Chinese audiences need time to adapt to return of South Korean films
Published: Dec 05, 2021 06:17 PM

Promotional photo of the movie Photo: Maoyan

Promotional photo of the movie Photo: Maoyan

 The first South Korean film screened in Chinese mainland theaters after six years, 2020 comedy movie Oh! My Gran has been getting good word of mouth since its release on Friday, but has only earned 945,000 yuan ($147,400) as of Sunday afternoon. 

This poor performance shows that Chinese audiences still need time to adapt to the return of South Korean films and that South Korean filmmakers have a long way ahead before they can really benefit from the mainland movie market again.

The release of the film in Chinese mainland cinemas on Friday has been seen as a good start for renewed cultural exchanges between China and South Korea by industry insiders amid the 30th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between the two countries and the year of China-South Korea cultural exchanges in 2022.

But its performance at the box office has not been optimistic. Chinese film critics noted that if South Korean films want to achieve success in the mainland film market, they must overcome their biggest obstacle - themselves.

One of the main reasons is that South Korean movies are good at making terrifying films with suspenseful plots, but such films have a difficult time entering the Chinese mainland. 

However, those films that can gain approval for entry are mainly heart-warming films like Oh! My Gran. Yet these are the types of films that easily get trapped in conventional patterns and have a difficult time innovating. 

Chinese audiences also need more time to readapt to the narrative styles in South Korean movies as six years is not a short amount of time and can change many people's tastes.

The warm film about deep love among family members stars veteran South Korean actress Na Moon-hee and actors Lee Hee-jun and Choi Won-young. An aging granny with Alzheimer's disease who is cared for by her son Du-won and her granddaughter Bo-mi has nearly forgotten everything in her life but endeavors to remember her love for her son and granddaughter.

The 109-minute-long film has a 7.3/10 on Chinese media review platform Douban, which is not a bad mark compared to its mark of 6.1/10 on IMDb, the online database of information related to films.

However, the movie, which had only 5,665 screenings in the mainland for a screen share of 1.5 percent, looks like it won't even break the 1 million yuan mark in its opening weekend.

Oh! My Gran explains the saying "Tragedy's at the root of much comedy." It narrates a heavy story against the backdrop of a humorous atmosphere. As a husband, a father and a son, a middle-aged man has a wife who has run away from home, a little daughter and elderly mother with Alzheimer's disease. While he wants to flee away from reality for a while and have fun at bar, which is a dilemma many middle-aged people are experiencing, but then his daughter gets into an accident that puts her in a coma," reads one review on Douban.

According to Chinese film critics, while the movie was not a hit in South Korea either, it was selected to enter the mainland market since the affection in the film is able to touch the hearts of audiences and make them think about their family relationships and feelings.

The box office of the movie proves that South Korean movies still have a long way in the Chinese mainland after bidding farewell to the mainland film market six years ago, Shi Wenxue, a Chinese film critic, told the Global Times on Sunday.

"Those who are familiar with South Korean movies are not satisfied with a mediocre movie, and those who are not familiar with South Korean movies do not go to the cinema because they are not accustomed to watching the country's movies," Shi said, explaining the reasons behind the film's poor box office.