This Week in South Korean Film - 1/20/2021

Cartoons, Chefs, and Croissants

The big release in South Korean theaters this week is a foreign one, and a fairly unusual one at that. Soul from Disney may have made headlines in the United States for skipping a theatrical release to instead boost the streaming profile Disney+, but it’s being released as normal in South Korea in theaters. On a technical level this is necessary because Disney+ hasn’t actually come out in South Korea yet. But on a more promotional level, Soul is a pretty powerful reminder for why anyone in South Korea should care about the new streaming platform to begin with. While the big Disney releases could still pull in strong numbers pre-COVID, there just isn’t that much interest in Disney properties as a whole here. The fandom is fairly comparable to that of Japanese animation- well, from an America-centric perspective at least. As far as the South Korean perspective goes anime is much bigger than Disney if you’re an otaku.

Speaking of which, one such anime property has made a surprising entry on the reservation charts despite still being a week away from release. I’m referring to Demon Slayer: Infinity Train, already the highest grossing movie ever released in Japan despite being released in October of last year during the pandemic. On South Korean television at least, Demon Slayer only appears on late night Animax, so the hype for it is noticeable. I myself am pretty hyped for it- the traditional Japanese art fused into modern anime action is extremely cool, as are the character designs. I can only guess how amazing it would look in a theater, making this the rare theatrical release I’d go out of my way to watch even without a work excuse.

Neither of these movies are South Korean releases, at least not to the extent that term is generally understood. But my next movie, #Iamhere hues somewhat closer to that definition since that movie at least involves South Korea, however tangentially. The French film stars Bae Donna in an important role as the mysterious object of affection for an aging French chef. I’m not sure how much she’s actually in the movie, since I’ve seen the role described as a cameo. Nevertheless, the South Korean market tends to like foreign movies that feature ethnic Koreans one way or other. Or at least, that’s what happens to foreign movies with marketing teams that do a good job playing up these elements. #Iamhere actually came out last week, and its box office numbers for a foreign film are fairly average. It getting a theatrical release here at all is pretty notable for a French film.

The last movie I’m spotlighting this week, Croissant, is not a particularly noteworthy release. But it’s the only one of the four new releases this week that’s charting at all, so the bakery centered youth drama does at least have that going for it. Croissant does have the distinction of being the latest movie from David Cho, a man who has shown himself to be doggedly determined to direct as many movies as physically possible. He’s had fifteen directing credits since 2012, most of them from completely different genres. The distribution for these movies is uneven enough that I’ve only seen six of them. So David Cho’s entire career is a pretty strong argument for the importance of streaming in the modern South Korean film marketplace. It’s hard to imagine how else he could keep getting work.

If I were to pick one of those six to recommend, it would definitely be How to Break Up With My Cat which I reviewed here. It’s a very elegiac movie that uses the plot device of people as cats to discuss mortality. As for the rest of David Cho’s movies they, um, aren’t really like that at all and I doubt I would have even identified them as coming from the same director if I hadn’t done my research.