Diversity defines S. Korean movies, music in 2015

December 17, 2015
Assassination movie poster

(Assassination poster)

By Park Sojung

SEOUL (Yonhap) — The year 2015 has been one of the most diverse years for South Korean movies and music, as both Korean and non-Korean films topped the local box-office chart and a wave of nostalgia brought on by TV series set in the 1980s and 90s took South Koreans down musical memory lane.

Foreign blockbusters dominated the first half of the year, as “Kingsman: The Secret Service” became the first box-office topper with 6.19 million viewers. With the audience tally double that of the 2006 fantasy war film “300,” the British-American spy movie became the best-selling R-rated foreign film of all time in South Korea.

“Avengers: The Age of Ultron,” out in April, was the first movie to be viewed by more than 10 million people in 2015. With 14.9 million admissions, it became the fourth best-selling foreign film of all time in South Korea after “Avatar,” “Frozen” and “Interstellar.”

Homegrown movies got off to a slow start, with the first local film to top 10 million viewers opening in late July. “The Assassination,” starring Jun Ji-hyun, Lee Jung-jae and Ha Jung-woo, broke the 10 million mark exactly on the nation’s Liberation Day of Aug. 15, when Korea was freed from Japanese colonial rule 70 years ago. The Choi Dong-hoon feature film takes place at the height of Japanese occupation in the 1930s and portrays a struggle by a group of Korean independence fighters to assassinate a Japanese military commander and their pro-Japanese compatriot.

“Veteran,” another local movie, broke the 10 million viewer mark that same month in a rare South Korean movie success. Only in 2012 did two domestic films achieve that milestone for the first time. “The Thieves” drew 12.9 million viewers in August 2012 and two months later, “Masquerade,” followed suit with 12.3 million.

South Korean movies continued their strong traditions at international awards this year. “Right Now, Wrong Then,” an arthouse film by director Hong Sang-soo, won the Golden Leopard award at the Locarno International Film Festival in August. The male lead Jung Jae-young also became the first South Korean actor to be named best actor at the Swiss festival.

In June, a South Korean indie documentary “My Love, Don’t Cross That River,” portraying a long-standing love between an old couple in a remote village, became the first South Korean film to win Best Documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

All in all, the South Korean movie scene remained strong, garnering 100 million moviegoers for the fourth consecutive year as of Nov. 30.

On the musical end of things, bands popular in the 1980s and 90s recaptured notoriety thanks to TV series themed on or set in those periods. Songs by S.E.S., Jinusean and Turbo re-entered music charts despite years of inactivity after the MBC variety show “Infinite Challenge” featured them singing old hits. Lee Moon-se’s “Girl” and Zoo’s “Hyehwadong” also topped drama soundtrack charts after characters on tvN’s “Reply 1988″ sung them.

Meanwhile, contemporary idol group BigBang dominated music charts for four consecutive months with singles released from May to August, which culminated in the album “MADE.” EXO, another boy band, sold a million copies of its second album, breaking its own record set in 2013, when its first album sold the same number of copies.

The South Korean music scene, however, wasn’t without its controversies in 2015.

Law enforcement authorities launched a probe into suspicions that MelOn, the operator of South Korea’s largest music chart, may have been rigged to favor certain artists.

Yoo Seung-joon (screen capture from AfreecaTV)

Yoo Seung-joon (screen capture from AfreecaTV)

Korean-American rapper Yoo Seung-jun pleaded to be allowed into South Korea 13 years after he was permanently banned from the country for allegedly acquiring U.S. citizenship for the sole purpose of evading military service required of all able-bodied South Korean men. His public appeal, however, garnered little sympathy from his former compatriots. A Seoul court is still processing his petition to have the entry ban lifted.

Singer-songwriter IU came under fire for lyrics accused of portraying child molestation in a positive light. A local publishing house that translated the popular Brazilian children’s book “My Sweet Orange Tree,” on which her song “Zeze” is based, said the lyrics were suggestive of pedophilia. IU apologized for causing the controversy but continued to sing “Zeze” at concerts, introducing it as “a song I continue to love.”

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