Commercial success of 'The Roundup' offers hopes to film industry

A scene from "The Roundup" [ABO ENTERTAINMENT]

“The Roundup,” the follow-up of 2017 film “The Outlaws,” revolving around villain-tackling police officer Ma Seok-do, exceeded expectations, and raked commercial success by surpassing 10 million ticket sales as of Sunday, according to the Korean Film Council. The feat signaled an end to the dry spell the local box office has been going through for two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

With social distancing measures relaxed and moviegoers finally allowed to consume popcorn and various snacks inside theaters, audiences have been flocking to see what adventures the “beast” cop Seok-do, portrayed by actor Ma Dong-seok (also known as Don Lee), will go on.

“The Roundup” is the first film from the local box office to surpass 10 million — a number deemed as the milestone for commercial success for local industry — since the advent of the pandemic. Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” last reached the milestone in 2019.

For “The Roundup,” the mark was reached 25 days after the film’s release in local theaters on May 18, about a month faster than “Parasite,” which took 53 days. According to data released by Korean Film Council Wednesday, the film has now garnered over 10.7 million in ticket sales. The film became the 28th film to surpass reach the benchmark in Korea.

Ma has now become a global brand with his almighty image and action scenes, which he also showed off in Marvel film “Eternals” (2021) as immortal alien Gilgamesh. Moviegoers often jokingly say that they almost feel sorry for his opponents, because one way or another they know that once Ma appears on screen, it means the end for the opponent.

This image of the actor was not born out of blue: From “The Neighbors” (2012), global hit zombie film “Train to Busan” (2016) and “The Outlaws” (2017), to “The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil” (2019), his enormous physical presence and strength has become iconic.

For movie theaters, “The Roundup” is the saving grace that they’ve been hoping for since the pandemic, when the market share of Korean films fell to 30.1 percent, its lowest in a decade, as local films pushed back their release dates due to lack of audiences.

Stars of "The Roundup," actors Son Suk-ku, left, and Ma Dong-seok greet the moviegoers who came to watch their film at CGV Pangyo in Gyeonggi on June 6. [YONHAP]

The sudden rise of popularity for the actor who portrayed the villain in "The Roundup," Son Suk-ku, first known for his appearance in JTBC drama series “My Liberation Notes” (2022) was an another critical factor in drawing people to theaters.

“I believe that ‘The Roundup’ played a significant role to remind people of the value of the movie theater, unlike the content seen through streaming services where one [usually] watches alone,” said Hwang Jae-hyun, a spokesman for movie theater chain CGV. “[For Son], I thought his popularity is proof to show that different content in different formats can create synergy with one another, across the barriers of movie theaters, streaming services and television.”

With the success of “The Roundup” and the looming peak season during the summer when moviegoers often seek solace in the dark, cool theaters, release schedules for local and foreign films are already crammed. “Top Gun: Maverick,” for which Tom Cruise will visit Korea this weekend to promote, is being released on June 22; Cannes’ recipient of Best Director “Decision to Leave” by Park Chan-wook is being released on June 29; “Alienoid,” a highly anticipated sci-fi film directed by Choi Dong-hoon on July 20; “Hansan: Emergence of the Dragon (translated), a sequel to 2014 film “The Admiral: Roaring Currents” — another commercial hit which surpassed 10 million mark — is set to be released in July; “Emergency Declaration” featuring a star-studded cast including Cannes’ Best Actor winner Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jeon Do-yeon, Kim Nam-gil and Yim Si-wan is to be released sometime in August; and “Hunt,” the directorial debut of Netflix’s “Squid Game” star Lee Jung-jae will hit theaters on Aug. 10.

With a full line-up secure for this year, film critic Kim Hyung-seok said it is possible that another film could surpass the 10 million mark.

“What we didn’t anticipate is cinema’s speedy recovery,” said Kim. “It was made possible, of course, with the step-by-step relaxing of social distancing measures [...] In Korea, the film industry has been one of the most thriving segments of the entertainment industry and it is likely that it will reclaim that role [in the future].”