Korea Box Office: ‘Tenet’ Wins Weekend, but Difficulties for Exhibitors Increase

Korean cinemagoers came out to see “Tenet,” but their enthusiasm extended almost no further, as coronavirus cases resurge in the world’s number four box office market. And Korean cinema operators are retrenching.

“Tenet,” the much-anticipated time-looping spy thriller earned $2.90 million from 353,000 ticket sales over the Friday to Sunday weekend. It played on 2,216 screens, the majority of the country’s available sites.

Including previews from the previous weekend worth $719,000 and the takings from its midweek official debut, “Tenet” has accumulated $5.08 million to date in Korea, according to data from the Korean Film Council’s Kobis data system.

Dropping from first place to second, hitman thriller “Deliver Us From Evil” earned $411,000, down from its previous score of $1.41 million. Happily, it did most of its business, before the latest virus spike, and since its release on Aug. 5, the film has earned $31.8 million.

Korean-made comedy “OK! Madam” did not fare so well. It earned just $167,000 from the weekend, giving it a $9.08 million cumulative since release on Aug. 12.

That the weekend score for “Tenet” was double the takings of the top film during the previous weekend shows strong audience appetite for “Tenet.” But its 77% market share also underlines the weakened state of a theatrical market which a month ago had appeared to be on the recovery track, propelled by local blockbusters “Peninsula,” “#Alive,” and “Steel Rain 2: Summit.”

Capital city, Seoul is at the center of the latest coronavirus increase and new social distancing measures are being introduced by city authorities. South Korea has recorded around 300 new virus cases every day for weeks. A nearly six-month high of 441 new infections was reported last Thursday. The effect has been to drive down cinema patronage by roughly two thirds since the beginning of the month.

The slide is now hitting jobs in the sector. Over the weekend, number two exhibitor, Lotte CultureWorks said that it would offer voluntary retirement to employees with more than five years tenure. CJ-CGV announced the permanent closure of its mini complex at Incheon Airport.

“We’ve making constant efforts to maintain employment through a cut in salaries of executives, unpaid leave, reducing working hours and shutdown of some theaters,” an official from Lotte Cultureworks said, according to a Yonhap news agency report. “But we’ve decided to cut jobs due to the prolonged fallout from COVID-19.”

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