(ATTN: UPDATES with details of developments surrounding Hollywood film 'Tenet' in paras 6-8)
By Chang Dong-woo
SEOUL, Aug. 18 (Yonhap) -- As South Korea grapples with a resurgence of new COVID-19 clusters especially in the greater Seoul area, the country's culture sector has been placed on heightened alert again, with events being suspended and refunds being handed out in response to renewed fears of virus transmission.
Film distributor Showbox has announced that it will postpone the opening of comedy-crime film "The Golden Holiday," starring Kwak Do-won, indefinitely, due to the spread of the new coronavirus. The movie was originally scheduled to hit theaters Wednesday.
"Amid raised social-distancing guidelines and social concerns growing, we decided that drawing people into cinemas may hinder the government's quarantine efforts," Showbox said in a statement issued Sunday. The press screening for Tuesday was canceled as well.
The postponement decision by Showbox, one of the country's largest film distributing companies, comes amid the South Korean box office having recently shown positive signs of recovery -- led by domestic tentpole films "Peninsula," "Steel Rain 2: Summit" and "Deliver Us From Evil" -- after hitting rock bottom during the first half due to the pandemic.
A media conference for "Space Sweepers," an upcoming sci-fi blockbuster film starring Song Joong-ki and Lee Tae-ri, on Tuesday was also switched to an online format over concerns of person-to-person transmission.
Warner Bros. Korea also decided to cancel Wednesday's scheduled press screening for "Tenet," a Hollywood blockbuster film by director Christopher Nolan. A remote press conference with the director and the film's lead stars initially scheduled for Thursday was also canceled.
"Over the weekend, we discussed whether or not to go forward with the events after discussing it with the screening theater and Warner Bros. headquarters," a company representative said. Canceling the two events were unavoidable due to the virus situation, the official explained.
The company representative said "Tenet" plans to open at the South Korean box office on Aug. 26 as planned.
Hit musical productions are also offering refunds for booked tickets for August without penalties.
The production "Mozart!" featuring former K-pop group TVXQ singer Kim Jun-su, is offering refunds for shows until Aug. 23, and the production "Rent" is also refunding for shows on the same dates.
Productions "Marie Curie" and "Murder Ballad" also announced they are refunding reservations without penalties.
The Seoul Arts Center has also canceled 10 concerts scheduled for the remainder of August and 15 concerts scheduled for September, citing COVID-19.
The Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra also canceled two concerts over the weekend, including a show on the 75th anniversary of Liberation Day on Saturday, after an orchestra member was diagnosed with COVID-19.
The member was linked to a patient who went to the Sarang Jeil Church, one of the sources of the recent new wave of outbreaks in the capital.
Upcoming regular season shows by the orchestra, funded by the Seoul metropolitan government, scheduled for Thursday, Wednesday and Aug. 27 may also be canceled, according to the orchestra.
"The decision on holding concerts and other projects will be made in consideration of the safety of our members and the public," the orchestra said.
The National Museum of Korea has also been shut down indefinitely since Sunday, after an employee was confirmed to be infected with the virus. Most public museums and art galleries in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province are currently operating at under 50 percent capacities in terms of allowing visitors.
The culture ministry has also put on hold indefinitely its program of distributing discount coupons worth a total 90.4 billion won (US$76.2 million) to spur spending on domestic tourism, concerts, exhibitions, cinemas and sports activities.
The program is part of a 346.9 billion-won fund procured by the ministry from the government's third extra budget passed last month in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Estimated financial losses caused by the new coronavirus since January in the areas of culture, sports and tourism in South Korea have surpassed 7 trillion won, according to the ministry.