Thursday, January 26, 2006

Screen quota to be reduced?

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. Sphere: Related Content


  1. It's a bad move. I hope they reconsider.

  2. I'm torn on this. On the one hand, I think that free and open trade can be good as long as one side is not going to be overwhelmed, Walmart-style, by the competition. Korea is no longer a shrimp among whales in terms of its cinema. On the other hand, well, this might drown out small, artsy films, but I don't think they're the ones benefiting from the screen quota to begin with. More movie theaters will be what benefits the small films.

  3. I can understand why it was done in the first place, Korean movies sucked back then, this was necessary to get people to actually watch them. The more people watch them, the more movies are made, and they improve with internal competition. Now (or so I've heard) domestic movies tend to do much better then foreign movies so if they were to remove the restrictions now it really wouldn't make a difference because the Korean movie industry has come so far that it can compete with Hollywood (at least domestically if not internationally), and would still win out even if the government didn't have the restrictions.
    I can see a few reasons why the limit should be removed... Korea wants to have no-visa rights with America right? Remove this ban that was initially targeted at America and is still being used at America (although not only) and then say to America, "look how much we're trying to work with you here, now you work with us too". But the biggest reason I think this should be removed is that it was wrong in the first place. Creating a fake market to force something to be sold isn't the way it's supposed to work. Sure other countries do it all the time, but that doesn't mean it's right.

  4. With the money coming from Hollywood, in a free trade market, Korean films aren't going to get a look in. The reason they are able to make bigger budget pictures is exactly because producers can guarantee investors a share of the market. If they can no longer do this, then they will definitely lose out. The money will leave the film industry and move into TV. This can only be bad for Korean film. Hollywood hardly needs more money anyway. It's not like they are struggling.
    It is ironic that the US is pushing for free markets when they protect their farmers like nobody's business...

    Protection of culture and self expression are important and far outweigh WTO discussions.

    Also, Darin... Korean movies did not suck back then, nice one on the sweeping generalisations, not.

  5. "Also, Darin... Korean movies did not suck back then, nice one on the sweeping generalisations, not."
    I dunno, I'm pretty sure the general consensus is they have gotten much much better in recent years.
    What first got me on to Korean movies was a Korean classmate here in Japan that told me how Korean movies were doing much better in Korean then Hollywood movies. She said they don't suck like they used to. So I checked a few out and found some good ones. Based on her advice, I stayed away from the older ones.

    "With the money coming from Hollywood, in a free trade market, Korean films aren't going to get a look in. The reason they are able to make bigger budget pictures is exactly because producers can guarantee investors a share of the market"
    So.. in order to prevent a potential monopoly the government must make laws to keep one monopoly alive? Doesn't that fall under the lines of "two wrongs don't make a right"?

    I still believe in "may the better man win"... So if a Korean movie is better then a Hollywood movie, then it's a better movie, and should/will do better in sales. Right? I'm a fan of rooting for the little guy, but I'm not a fan of helping him cheat...

    Unless I'm missing some more over-used sayings.. ;)

  6. I was just thinking after reading another article about this issue, rather then saying that Korean movies must be played 146 days of the year to to ensure the little guys get a chance and are not over-run by the blockbusters, why not make rules depending on the budget. That way the little guys will be guaranteed play, but it wont be a free-market issue. A 300-million dollar Korean movie should be able to compete with a 300-million dollar American movie right? Certainly a 50,000 dollar Korean movie would have a hard time against the 300-million behemoth from Hollywood, but a 50,000 dollar movie from America would have just the same amount of troubles against a 300-million dollar Korean movie as well.
    I would be 100% supporting of that move and would support it for in America as well. I think right now people (myself included) are very much against the idea of putting restrictions on things simply because they're foreign only to create a market for something that would otherwise not sell, but if you limit it by the budgets (advertising included), then the playing field is truly level across international borders.

  7. ... kinda like a salary cap in pro sports (just make sure the signing bonus crap doesn't happen this time around)

  8. so i was really hoping for a response to my suggestion of a possible solution to the screen quota issue.. but no-one has anything to say :( I was really proud of my idea and I think it's a good one. common guys wadya think? don't tell me you're just afraid to admit that i may have a good idea? :D


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