This Week in South Korean Film - 2/17/21

Possibilities, Patties, and Planets

So far the box office at South Korea in 2021 has been dominated by foreign films. Really just the two- Wonder Woman 1984 and Soul, although with COVID-19 affected numbers so paltry “dominated” doesn’t feel like the right word. Soul has definitely outperformed expectations though, with 1.6 million admissions to date, over four times that of Onward from last year. I bring this up mainly because after the failure of New Year Blues to penetrate last week, a more credible challenge has emerged with Mission: Possible this week.

As the title implies, Mission: Possible is a spy spoof- although just a spy comedy would probably be a better word for it. It’s low-brow humor that’s never been a big trendsetter in South Korean film although the genre does have just enough moments that more keep getting made. OK! MADAM is one such example, pulling off over 1.2 million admissions in last summer’s COVID-19 depressed marketplace. This was in spite of the fact that I rather hated it, but then movies like this tend to do best in secondary markets anyway. They’re especially popular on cable channels, with OK! MADAM premiering on jTBC as a Lunar New Year’s special movie this past weekend.

Double Patty, by contrast, is a more introspective film, dealing with a couple of young people struggling with the reality of the difficulty of achieving their dreams in this sad modern world. Double Patty has attracted interest chiefly because Irene of Red Velvet is appearing in the leading role, her first leading role as an actress. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has resulted in mixed early reactions from audiences. Some have praised the acting while others have found it boring- and I imagine the typical Red Velvet fan with no other context would find a movie like this boring. I, however, try not to judge projects too harshly if I haven’t seen them.

The third movie I’m spotlighting this week, ARKO Live Musical: Sidereus is noteworthy for its sheer weirdness in the market. It’s not quite a movie per se, but rather a broadcast of a live performance of the Korean version of the musical Sidereus which is about Galileo Galilei and his investigations into the planets. Sidereus opened as a CGV exclusive last week and while in theory it could play in other theaters this week there don’t appear to be any takers. Musical culture in South Korea is quite persistent, tending to focus on popular Broadway standards. Think Cats, or Phantom of the Opera, or Wicked. Outside of the ARKO Live series people tend to watch them in person though- although with COVID-19, more exceptions are being made to that rule.

More Korean themed plays, sometimes even without music, are also part of the local scene, although I can’t say too much about them since that’s not my beat. Crown Princess Hong did have a run in movie theaters though, and I liked it quite a bit. I’d go so far as to say that it’s my favorite adaptation of the Prince Sado story. That’s right, even better than The Throne, itself excellent, albeit for very different reasons.