By Shim Sun-ah, Koh Eunjee
SEOUL, July 18 (Yonhap) -- The race for the domestic summer box office crown has just gotten started.
With no films hitting the significant 10 million milestone in attendance in the first half of this year, four films from big Korean studios are ready to open one after another from this week, aiming to become million sellers. In South Korea, a film is considered a huge box office success if it passes the 10 million audience mark.
The first player is acclaimed animator Yeon Sang-ho's live-action debuting film "Train to Busan."
The film that is scheduled to be out on Wednesday depicts a group of people trying to survive a mysterious virus by boarding an express train bound for Busan, a southern port city that has fended off the nationwide viral outbreak.
Premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival in the out of competition "Midnight Screenings" category, the apocalyptic zombie thriller received favorable responses for depicting terrified passengers fighting against zombies inside the limited space of a KTX bullet train.
It stars Gong Yoo, Kim Soo-an, Jung Yu-mi and Ma Dong-seok.
The second runner is "Operation Chromite," which has drawn wide media attention for including the Hollywood star Liam Neeson among its main cast.
Directed by Lee Jae-han, the Korean War blockbuster is about a heroic South Korean intelligence unit that carried out a covert operation to prepare for the historic amphibious operation led by U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
Despite some unfavorable reviews that the film resorts too much to Korean patriotism and contains hero-movie cliches, there are also expectations that it may follow in the footsteps of "Roaring Currents" and "Assassination," films that became million sellers by fanning Korean moviegoers' patriotic sentiment.
In addition to the presence of the Hollywood star as the U.S. general, "Operation Chromite" has an extra edge: It is rated for those aged 12 or older while "Train to Busan" is for those aged 15 or older.
In August, two local films -- "The Last Princess" and "The Tunnel" -- are scheduled to be out on the same day on Aug. 10.
"The Last Princess" is based on the true life story of Princess Deokhye, the youngest daughter of King Gojong of the Korean Empire (1897-1907). Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945. Cinematized from the namesake novel by Kwon Bi-young, the historical film stars top actress Son Ye-jin and is directed by Hur Jin-ho, a master of romance and drama films best known for "Christmas in August" and "One Fine Spring Day."
While "The Last Princess" has Son, "The Tunnel" has the movie star Ha Jung-woo, widely recognized for his acting ability.
"The Tunnel" portrays the life-or-death struggle of a car salesman who accidentally becomes trapped in a destroyed tunnel. His wife (Bae Doona) and rescue team captain (Oh Dal-su) make every effort to save him but are confronted with a local politician and people who do not want a development plan to be delayed to rescue a single person who may have already died.
"Both Son and Ha are box-house magnets," an official with a film distributor said on condition of anonymity. "On top of that, the two films draw much anticipation for dealing with subjects with which local audiences can empathize."
Because of the close release dates, distributors of the much-awaited films are engaged in uphill battles to draw more public attention than their competitors.
"Train to Busan" was put on the screen under the excuse of paid previews for three days since Friday, five days before its official release on Wednesday. The result was successful as the film took almost 40 percent of tickets reserved for the weekend.
Distributors of the "The Last Princess" and "The Tunnel" may be more anxious about their opening score because they came to open on the same day.
Joining the summer box office battle is "Run Off," the sequel to the 2009 box office success "Take Off" about the national ski jumping team.
Although it attracts less attention than "The Last Princess" and "The Tunnel," "Run Off" is scheduled to open on Aug. 10.
The forthcoming sports drama flick follows the formation of South Korea's first-ever national female ice hockey team and its unlikely challenge for a medal in the 2003 Asian Winter Games in Aomori Prefecture, Japan.
"We cannot deny that we are under pressure because several much-anticipated Korean films are to open almost at the same time although the number of screens are limited," said an official with Showbox, the distributor of "The Tunnel."
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