I'm going to have more on this as news comes in, but South Korea's Finance Ministry said today that it will reduce the screen quota, removing a key element of friction with the United States ahead of expected free trade talks.
Under the current system, local theaters are mandated to screen South Korean movies for 146 days a year to protect the local film industry. (It should be noted that the screen quota is not just about protection against "Hollywood," but also films from France, the rest of Europe, Hong Kong, and more recently, Japan.)
When there was first talk about removing the quota, Korean filmmakers and performers voiced strong opposition. Some read the writing on the wall and knew that the way to survive, without a captive audience, would be by improving the quality of movies. It appears that many of them have succeeded. Among a lot of people, there is a consensus that the screen quota is no longer needed.
The screen quota is to be cut by half, to a total of 73 days, beginning July 1. According to the article, "authorities expressed confidence that South Korean movies can withstand more competition from Hollywood, pointing out that the market share for domestic films has grown to nearly 60 percent last year from 50 percent in 2001." The updated article (which gives a good overview of the issue), says Washington welcomed the move.
To help movie producers cope with the reduction in the screen quota, the government announced plans to set up a fund worth 400 billion won (about US$400 million), but Korean filmmakers are reportedly calling the countermeasure "flawed and unsatisfactory."
Under the plan, the government will extend direct financial support worth 200 billion won and raise another 200 billion won by using the 5 percent fee it charges for each movie ticket sold.
One of my criticisms of the screen quota was that it mostly assisted big-budget films, not the artsy-fartsy films that can easily be overwhelmed by the competition. Answering that, the proposed fund will be used to help local filmmakers produce more art-house films, independent movies and documentaries. The fund will also be used to increase the number of theaters specializing in such non-mainstream films to 100 from the current dozen.
Culture Minister Chung Dong-chea notes that it was a 150 billion won fund from the Kim Daejung administration that helped the Korean film industry make the strides that we see today.
Haisan, a person who I had met long ago but didn't know then that he was Haisan, wrote an interesting piece at the Blog Formerly Known as Marmot's Hole addressing myths of the screen quota. A good read that makes me confident I've been (mostly) feeling the right way on this issue. Just one thing I want to emphasize: the "resurgence" in Korean media is not due to the screen quota, but a change in business (quality and marketing) due to the threat of the screen quota disappearing.
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