Editorial: Train to Busan and other Korean Films in Toronto

Poster courtesy of Cineplex
Poster courtesy of Cineplex

I pay attention to the oddest things sometimes and last week I started wondering if Train to Busan (부산행) was the longest running Korean film in theatres in Toronto… ever. So of course, being me, I asked Cineplex, one of Canada’s largest entertainment companies and the theatres in which I see most of the Korean films I review via email. They kindly did a little research for me and found out that yes, Train to Busan is/was the longest running Korean film in Toronto. And not only that, but it has lasted almost twice as long at 11 weeks as the 2nd longest running Korean film in Toronto – which, in case you were wondering was Masquerade (광해: 왕이 된 남자) at 6 weeks in 2012.

And in addition to playing longer – 11 weeks, wow! – than any other Korean film here at Cineplex, it also played briefly at The Royal Theatre (an independent theatre in Toronto) and will screen twice at the upcoming Toronto After Dark Film Festival, later this month – Saturday, October 15th at 9:15 and 11:59 pm to be exact. So if you haven’t seen it (it closed at Cineplex yesterday), you still have a chance. And you really should!

Now, Train to Busan is doing well pretty much everywhere it’s playing including breaking records for viewership in Hong Kong. And along with debuting at Cannes earlier this year, it won the Cheval Noir award for best feature at the 20th Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal this summer. So its run in the theatres here in Toronto makes sense. The film is simply a smash hit, and perhaps a slightly unexpected one despite the star power of Gong Yu (공유).

But it’s not just Train to Busan

If it was just one film doing well here, it would be a story, sure… and I originally started writing this article just about Train to Busan (because it’s a fun film and its fabulous run in the theatres here is what started me thinking). But as the story was fleshing out, I realized that it wasn’t just the one Korean film that is doing well. We’re getting more and more films and many of them are staying multiple weeks.

Now I don’t have any stats – I may hit Cineplex up again for some though – but it certainly looks like there are more Korean films coming to theatres in Toronto. Of course, the film festivals here have always screened some great films. And Toronto has lots of good film festivals.

But I never worried about getting tickets to a Korean film before, at any of the film festivals, although some screenings have sold out. This year though, I wasn’t able to see The Handmaiden (아가씨) by Park Chan Wook (박찬욱) at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) because the two screenings sold out too quickly (and the press screening was when I was at work). Speaking to others, I wasn’t the only one who ended up disappointed.

Thankfully The Handmaiden is coming to the theatres on October 28th so there’s still a chance to see it. And that just proves my point.

Three of the five Korean films that screened at TIFF are either in theatres now – The Age of Shadows (밀정) – or will be this month – The Handmaiden and Asura: The City of Madness (아수라). Add those to the dozen or so Korean films that have already played in theatres and the others which played in various festivals – or will play – and it’s no wonder I’m thinking more and more about film.

Final Thoughts

There is a point to my slightly rambling editorial on the growing popularity (in my opinion) of Train to Busan and other Korean films in Toronto. It’s a good thing. And one I perhaps need to do more research into but I’ve noticed, in a completely anecdotal way, that not only do we seem to be getting more – and better – Korean films, but the viewership is changing too. As is the media coverage. It could be that I’m just paying more attention but I think it’s more than that. And I hope that Train to Busan‘s popularity – and other films which have done well here and across North America – lead to more Korean films, especially more genre films. Because I don’t think, as good as Train to Busan is, that it’s an anomaly.

What are your thoughts? Do you think that Korean films are growing in popularity in Toronto (and North America)? Or is it just Train to Busan?

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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