The Korea Herald


‘Smugglers,’ ‘Concrete Utopia’ score at box office while ‘The Moon’ flops

By Kim Da-sol

Published : Aug. 15, 2023 - 15:42

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“Smugglers” (Showbox) “Smugglers” (Showbox)

Homegrown blockbuster films are vying for viewers this summer, with their distributors hoping to see consecutive releases bring back moviegoers.

But moviegoers’ taste for “something new” over impressive visuals and star-studded casting have determined the fate of major film releases.

Director Ryoo Seung-wan’s female-led crime action “Smugglers” passed its breakeven point in its third week of release on Sunday, having pulled in 4.35 million moviegoers nationwide, according to Korean Film Council figures. The film ranked at No. 2 in the box office during the weekend.

“Smugglers,” which cost around 20 billion won ($15.8 million) to produce, is a crime caper centered on the residents of a peaceful seaside village in the 1970s, many of whom are involved in smuggling. Ryoo’s iconic sense of humor and strong action sequences, as well as the star-studded lineup that includes Kim Hye-soo, Yum Jung-ah, Zo In-sung, Park Jung-min and Go Min-si has proved to have a wide-ranging appeal.

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

Following the success of “Smugglers” is director Um Tae-hwa’s “Concrete Utopia,” a dystopian thriller which tells a story of the residents of Hwanggung Apartment No. 103, the only building left standing after a devastating earthquake in Seoul.

On the first opening weekend, “Concrete Utopia” attracted 1.12 million moviegoers as of Sunday and looks set to break even, as the film, which has a similar budget to “Smugglers,” nears 4 million moviegoers.

“Concrete Utopia” is based on a webtoon, which is a risk, since a lot of webtoon-inspired films have flopped here. The predictable, melodramatic conclusions of disaster flicks may also work against “Concrete Utopia,” but the unprecedented setting of the film seems ot be a draw.

Meanwhile, two other summer films -- “Ransomed” and “The Moon” -- are box office bombs. Press reviews and viewer responses described a strong sense of deja vu in the plots, which undermined their big budgets and high production values.

“Ransomed,” set in Lebanon, stars the familiar duo of Ha Jung-woo and Ju Ji-hoon from “Along with the Gods,” this time playing men on a mission to rescue a fellow diplomat. Despite the film’s exotic setting and action-packed storyline, “Ransomed” failed to overcome the jaded audiences’ disappointment in the all-too-familiar plot.

“Ransomed” attracted 981,488 moviegoers after its release on Aug. 2.

Performing even worse at the box office is “The Moon,” which opened on the same day.

As widely expected, this moon-themed Korean sci-fi flick repeated the earlier failures of “Space Sweepers” (2021), “Seo Bok” (2021) and “Jung_E” (2022). The 28 million-won film's scale, meticulously detailed set design and sophisticated use of computer graphics combined was not in itself enough to excite the viewing public. A slew of Hollywood space survival flicks like “Gravity” (2013) and “Interstellar” (2014), has left moviegoers growing tired of the genre.

“The Moon” attracted 483,834 moviegoers as of Monday, far short of its break even point of 60 million.

Industry insiders point out that the success of homegrown blockbusters now heavily depend on a fresh, creative subject and unprecedented setting.

“With the consecutive successes of creative K-content like ‘The Glory’ and ‘Squid Game,’ movies like ‘The Moon’ clearly show local audiences’ thirst for new subjects, and out-of-the -box creative scenes,” an industry insider said.

“It will become harder for the investors and distributors to make a profit if the current number of moviegoers shows a similar trend to August last year at 12.14 million visitors. It’s questionable whether filmmakers will see a virtuous circle of money flow this summer, which is critical to raising investment for next projects,” said Kim Dong-ha, a professor at Hansung University’s College of Future Convergence Social Science.