After a six-year hiatus, Korean cinema is set to return to the Chinese big screen in wide release at last.
This Friday, Dec. 3, Chinese cinemas will run the 2020 comedy “Oh! My Gran (Oh! Moon-Hee),” official posters said Wednesday. Directed by Jeong Se-Gyo and written by Kim Soo-jin, the title stars Na Moon-hee as Moon-hee, the titular spirited grandma suffering from Alzheimer’s disease who, along with her dog, are the only witnesses of a hit-and-run accident that leaves her grandchild unconscious. The film tells the story of the sleuthing that ensues when she remembers a clue to the culprit.
When Seoul deployed the THAAD U.S. missile defense system in 2016, Beijing expressed its displeasure with a ban on Korean film and culture imports. A Korean film hasn’t had a proper theatrical outing in the mainland since 2015’s “The Assassination,” co-written and directed by Choi Dong-hoon.
Seven Korean films were invited to screen at the Beijing International Film Festival in 2018, including Hong Sang-soo’s “Claire’s Camera” and “The Day After,” signaling what observers hoped at the time would be a broader thaw. While that didn’t prove true at the time, “Oh! My Gran” is now breaking the ice. The formal, government-approved theatrical release is an indication that an influx of Korean content could be set to enter the world’s largest film market.
The news also hit the same day that GQ magazine’s Chinese edition revealed that Korean actor Lee Dong Wook (“My Girl,” “Scent of a Woman,” “Tale of the Nine Tailed”) is the cover star for its December 2021 issue.
China is home to millions of devout K-pop and K-drama fans who, for years, have followed the latest developments of series and bands through informal channels, in spite of China’s import moratorium. Fans expressed their excitement at the prospect of Korean culture once again allowed into the mainstream, with the hashtag “#Korean Films Released in the Mainland After 6 Years” viewed more than 150 million times. Many posted variations on the question: “Is this the end of Hallyu [Korean wave] restrictions?”
Veteran Korean actress Na was born in Beijing. A number of viewers in China who were familiar with “Oh! My Gran” or her past work encouraged others to see the title in theaters over social media. Next year marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between South Korea and China.
The announcement of the film’s release comes just two days before its actual premiere, leaving little time for promo. Only around 2,000 people currently have indicated they’re interested in the film on the Maoyan platform, and only 257 screenings nationwide are currently planned for opening day.
According to data from Alibaba’s Beacon database, the top five highest grossing Korean films in China of all time are the 2015 spy flick “Assassination,” which grossed RMB47 million ($6.73 million, according to Box Office Mojo data with exchange rates at the time); 2014’s “The Admiral: Roaring Currents,” which earned RMB27 million ($3.98 million); “The Thieves” in 2013, which grossed RMB22 million ($2.95 million); 2011’s sci-fi actioner “Sector 7” (RMB21.2 million); and the 2009 thriller “Tidal Wave (Haeundae)” RMB16.7 million.
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