DRAGON WARS: D-WAR Update from Korea
DRAGON WARS: D-WAR, which opened on September 14 across America, has become this past summer one of the most successful blockbusters in Korea. Like many blockbusters, the opening record of DRAGON WARS was very strong from the start. As I reported in a SFJ news bite on August 2, the film, which opened on the previous day in Korea, attracted 417,298 admissions at 530 screens nationwide. It was quite close behind the first day record of THE HOST, which devoured 450,000 moviegoers on the first day and went on to swallow 13 million of them in 2006 to finally become the biggest hit in Korean film history.
Rather naturally, critics didn’t like DRAGON WARS (this part is beginning to repeat in the U.S, too, I think). Many of them criticized the movie for having a weak plot and below-average acting, and some of them even bashed director Shim Hyung-rae, claiming that he focused more on exporting the film overseas than making it better. Below are quotes from some remarks by the Korean critics.
“Too poor. The protagonist does nothing but run away. There is no plot, which is a foundation of any film, therefore actors cannot act accordingly.” – Jin Joong-kwon
“The special effects in DRAGON WARS, first of all, do not mesh with the story or characters. The two protagonists, who seem to appear just to fill in the gaps between brilliant computer graphics, keep running away from Buraki and the evil forces. The story tells about destiny, which transmigrates across 500 years between the Chosun dynasty and present day America, seems to be just a mere setting for the special effects.” – Lee Dong-jin, Movie Scene
“Oh, my god.” – Darcy Paquet, Variety
Despite being criticized, the film was an instant hit. On Monday, August 6, the box office result of the first weekend was released and the numbers were quite impressive. For five days (August 2-6), DRAGON WARS sold 2.27 million tickets and was ranked at number one at the Korean box office. It continued to dominate the Korean box office chart for three consecutive weeks.
Weekend Box Office (August 3-5, 2007)
1 (NEW) DRAGON WARS
2 (1) MAY 18
3 (2) LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD
4 (3) RATATOUILLE
5 (NEW) EPITAPH
6 (4) TRANSFORMERS
7 (NEW) 1408
8 (5) HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
9 (6) EVAN ALMIGHTY
10 (NEW) THE HITCHER (2006)
Weekend Box Office (August 10-12, 2007)
1 (1) DRAGON WARS
2 (2) MAY 18
3 (NEW) FANTASTIC FOUR : RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER
4 (NEW) RETURN
5 (4) RATATOUILLE
6 (NEW) SURF’S UP
7 (5) EPITAPH
8 (3) LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD
9 (6) TRANSFORMERS
10 (7) 1408
Weekend Box Office (August 17-19, 2007)
1 (1) DRAGON WARS
2 (2) MAY 18
3 (NEW) MEETING PLACE
4 (NEW) LOVE LOW
5 (NEW) STARDUST
6 (4) RETURN
7 (NEW) ZODIAC
8 (NEW) MR. BEAN’S HOLIDAY
9 (3) FANTASTIC FOUR : RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER
10 (5) SURF’S UP
The continuing number one status ceased on the fourth week, when DRAGON WARS was replaced by MAY 18, another Korean film which is about the historical 1980 Gwangju Democratization Movement. According to the September 21-23 box office chart from KOBIS, a service from The Korean Film Council, DRAGON WARS has sold 7,838,746 tickets to date. The Korean distributor Showbox claims that the film has attracted more than 8.2 million. It was a slam-bang hit.
So how did the film perform so well in Korea? According to many Korean sources, the reasons can be summarized as follows. First, DRAGON WARS was open when most schools in Korea took vacation. This is the main factor of dominance of family audiences.
Second, Shim and Showbox statistically emphasized that the film would be released in the U.S widely. There had been news about the U.S release before the Korean opening and it successfully stimulated the patriotic propensity of the Korean audiences.
Third, Shim Hyung-rae was already a superstar in Korea. He appeared on some of the most popular TV entertainment shows just before the opening of the film. He even showed tears when he recollected the long production period and the hardship it had caused. His popularity and this appeal to sympathy of the masses were believed to be one of the important factors of success for the film in Korea. Suddenly, there was a mood in which everybody thought that no matter how the critics said about the film, they got to see it. Voila.
DRAGON WARS opened in 4th place in the American box office with a first weekend take of $5, 041,239 and is still in the top 10 in its second week. While meeting expectations, it unfortunately seems that DRAGON WARS will not be such a hit in the U.S as it was in Korea. The film objectively lacks competence and its targets are not average audiences, but devoted genre fans or B-movie lovers. Korea and the United States are two very different markets indeed.
However, the fact is that DRAGON WARS is the most talked-about film of the year in Korea, and as a giant monster fan who lives there, I hope that the American audiences will enjoy the film.
Despite being clumsy, DRAGON WARS is quite an interesting giant monster film in which the sheer style of the ones of 1950s and 60s. The film finally met audiences after a long production period of 6 years and spending a staggering budget. I know that Shim could not make a masterpiece and I think he probably never will. But I know DRAGON WARS will make its place in the history of giant monster films, good or bad.
On September 3, director Shim Hyung-rae held a press conference in Korea just after returning from the U.S and finalizing discussions with Freestyle Releasing about the nationwide release of DRAGON WARS. Shim said that he was planning the sequel to DRAGON WARS and hoped to release it in three and a half years. On September 21, Shim told the Korean Cultural Center in Manhattan that he was planning to release DRAGON WARS 2 in the summer of 2009. The sequel will begin with Ethan, still missing Sarah, discovering that an old woman in Korea keeps a large snake. There will be new monsters for the second film. Shim also said that Sony Pictures secured the U.S home video rights to DRAGON WARS.
And Younggu Art plans to produce more films in the future. Some of the projects that were introduced in the conference are as follows:
Using state-of-the-art computer graphic imagery, the late Marlon Brando lives again as The Godfather on screen. Shim’s popular comic character Younggu will appear as Brando’s son(!). Brando, desperately seeking his successor, finds Younggu, his long lost son. He accidentally becomes a member of the Family, and… you know the rest. Shim said that he wished to release this film before DRAGON WARS 2, in about two years.
BOONGEOBBANG OF MEMORY
A 3D animation film set in 1950s-70s Korea. The story concerns how ordinary Koreans lived at that particular time. This seems to be a very old-fashioned, nostalgic look at the period. (Boongeobbang is an old, popular snack in Korea. It is a fish-shaped wheat bun with sweet red-bean filling inside. There is a similar snack called ‘taiyaki’ in Japan as well.)
Back in 2001, Younggu Art issued a promotional booklet for DRAGON WARS that included the first mention of the company’s plans for their next project. Entitled FISH WAR, the film’s English synopsis read:
In the deep, bottomless sea … There are undersea cities where mutated fishes with highly developed intellectual power live together peacefully. But, they got into rage and swore revenge against human beings who continue to catch fishes indiscriminately.
One of those days, mysterious events started happening, such as pleasure boats at sea sunk and submarines exploded in the sea. Finally, fishes declared a war against human beings on land and came out on the ground to conquer the human beings with highly advanced weapons and military strength, several times more developed than those of human beings. Human beings was defeated instantly by fishes equipped with bombers shaped like a stingray, battle tanks like an octopus, and special forces like a seahorse, and finally put the world under the control of fishes, not of human beings anymore. At court, Dr. Octopus sentenced human beings who habitually tormented fishes. At a sushi restaurant, a catfish, puffing cigars, waited for dishes made of human beings. And fishes caught and refridgerated human beings as exactly human beings did to fishes and completely controlled the whole world.
In Japan, meanwhile, Yamamoto family, the well known sushi master in business for 3 generations, became an most infamous enemy of fishes.
Shim recently stated that FISH WAR was still on the company’s schedule, but the announcement of DRAGON WARS 2 and other projects leave the future of this film in doubt.
For information on DRAGON WARS: D-WAR, please see the previous coverage here on SciFi Japan:
- AFM /AFI FEST REPORT #2: D-WAR
- D-WAR Finally Gets Theatrical Release
- D-WAR Becomes DRAGON WARS for September US Release
- Strong Opening Day for D-WAR
- DRAGON WARS: D-WAR Press Notes
- DRAGON WARS: D-WAR News Bites
- DRAGON WARS: D-WAR Hollywood Premiere Sept 13