Summer is probably the best time of the year for both movie fans and producers. With the blazing sun driving everyone indoors in search of air conditioning, there is no better time than the months of July and August for film companies to release their most ambitious products in theaters. The result is an annual cinema rush full of competition, successes, failures, and above all, excitement. This summer’s rush was as hectic and colorful as any other year, making 2016 a great year for moviegoers. So, what were some of the biggest events of the season?
-At last, Korean Zombies!
While a mysterious zombie virus drops the entire nation of South Korea into chaos, passengers desperately fight for survival on a train headed from Seoul to Busan. Such is the synopsis of Train to Busan, the first ever Korean zombie blockbuster and the unquestionable climax of the season. The synopsis alone, for its novelty in Korea, attracted much attention long before the movie hit theaters. The movie was even invited to the Midnight Screenings of the Cannes Film Festival and received high praise, heightening anticipation for its release.
The audience fails to agree on whether or not Train to Busan managed to meet their high expectations. The major cause for disagreement comes from the fact that despite its un-Korean zombie theme, the movie turned out to be, some say lamentably, very Korean. While some praise that the movie successfully melted the traditional Korean elements into an unusual theme, others question if those elements were really necessary in a zombie film.
The general consensus, however, seems to be that whether it be a virtue or a detriment, Train to Busan is a well-made Korean-style blockbuster. A decent zombie film, too. That success is well reflected in the number of viewers the movie managed to attract—as of September 10, 11,552,981 viewers have visited theaters to watch Train to Busan, making it the first movie to break the record of 10-million viewers and at the same time the most-watched Korean movie in 2016. The movie has grossed 88 million USD in box office worldwide.
-Domestic Smiles, Foreign Tears
Train to Busan was not the only successful domestic film of the season. In general, it has been a great summer for Korean movie producers. Take Operation Chromite, for example. Even though most of its reviews were quite negative, the movie still managed to attract more than 7 million viewers and raked in revenue well over its breakeven point. The Tunnel too, despite concerns that small-scale disaster movies without big earthquakes or tsunamis will not appeal to the masses, guarded its spot as the top box office movie for 4 weeks in a row as of September with over 7 million viewers.
Unfortunately for foreign films, it was not such a good season. Looking at summer foreign releases from the past year, there were quite a lot of successful titles, such as Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation with 6,126,488 viewers, or Jurassic World with 5,546,792 viewers. This year, however, the greatest foreign success was Now You See Me 2 with 3,100,090 viewers, far below last year’s record. Then there was Suicide Squad, with 1,898,065 viewers; the first week of its release it attracted 1,413,042 viewers, but faced a record drop of 84.8% in viewers the next week and was soon gone from theaters. Surprising, considering the amount of attention it garnered after Harley Quinn’s makeup went viral on social media.
-Talking Animals Galore
Amidst all the human (and undead) fighting that dominated summer screens, two non-human-centric movies stood out and offered audiences some respite: Finding Dory and The Secret Life of Pets, from Pixar and Illumination, respectively. Beyond the fact that both are animated films, the two movies share a core characteristic: their focus on talking animals.
Finding Dory, the sequel to the smash hit Finding Nemo, tells the story of the amnesiac fish, Dory, on a journey of self-discovery to find her parents and her past. The Secret Life of Pets is the comedic adventure of two pet dogs who learn to get along after a rough start. The tailed personalities in both movies are surprisingly human—they bicker, grieve, love, take revenge—and the audience loves them for it. Both movies gathered more than 2.5 million viewers, Finding Dory becoming the second most watched Pixar film in Korea and The Secret Life of Pets almost catching up with Illumination’s biggest hit Minions.
In 2016 alone, there have been over half a dozen big animation titles featuring talking animals. The list includes Zootopia, Kung Fu Panda 3, The Jungle Book, etc. During such a violence-ridden time in the world, perhaps all these furry friends serve as a much needed consolation to the audience growing tired of more fighting on screen. People love animals, even without them talking. When they are equipped with a human persona, nobody can really resist them.
*Statistics obtained from Korean Film Council (www.kobis.or.kr)