Are Korean Movie Stars Too Expensive?

Sept 13, 2006

The Korean film industry continues to grow at an alarming pace. After "Silmido" opened an era of 10-million ticket sellers in 2004, four more films quickly followed suit. "The Host" recently set a new record, taking the top spot from the "King and the Clown," which itself brought more than 12.3 million Koreans to the theaters earlier this year. But the growth in the industry means the amount Chungmuro’s biggest names are charging for appearances on the big screen is also shooting through the roof. How does it compare to overall production costs?

How Much Do They Make?

Clockwise from left: Bae Yong-joon, Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jang Dong-gun,
Jang Jin-young, Jeon Do-yeon, Jeon Ji-hyun and Lee Young-ae

The rates stars charge are a good way to gauge their popularity. Currently, Bae Yong-joon is Korea’s highest paid actor. In last year’s "April Snow," the actor was estimated to have earned at least twice the W300 million(US$1=W959) he got for his work on "Untold Scandal" in 2003.

By using the buzz generated by Bae Yong-joon’s popularity, only in the early stages of production the film was exported to Japan for US$7 million and subsequently raked in W23 billion with its successful run. Choi Min-sik, Song Kang-ho and Seol Kyung-gu are known as the Three Musketeers of Chungmuro for their ability to bring box office success, and they command around W500 million per film. Then there are Lee Byung-hun and Cha Seung-won, who each get about W350 million per movie, and of course Jang Dong-gun, whose appearance in "Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War" helped take that film above the 10 million tickets mark.

Among the women, Lee Young-ae and Jeon Ji-hyun are at the top, each getting about W350 million-W400 million for their work, while Jeon Do-yeon and Jang Jin-young get W300 million -W350 million for their appearances.

Hollywood Prices

Clockwise from left: Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt,
Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, Cameron Diaz and Julia Roberts

It is hard to make a direct comparison between the price of Korean stars and their foreign counterparts, due to the fact that the scope of distribution is different, as is the size of the market. Tom Cruise made the most money last year of any Hollywood actor, according to the U.S.’ Quigley Publishing, which has every year since 1932 researched producers and theaters owners to find out who the top 10 earners are.

Tom Cruise confirmed his popularity with "War of the Worlds," after winning back the top spot with "Vanilla Sky." Johnny Depp was second, followed by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, who starred in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." According to Hollywood sources, Tom Cruise earns $28 million-$30 million per film: a sum 56 times greater than the highest-earning Korean screen star. Tom Hanks came second with $27million-$28 million, and Johnny Depp followed with $26 million. Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz get about $20 million per film, while Nicole Kidman, Jessica Alba and Angelina Jolie earn around $15 million.

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