S.Korea halts film making to protest US trade deal
By Jon Herskovitz and Lee Jin-joo
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea’s movie industry ground to a halt on Wednesday, as dozens of stars and hundreds of film workers protested against a government move to cut protection for the industry to smooth free trade talks with the United States.
Last month, South Korea said it would halve a quota requiring cinemas to show local films for 146 days of the year to 73 days. Washington had advocated the cut, saying the quota was a barrier to a free trade agreement.
Following the move, the two countries announced last week plans to start talks on a bilateral free trade agreement.
South Korea’s government has promised financial aid for the film sector, but the local industry has vowed to fight what it regards as an attack by Hollywood on Korean culture.
"We are taking a stand against America," Yang Ki-hwan, a spokesman for the Screen Quota Alliance, told a rally of movie workers on the icy streets of downtown Seoul.
Behind Yang a crane with spotlights hoisted banners reading: "Save the screen quota. Keep our cultural rights."
A fair portion of the crowd was also made up of movie fans clutching cameras who said they supported the protests, but also wanted to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars.
"We came to support the screen quota and also to see Zo In-sung," said Kim Mal-keun, a student from Baehwa Middle School, referring to a popular actor.
"We have been waiting here for ages to see the movie stars," added Kim, who came to the rally with four classmates.
Organizers said the South Korean movie industry shut down for the day in support of the protest.
U.S. officials have said South Korea’s movie industry is one of the most vibrant in Asia and does not need the current quota system.
But South Korean actor An Sung-ki told Reuters Television on the sidelines of the rally that local movies were just starting to receive global notice and likened reducing the quota to cutting the bud of a flower that was about to bloom.
South Korean films typically have about a 60 percent market share in the country, according to local industry figures.
Free-trade backers say viewers should make the ultimate decision as to what they want to see on the screen.
Trade between the United States and South Korea was worth $72.5 billion in 2004, with Seoul enjoying a surplus of nearly $20 billion, according to South Korean government data.