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Coronavirus empties theaters, box office

A theater in the Haeundae area, typically one of the busiest parts of Busan, is empty Saturday. (Yonhap)
A theater in the Haeundae area, typically one of the busiest parts of Busan, is empty Saturday. (Yonhap)

The film industry continues to suffer as people stay away from cinemas amid the increasingly rapid spread of COVID-19, and scheduled movie releases are now being put on hold.

The number of theatergoers, which saw a small recovery in the second week of February, plummeted again over the weekend, with 474,979 people going to the movies on Saturday and Sunday, according to the Korean Film Council. The figure represents a steep drop of almost 60 percent from the previous weekend. The total number of moviegoers tallied Saturday fell below 300,000 for the first time since the novel coronavirus outbreak last month.

While “Beasts Clawing at Straws,” featuring big-name stars Jeon Do-yeon and Jung Woo-sung, topped the box office upon its release Wednesday, the thriller only garnered 164,409 viewers over the weekend. The figure stands at almost 30 percent of the crowd who watched “Honest Candidate” -- the previous week’s top film -- at cinemas Feb. 15-16.

As COVID-19 spreads nationwide, more films are delaying releases and canceling promotional events.

Following the government’s decision to raise the virus alert to the highest level on Monday, Walt Disney Company Korea announced it was pushing back the release of “Onward,” originally slated for March, to April. The much anticipated release of the black-and-white edition of the Oscar-winning “Parasite,” scheduled for Wednesday, has also been put on hold. The US horror flick “Brahms: The Boy II” will open as scheduled on March 5 but has called off all press events.

Korean films “Time to Hunt,” “Innocence,” “Call” and “The Wandering Chef,” all scheduled to open in theaters in the next two weeks, have also had their releases postponed.

By Choi Ji-won (