Korean film and popular culture made a major impact in 2012, and 2013 seems headed in the same direction. Beyond the phenomenon that is Psy, Korean films have easily championed those from America at the Korean box office. The smash hit A Werewolf Boy bested not only the Twilight finale, but several pop icons such as Batman and Spiderman. In fact, the film is on its way to taking down The Avengers in box office receipts. Impressive showings worldwide are a testament to the fact that the Korean film industry is beating Hollywood at its own game with high screen averages in America that better domestic blockbusters.
This past summer saw a flurry of releases in the states from CJ Entertainment: romantic comedy All About My Wife; comedy Runway Cop; thriller Helpless; action flick R2B: Return to Base; costume drama Masquerade; and the sports-themed movie As One. All utilized Hollywood-style story-telling; in fact, with a little tweaking, many are likely to be remade by Hollywood. Consider this storyline: horsehair worms are eaten by insects such as grasshoppers and can only escape their hosts when in contact with water. That’s real. But tweak it a bit into mutated worms that proliferate in humans, and you get the smash South Korean hit Deranged. The plot is more believable than Contagion’s bat and pig virus mixture. And a lot scarier.
It’s little wonder that A Werewolf Boy bested its vampire-wolf American counterpart in terms of box office sales in South Korea. No ludicrous dialogue here, the film spins a Pygmalion tale with a feral child story. The supernatural elements are just an added bonus to this romantic tale of teenager Suni, who finds the unwanted boarder at her family’s new house. Sickly and germaphobic, she is repulsed by his animalistic ways, but with the help of a dog-training manual, her indifference to life is mended by being obedient to her heart and to the wolf boy’s undying devotion. The film will surely have teenage girls wistfully searching out zoos and forests for their own boy raised by wolves -- although the film doesn’t take the easy way out. Its ending is bittersweet—thankfully, Suni doesn’t transform into a wolf girl and give birth to a canine hybrid.
The Tower, opening January 11 in the U.S., doubles the danger of Towering Inferno, that iconic '70s disaster flick that had moviegoers rushing home to check their electrical wiring. Yes, there are two towers, and despite the buildings being at capacity with VIP residents and high-end restaurants, the owners are in full knowledge of the structural and fire safety hazards. Yet they have to best last year’s Christmas gala replete with holographic angels and helicopters dusting snow. Did I mention there were aerodynamic dangers as well? The first crash into the building is just the first in a series of catastrophes beleaguering the cast. Although the time spent getting to know the characters is somewhat lengthy, the subsequent dangers leave you forgetting the film's flaws and get the heart pumping with taut suspense.
Both films have several moments with the trademark South Korean over-the-top slapstick, which may take viewers out of the story momentarily, but their unflinching devotion to entertaining audiences wins out. The only loser may just be Hollywood, in taking a back seat to the ever-growing South Korean film industry.
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