People visit Megabox in Seoul to see movies. / Korea Times file
By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
Watching a movie should be hassle-free, but not for most expatriates in Seoul.
When you go to a cinema, you are greeted by movie posters with titles written in Hangul. Titles of foreign movies are usually just Romanized translations, but can still be difficult to decipher.
When you get to the ticket box, non-Korean speaking foreigners will encounter problems communicating with staff members about choosing the right seat for the right movie at the right time. During weekends or holidays, it can be frustrating to get to a cinema and to find out all the tickets are sold out in advance.
For most Koreans, the solution is to go online and buy movie tickets, hours or even days in advance.
But foreigners find that visiting a movie theater’s website is not much better than lining up for tickets at the cinema. Foreign residents are not only inconvenienced by the lack of English information on the website, but also the difficulties in signing up for an account.
Plus popular Korean films are also rarely shown with English subtitles, which discourage international fans from trekking to the theater.
The Korea Times overviewed several popular cinema chains in Seoul and their websites to find out which one offers the most foreigner-friendly services.
Owned by CJ Group, CGV is the largest cinema chain in Korea and has been expanding overseas with outlets in China.
CGV was the first to offer membership for foreigners on its website (www.cgv.co.kr), but it only offered limited English information and the entire process of booking a ticket was still done in Korean.
Now, one has to apparently sign up not on the CGV website, but for the new CJ One lifestyle membership website for all CJ affiliates such as Olive Young, Tous Les Jours and Cold Stone Creamery.
The CJ One website is in Korean, but on the positive side, it does accept the alien registration card number which means foreigners can register. All the user service agreements are in Korean. But if you can read and write basic Korean, it is fairly easy to sign up for the CJ One card.
The ID and password for CJ One website can be used to book tickets online at the CGV website. This reporter tried reserving a ticket, but the process is quite complicated and required a credit card for payment. This proves to be difficult again for foreign residents who do not have a locally issued credit card.
Once you successfully reserve the ticket and print out the voucher, there is one more hurdle. At the CGV cinemas, there are ticketing machines which are once again all in Korean. It would be helpful if CGV would provide a ticketing machine with an English language option to make it more convenient for foreigners to get their movie tickets.
Lotte Cinema is another popular cinema chain, but unfortunately it also does not seem to make any effort to cater to foreign customers.
The Lotte Cinema website (www.lottecinema.co.kr) does not have any English information on movies or cinema locations. The website also only works on Internet Explorer. But more importantly, it does not allow foreigners to apply for membership, since alien registration numbers are not accepted.
At the Lotte Cinema, there is also not much information or services that would make it easier for foreign customers to buy tickets. Usually, when you buy a ticket, the staff member will just assign a seat, and not bother to ask what specific seat you want.
Megabox is a smaller chain of cinemas but its branch at Coex Mall is always crowded with moviegoers. The Megabox website (www.megabox.co.kr) has some English, with sections for Movies, Tickets and a Helpdesk, but curiously all the information is in Korean.
Foreigners can sign up for a Megabox membership on the website, although one has to wade through the Korean instructions. All the user service agreements are in Korean as well. Plus a Korean bank-issued credit card is also needed to purchase tickets.
When one plans to watch a movie at Megabox Coex, it is important to book a ticket in advance, especially if it’s a popular movie and it’s on a weekend. There are usually long lines at the counter, and popular films are usually sold out in advance.
Poor Korean film subtitle service
For foreigners who are interested in watching Korean movies, it is rare to find Korean movies with English subtitles.
This year, CGV has been working on a ``Korean film subtitle service’’ with the Seoul Metropolitan Government. At least one Korean film is shown with English subtitles at selected CGV cinemas (Gangnam, Myeongdong, Yongsan and Guro) every month. Locations were chosen because of the high number of international residents in these areas.
Previous films that have been shown include ``Festival,’’ and ``A Better Tomorrow,’’ while this month’s offering is `` First Love,’’ starring Gong Yoo and Lim Soo-jung.
This reporter watched ``The Man from Nowhere’’ with English subtitles at CGV Myeongdong a few months ago. There was no problem with the film’s English subtitles.
However, it was interesting to note that the CGV website does not have any ads or banners promoting this service. At the CGV Myeongdong ticket box, one cannot find any information about the Korean films being screened with English subtitles. It seems counterproductive to provide this kind of service for foreigners while making little effort to promote it at all.
It would also be good if the Seoul Metropolitan Government expanded the number of cinemas where these Korean films with English subtitles are shown.
Ignoring the foreign community
There is no doubt that major cinema chains like CGV, Megabox and Lotte Cinema have excellent, modern and clean facilities.
However, their services should go one step further and address the needs of the growing expatriate population in Korea. This oversight is even more glaring considering that CGV and Megabox are expanding overseas.
Even smaller cinemas like Daehan Cinema, Seoul Cinema, Star Six and City Cinema are also found to be not so foreigner-friendly.
For a start, the cinemas in Seoul should at least put both Korean and English titles for Korean and international films. The cinema chains should also work to have at least one ticket machine with different language options to cater to foreign customers.
This might seem like a small problem, but it seems to be indicative of Korean companies’ continued indifference to addressing the needs of the growing number of foreign residents in Korea.