Large parts of South Korea’s entertainment industry are reeling as the national government put capital city Seoul on the country’s second highest virus response footing. Concerts, award shows and movie premieres are being canceled, and all but essential staff are being told to work remotely.
“Most people are working from the office here in Busan, but our secondary office in Seoul closed from today, and it will stay closed until the end of December,” Nam Dongchul, the Busan International Film Festival’s chief programmer told Variety. “We were lucky to be able to hold the festival in October.”
“We’ll be working from home again,” said Kim Yunjeong at Seoul-based film sales agent Finecut. “This is the new normal.”
The shelter in place orders are a disappointment for the country’s entertainment industry, which had been riding high from the recent successes of Oscar winning film “Parasite,” pop acts BTS and Blackpink crossing over to become global phenomena, as well as growing international demand for Korean TV shows. The country’s testing and contact tracing regime had enjoyed success in the early months of the year and kept Korean entertainment productions rolling in April when most of the rest of the developed world was under some form of lockdown.
The Level 2.5 alert, on a five-tier scale, was applied to the capital region from Tuesday as the country appeared to be moving deeper into a third wave of the coronavirus. It will be in place for an initial three weeks, but could be extended.
There were 594 new cases reported on Tuesday, following two days with over 600 additions, and three deaths. Health officials fear further increases as the proportion of tests which yield a virus-positive indication is four times higher than in October and November.
The new alert status means that most people in Seoul should stay home, group size should not exceed 50 people, and cafes must switch to takeout only service. It heralds a mandatory 9pm shutdown for cinemas, supermarkets, amusement parks and those dine-in restaurants that remain functional.
Big Hit Entertainment, the talent agency behind K-pop superstars BTS, revised its plans for a New Year’ Eve concert. The concert was initially announced as an in-person event that would include performances by BTS and Tomorrow X Together. But the company now says the event will be online-only.
The new rules mean that cinemas additionally, must also increase social distancing within theaters by leaving one seat between every two customers. Short of a full closure, the movie theatrical business could scarcely be more depressed than it is already. Box office numbers have been trending downwards ever since the Chuseok holidays at the beginning of October, and the most recent weekend yielded pitiful aggregate nationwide gross revenues of $1.44 million.
The gigantic Seoul metropolis is home to nearly half of the country’s 52 million population. And it remains the focal point of the entertainment industry, despite government efforts to delocalize and relocate state organizations including the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) and Korea Media Rating Board.
On Monday it was announced that the Blue Dragon film awards due to have been held on Friday will be postponed until a new date in 2021. CJ Entertainment also announced the indefinite postponement of its starry sci-fi action movie “Seobok.” Another anticipated local film, musical “Life Is Beautiful” has also been pushed to a later date.
That leaves just the Christmas week without any major local titles. Among import films, only “Wonder Woman 1984” and Pixar’s “Soul” continue to maintain a Christmas presence.
Rising COVID-19 case numbers have already affected entertainment production. Filming of Netflix original “All of Us Are Dead” was suspended after a crew member tested positive.
Prominent names are among those who have tested positive. They include film director Min Kyu-dong (“Herstory”); Kogyeol and Bit-to both of boy group UP10TION; Yiren and Si-hyeon of girl group EVERGLOW; and K-pop soloist Chungha. Their cases have prompted mass testing of staff at the TV shows they were filming and at the Directors Guild of Korea.