This Week in South Korean Film - 3/3/2020
Diaspora, Dragons, and Death
The big release in South Korea this week is, without question, Minari. While Minari is a limited release film in the United States, and most of the world for that matter, the South Korean market is noteworthy in that audiences are strongly drawn to movies about Koreans in diaspora. While this alone does not guarantee the success of a more offbeat film, Minari has several other big advantages. It’s been highly lauded on the international awards circuit. It stars Han Ye-ri and Youn Yuh-jung in major roles- both names being quite well-known in the domestic South Korean market. And Minari also has Steven Yeun, whose popularity is a bit more difficult to explain.
The Walking Dead was not, to be clear, particularly popular in South Korea. But Koreans were still aware that Steven Yeun was one of the more prominent actors in the once relevant zombie TV show, and were quite proud of his having made it. Steven Yeun was a frequent person of interest in South Korean entertainment circles and always warmly welcomed whenever he popped over even if only to promote a movie or appear in an awards ceremony. I’ve seen Steven Yeun at a few such events and the guy really radiates humility. He’d speak in English because he wasn’t confident in his Korean and was very gracious and flattered that anybody would be so happy to see him.
It’s little surprise that there are no major South Korean releases willing to compete with Minari. Note that I’m not expecting the family drama to perform that exceptionally well, especially in this COVID-19 depressed marketplace, it’s just not a good place to pick a fight. Which amusingly enough isn’t stopping Disney from releasing Raya and the Last Dragon here this same weekend, despite the movies having similar appeal in term of utilizing an Asian-American cast. I’m not sure if they just don’t understand the bad timing or if they simply don’t care. Disney releases usually lag in South Korea compared to other markets. The decision to do a simultaneous release may have been caused by concerns that Disney Plus availability makes movies easier to pirate, logic which really doesn’t track at all considering how successful Soul was in South Korea.
Of the various minor domestic releases in the South Korean market this week, I’m spotlighting Don’t Go Too Far, since even though I haven’t seen it, my HanCinema colleague Panos did. The family drama hasn’t had much of an international run, with its main appearance being just one of many South Korean films at the 2018 Busan International Film Festival. Don’t Go Too Far’s big benefit for domestic release is simply that it’s short and has an intriguing premise. A family bickers over an apparently unfair inheritance agreement and then the story escalates into a kidnapping plot.
Which is to say that Don’t Go Too Far is a movie that can be pretty easily sold over streaming services no matter its artistic intentions. And I do appreciate how independent film distributors are less uptight about theatrical releases these days, realizing that nobody watched these movies in theaters even before COVID-19. I could sure use more screeners though- I’m used to watching these movies in theaters, even if I’m the only one.