape within three days. In return, Kang`s daughter will be saved in his murder spree. But a number of crucial details -- motive, background, repercussions -- remain carefully guarded until the make-or-break climax, a nice touch for the final day of 2009.
Of the various high profile Hollywood releases rolling into local cinemas, there`s no doubt the must-see-film this winter is James Cameron`s long awaited "Avatar."
The hotly anticipated movie marks the return from his 12-year hiatus in this Dances with Wolves meets Joseph Conrad sci-fi epic to be released Dec. 17.
The Academy Award-winning director of the highest grossing box office smash of all time, "Titanic," has been missing in action since 1997 when the big-budget epic -- also at the time the costliest film ever made -- tugged at the heartstrings of millions of adolescent girls and made international stars out of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
The film went on to sweep the Academy Awards winning 11 of its 14 nominations.
Perhaps burdened with the pressure to follow up with a film that was just as big as his record setting film, Cameron has kept a low profile in the past decade, flying under the radar directing various documentaries and such dubious-quality yet lucrative fare like the Universal Studios Terminator 2 ride.
With "Avatar" the 55-year-old veteran filmmaker returns to his science fiction roots -- a genre that catapulted him into the A-list with such revolutionary blockbusters as "Aliens," "Terminator," "Terminator 2," and "The Abyss."
"Avatar" promises to be at the forefront of cutting edge technology by revolutionizing 3-D filmmaking just as "The Abyss" and "Terminator 2" popularized the use of CGI.
The film stars Sam Worthington as a disabled ex-marine who gets a second chance at serving the corp. when new technology enables him to take on the form of a Na`avi -- a 10-foot tall alien species on the planet Alpha Centauri.
As an Avatar, a human mind in an alien body, he is ordered to infiltrate, scout, and befriend the Na`avi as a spy to help his fellow humans colonize their world.
The planet holds valuable mining resources that are coveted by a government-sponsored corporation and as he becomes more and more assimilated into the Na`avi`s way of life, his loyalty becomes torn between the two worlds.
More than ten years in the making, the film is reported to have incorporated new CGI technologies to transform the environments and characters of the planet Alpha Centauri into photorealistic 3-D imagery that will place moviegoers smack dab in the middle of alien world.
No, it`s not the sequel to the Michael J. Fox film, "Teen Wolf."
But if you`re a teenaged girl, no doubt, you`ve been eagerly awaiting the continuation of the Twilight saga since the first film grossed over $380 million worldwide.
"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" is the sequel to last year`s runaway box-office smash, and like its predecessor, is based on the hugely popular best-selling vampire romance novels by American novelist Stephenie Meyer.
The two leads from the first film -- Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart -- return to portray the lovelorn vampire/human couple Edward Cullen and Bella Swan.
The franchise has now become the new Harry Potter, but more sinister, and with more teenage angst than a John Hughes flick.
Lots of talk has been made of one of the film`s newest leads, Taylor Lautner, who plays the leader of the pack of werewolves who vows to protect Bella from evil vampires.
Most of that talk, howeverk, has been tossed at the 18-year-old`s washboard abs which teenaged girls will undoubtedly go gaga over come Dec. 3.
"New Moon" is projected to be a surefire hit that will bring home the bacon.
It`s violent, it`s bloody, and it`s got Korean pop sensation Rain slicing and dicing limbs off of ninjas in this bloody ode to the martial arts genre.
Written specifically for the 28-year-old Asian superstar and produced by the Wachowski Brothers, "Ninja Assassin" looks to do what "Enter the Dragon" did for Bruce Lee -- to introduce him to a global audience outside of continental Asia.
Directed by James McTiegue, who scored a critical and box-office hit with the 2005 film "V for Vendetta," the film stars Rain as Raizo, one of the world`s deadliest assassins, who is trained by the Ozunu Clan, an underground band of killers who have for generations hidden behind mythology to protect themselves from being exposed.
Stripped of his childhood and his innocence, Raizo is transformed into a merciless Katana-wielding killing machine that plans to exact revenge on the clan for killing his first love after breaking free from their base -- a hidden fortress deep in the crest of an unknown mountain.
To portray a hardened assassin, Rain had to endure a grueling six-month training session with the fight and stunt team that trained the actors of "300."
The film is set for a Nov. 26 nationwide release.
Director Guy Ritchie looks to inject some hip and edginess into the fabled British detective, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the film`s title character and Jude Law as his trusty partner-in-crime Professor Watson.
Ritchie and Downey Jr. is the unlikeliest of pairings and the last people most would think of to tackle the story of the legendary British sleuth, but reception to the film`s trailer have sparked huge anticipation for the film since its announcement last year.
Downey Jr. has had a rollercoaster of a career stemming from countless arrests over substance abuse, but after the phenomenal success of "Iron Man" he`s gone through something of a career renaissance.
With "Sherlock Holmes," the acclaimed actor looks to continue his stellar box-office drawing power with this contemporary interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle`s classic detective novels.
The film is scheduled to hit local theaters on Dec. 24.
By Song Woong-ki and Yang Sung-jin