South Korean Cinema Admissions Drop Amid Anti-Presidential Protests

Lee Hyo-won
The Hollywood Reporter

South Korea, which has a high rate of moviegoing, has turned its back on popcorn entertainment amid the country's recent political turmoil. Cinema admissions dropped considerably as five consecutive weekly protests took place near the presidential residence in Seoul. 

Ever since Korean President Park Geun-hye became involved in a corruption scandal in October, anti-presidential crowds have grown larger each weekend to cross 1 million on Nov. 12 and peak at 1.3 million this past weekend on Nov. 26 (Korea has a population of 50 million).

The weekly rallies mark the largest organized protest in Korea since the democratization movement in 1987 and have taken place on Saturdays, which usually draw the largest number of moviegoers.

According to the Korean Film Council's KOBIS database, cinemas nationwide earned $83.6 million during the month of November, compared to $119.9 million in October. This is a 30.3 percent drop ($36.3 million). It is also 17.9 percent ($18.2 million) less compared to last year, or $101.8 million (119.5 billion won) in November 2015.

The daily admissions rate this month dropped about 27 percent compared to October, from 553,550 to 406,384 per day. During past years, both the average admissions rate and monthly revenue were much higher for the month of November than October. Cinemas suffered a similar decline in 2014 when the nation mourned a large ferry sinking that left hundreds dead.

The public outrage is in response to a corruption scandal involving Choi Soon-sil, a close friend of President Park. Though Choi has no official government position or security clearance, she is alleged to have influenced the president's policies and edited her speeches. Choi is also accused of coercing major businesses to donate millions of dollars to two foundations she runs, and is also linked to a minor religious cult.

Park's approval rating fell to 4 percent - a record low for the head-of-state in Korean history - since the scandal. In a dramatic, five-minute televised address on Tuesday, Park announced that she is willing to step down. "I have now laid everything down," said the 64-year-old, adding that she will leave it to the parliament to decide on the shortening of her five-year term that is supposed to end in February 2018.

The nature of the protests, meanwhile, has also been noted by the media both near and far for having evolved into a festival of sorts. This past weekend, crowds gathered to hold candles at sundown, march toward the presidential residence, take coffee breaks at food trucks and pick up trash later.

K-pop singers including veteran artists Lee Juck, Yang He-eun and Jeon Ingwon have taken the stage set up on Gwangwhamun Plaza while A-list actors Yoo Ah-in (who played the lead in last year's Korean Oscar entry The Throne) and Cha In-pyo have been spotted among the masses.

Korean expats also took part in a string of demonstrations across the globe, from Paris and Berlin to Washington D.C. and Sydney. On Nov. 11, some 500 Koreans marched the streets of Los Angeles, which is home to the largest Korean community outside of Korea.

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