By Kim Boram
SEOUL, March 12 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean film industry, struggling with the wide spread of the coronavirus, sees the outlook for its summer peak season remaining bleak even if the epidemic eases.
As the number of confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus has reached nearly 7,900 since the first outbreak on Jan. 20, the South Korean government raised the virus alert to the highest level last month and asked the public to refrain from outdoor activities.
The rapidly spreading coronavirus has been keeping people from local cinemas, and the number of moviegoers fell to 7.35 million in February, down sharply from 22.28 million tallied a year ago.
As a result, local distributors have rescheduled the release of films set to hit theaters in February and March. About 50 homegrown and foreign movies have reportedly postponed their opening schedules, including Walt Disney Co.'s live action film "Mulan."
Many of them are planning to open after May in expectation of virus fears lessening.
But insiders predict that the situation will hardly improve in the summer peak season, when most of the year's box office hits come out.
Due to the nationwide efforts to prevent further infections, schools and kindergartens have been closed for nearly a month, with the start of the spring semester put off for at least three weeks.
The closure will consequently reduce the school summer vacation period by two or three weeks and affect the film industry as well.
The upcoming Summer Olympic will be more bad news for filmmakers, as people tend to turn their eyes to see the world's biggest sporting event on TV.
"We lost two months, February and March. This deadlock will likely continue for more months unless no infections are reported," said an official from CGV, a leading multiplex theater chain in South Korea. "Public sentiment has dampened largely, and the summer box office isn't positive."
Some film production houses are also reluctant to map out detailed plans to open their blockbusters in the summer due to rising uncertainties.
CJ ENM, an entertainment unit of CJ Group, has a draft lineup of its 2020 films, including "Seobok," a tentatively named science fiction movie starring Gong Yoo and Park Bo-gum, for August, but no detailed schedule has been determined yet.
Others, however, hope big-name blockbusters will attract film fans who have been longing to see movies to cinemas again in the summer.
Action film "Peninsula," directed by Yeon Sang-ho, who created the smash-hit zombie thriller "Train To Busan" (2016), will hit local screens this summer, while sci-fi film "Lightning Ship," starring Song Joong-ki and Kim Tae-ri, will be released in August.
"The most important condition for the recovery is the end of the coronavirus spread," the CGV official said. "And we need entertaining and competitive content to lure people to return to theaters."
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