New records in K-pop, tourism, sports
By Do Je-hae
In retrospect, there were some outstanding cultural milestones for which this year will be remembered for.
One of them is the global expansion of “hallyu,” or Korean Wave, demonstrated most clearly by the meteoric rise of Korean rapper/singer Psy.
Also, Korean movies, sports and tourism broke new records this year.
Culture ministry correspondents recently took a vote on the top culture news of 2012 and here are the top five.
1. Expansion of hallyu beyond Asia
The popularity of K-pop has gone beyond Asian borders, and now Korean singers are staging large concerts in Europe, North and South America as well.
Psy recently made headlines when his “Gangnam Style” became the most-watched video of all time on YouTube in just five months, garnering more than 906 million views.
The hallyu sweep outside Korea has had a considerable ripple effect on the nation’s economy through related industries.
The economic value of hallyu-related products, such as TV dramas, and pop music for this year could amount to around 12 trillion won ($10.44 billion), a recent state research said. By 2020, it could reach $49.59 billion.
Due to rising interest in Korean culture, more foreigners are showing interest in learning Korean.
To deal with the rising demand in Korean language education, Seoul has installed more King Sejong Institutes for teaching Korean in countries and additional Korean cultural centers abroad.
2. Record number of foreign tourists
The number of tourists visiting Korea this year surpassed 10 million in November. It is the first time in Korea that the number topped 10 million per year.
If the estimated 11.2 million foreign tourists expected to visit the country by the end of December materializes then Korea is likely to become the world’s 20th largest tourist destination. The number of inbound travelers has grown an average of 15 percent for 33 years since it exceeded 1 million in 1978. It topped 5 million in 2000 and surpassed 7 million in 2010.
A surge in Chinese and Japanese tourists contributed to the rise.
The culture ministry celebrated the milestone event at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, by offering flowers to a Chinese woman, who became the 10 millionth person to visit Korea this year on Nov. 21.
3. Record moviegoers to Korean films
Last week, the number of people going to watch Korean films surpassed 100 million, owing to a series of hit movies. It is encouraging for the industry that many relatively low budget movies enjoyed popularity as well.
“Thieves,” starring many Korean and Hong Kong movie stars, became one of the biggest box office hits in Korean history. Although the budget for the movie was only 14.5 billion won, it grossed about 94 billion won.
“Masquerade,” with a production budget of 9.5 billion won earned 86 billion won, more than nine times its investment.
New directors contributed to the success of Korean cinema. Lee Yong-ju, the director of “Introduction to Architecture” and Cho Seong-hee, the director of “A Werewolf Boy,” made brilliant debuts this year.
4. Olympic glory
The nation cheered the London Olympic squad from July 27 to Aug. 12 as they competed and came home with a total of 28 medals (13 gold, 8 silver, and 7 bronze), finishing fifth in the medal standings. This was Korea’s best Olympic performance.
Korean athletes dominated in archery, where they won gold medals, and broke two world records.
Beside medals, Korea also focused on promoting Korean culture during the Olympics.
The government hosted at London’s South Bank June 2-Sept. 9 a three-month cultural campaign entitled “All Eyes on Korea: Shining Bright, Korea Through Colors.”
“Going into these Games, our focus is not entirely on the medal count as before. We are as committed to informing the world that Korea is not just an emerging economy, but a nation of rich tradition and history,” Culture Minister Choe Kwang-shik said during a previous interview with The Korea Times.
The “All Eyes on Korea” campaign featured renowned Korean artists including soprano Sumi Jo, conductor Chung Myung-whun, “pansori” singer Lee Ja-ram. Violinist Sarah Chang and pianist Kim Sun-wook also gave performances, while events to showcase Korean literature, films, food and K-pop took place as well.
The campaign was organized through cooperation between the culture ministry and the Korea Culture and Information Service, which serves as a control tower for the 24 Korean cultural centers abroad.
5. ’Pieta’s triumph at Venice Film Festival
Korean director Kim Ki-duk’s drama “Pieta,” the brutal story of a debt collector who cripples those who can’t pay until he meets a woman who claims to be his mother, won the Golden Lion for best film at the 69th Venice Film Festival in September.
This was the first Korean film to receive a “best film” honor at one of the top three international film festivals — Venice, Berlin and Cannes.