Sequels show steady sales at box office over Chuseok holidays

From left, Hyun Bin, Yoo Hai-jin and Daniel Henney portray the cop trio from North Korea, South Korea and the United States that catches a North Korean crime lord in “Confidential Assignment 2: International.” [CJ ENM]

At the local box office, the Lunar New Year and Chuseok harvest holidays offer the perfect chance to land a successful premiere as moviegoers flock to their nearby theaters with their family or friends during the long holiday.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the scene over the years: with ticket prices soaring as movie theaters scramble to recover from their losses — among the big three multiplex movie chains CGV, Megabox and Lotte Cinema, ticket prices rose to as high as 15,000 won — moviegoers seem to have gotten a bit more picky when choosing a film to see, wanting to reap their money’s worth of cinematic experience.

But one film released on Sept. 7, two days prior to Chuseok this year, managed to pull through, selling over 3 million tickets over the long holiday. “Confidential Assignment 2: International” is the much-anticipated sequel to 2017 cop buddy film “Confidential Assignment.”

Hyun Bin and Yoo Hai-jin appear once again in their roles as North Korean and South Korean detectives Lim Cheol-ryung and Kang Jin-tae, while Korean-American FBI agent Jack, portrayed by Daniel Henney, enters the mix in the sequel. The cop duo becomes a trio as they resolve to capture North Korean crime lord Jang Myung-jun, portrayed by Jin Seon-kyu. Lim Yoon-a, who had her silver screen debut in the first film, also returns in the sequel, forming a love triangle with Hyun Bin and Henney.

Director Lee Suk-hoon [CJ ENM]

At an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily on Sept. 5, director Lee Suk-hoon admitted that he did feel the pressure to measure up to the success of his predecessor, Kim Sung-hoon, who directed the first film which sold over 7.8 million tickets.

“Success stories of a film sequel exceeding people’s expectations are, I think, still rare in Korea,” Lee said. “I don’t exactly know the reason why, but people usually find the sequels less entertaining. Our priority for this sequel was that it has to be more fun, more entertaining than the 2017 film. Such elements are that a new character, an American cop, enters the story, and the people coming back from the first story cannot pull off the same performances as they did before. The focus for this film was that the overall narrative has to be jauntier than the first film.”

Lee said, however, that he did not want to overdo it. Comedy is Lee’s strong point, as shown in his prior films “The Pirates” (2014), “Dancing Queen” (2012), “Two Faces of My Girlfriend” (2007) and “See You After School” (2006).

“The groundwork of this film is a cop buddy film,” Lee explained. “So I didn’t want to [hurt the genre] and force comedy in where it doesn’t fit. Instead of bringing unlikely coincidences or creating unauthentic plots, I wanted the comedy to naturally blend in — like when even though the characters are dead serious, the situation itself is funny to the audience.”

Lim Yoon-a becomes a crucial figure in resolving the cop trio’s mission. Lim also finds herself involved in a love triangle with Hyun Bin and Henney. [CJ ENM]

One of the big comedic elements of the new film is the love triangle between Lim, Hyun Bin and Henney. Lim’s character Min-young falls for Hyun Bin.

Through only a one-sided crush in “Confidential Assignment,” Lim finds herself in a dilemma when another equally handsome — and even gentlemanly — Henney appears on the scene. To win Lim back, Hyun Bin, who remained almost sullen to Lim’s seductions before, makes a move before he goes back to North Korea, implying that the film franchise could continue.

Lee initially worried that the romance between Lim and Hyun Bin would look forced to the audience.

“I worried that we were unnaturally inputting a [romantic] situation just for the sake of entertainment,” Lee said. “Is their love realistically possible, or does Cheol-ryung really have feelings for Min-young? On the other hand, a film can also visualize fantasy, something that might sound impossible in reality, on the screen. And the audience was anticipating this, so I decided to express it as subtly as I could, arriving to the conclusion that Cheol-ryung would indirectly express his feelings for Min-young.”

Jin Seok-kyu, since his successful portrayal of a villain in “The Outlaws” (2017), returns as a villain once again in “Confidential Assignement 2: International.” [CJ ENM]

“Confidential Assignment” is not the first successful sequel. Just a few months back, “The Roundup,” the sequel to another cop film “The Outlaws” (2017), became the first film to surpass the local box office milestone of selling more than 10 million tickets, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As Lee had said at a prior local press event for the film last month, instead of dread, the audience now awaits their favorite characters' return to the screen with anticipation, as the notion of intellectual properties (IPs) has become widespread, with K-pop artists, actors and webtoon and game characters fluctuating between entertainment platforms and mediums, an example of which being the webtoon that was created based off of BTS members.

Another sequel, “Hansan: Rising Dragon,” which is director Kim Han-min’s second film of his trilogy depicting Korea’s much celebrated historical figure Yi Sun-shin (1545-1598), was released on July 27 and sold over 7.2 million tickets.

And due to the success of “The Roundup,” its distribution company Megabox Plus M had announced earlier in July that production for the third and fourth installment of that series was already underway.

Lee hopes this norm of expanding film franchises is here to stay.

“We don’t have that many precedents set about film franchises, but let’s say, for example, the third and fourth installments for ‘The Outlaws’ does well,” Lee said. “Then maybe there could be a spinoff story about the side characters, such as the character of Jang Yi-su [an ethnic Korean from China who helps police detective Ma Seok-do resolve crimes]. For ‘Confidential Assignment,’ maybe there could be a spinoff film or drama series revolving around Jin-tae and the crimes he solves in South Korea with his fellow cops, even without Cheol-ryung. [The possibilities] are endless — it doesn’t have to be a star-studded cast for the expansion of the film franchise.