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.


  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. 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.


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