While going to the movies in Seoul can be a fun and inexpensive activity, many expats complain about the lack of foreign films in Korean theatres and the lack of English subtitles in Korean films. Korea has come a long way over the last few decades as far as film making is concerned, and the country’s film industry regularly produces critically acclaimed films that are popular throughout Asia. Indeed, Koreans are mad about watching movies and theatres are often packed for new showings or for popular films.
If at all, Korean films generally have subtitles in Chinese that go from the top of the screen to the bottom on one side, which is great for the very few times they show films with English subtitles. Every summer, Seoul hosts the Chungmuro International Film Festival (http://www.chiffs.kr/eng/eng_main.asp) which celebrates artistic films from forty different countries. During the festival, the films are played in theatres throughout Seoul. This is a great chance to see international or Korean films with subtitles. In the fall Busan hosts the most significant international film festivals in Asia (http://www.biff.kr/). In the summer you can get your film festival fix in the quaint central city of Jeongju (http://eng.jiff.or.kr/).
Foreign films in Korea are not dubbed; they use Korean subtitles. The odd Chinese film may be dubbed, but this is a rare occurrence as Koreans take film very seriously and wouldn’t want to jeopardize the quality of a film. That said, censorship does occur and it can adversely affect the quality of a film – though most Koreans wouldn’t notice. For example, if part of a film is considered inappropriate it is simply taken out. This usually happens with Hollywood blockbusters. Other expats have noted that some cinemas will cut out scenes to shorten the film, thus enabling more showings and; therefore, more profit for the cinema. This does not usually occur these days, but it is something to watch. Major blockbusters are usually shown around two weeks after they debut in Western countries.
Tickets for films can and should be bought in advance, particularly on weekends and holidays, as showings will sell out very quickly. You can buy online for films being shown at CGV Cinemas (http://www.cgv.co.kr/) with the help of a Korean friend or coworker, or you can simply go to the theatre and buy your tickets in advance. Tickets cost 7,000 won per person and you choose where you want to sit when you buy your ticket.
Here are some of the main cinemas around Seoul:
- Megabox Cineplex: Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu.
- CGV 11: Hangang-ro, Yongsan-gu
- Chongdong Theatre: Jeong-dong, Jung-gu
- Dongsung Cinematheque: Hyewha-dong, Jongno-gu
- Cinecube Gwanghwamun: Shinmun-ro 1-ga, Jongno-gu
- MMC Theatre: Euljiro 6-ga, Jung-gu
- Cinecore: Gwancheol-dong, Jongno-gu
- Cinex Theatre: Taepyeongro 2-ga, Jung-gu
- CGV Myeongdong: Euljiro 1-ga, Jung-gu
- Daehan Theatre: Chungmuro 4-ga, Jung-gu
- Cineplex: Changcheon-dong, Seodaemun-gu
- CGV Gangbyeon: Guui-dong, Gwangjin-gu
- Cinecity: Apgujeong, Gangnam-gu
- Cineplus: Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu
- City Cinema: Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam-gu
- Central Six Cinema: Banpo 4-dong, Seocho-gu
In most areas, you can buy brand new DVD’s right off the street from a vendor. Brand new releases and movies still in cinemas in your home country will be available (albeit, not legally) in Seoul. However, these DVD’s are usually very poor quality, or if you plan to watch them from your computer, they usually aren’t compatible. It isn’t recommended that you buy DVD’s from the street.
In each neighbourhood in Seoul you’ll find places called “DVD Bang”. These special DVD rooms are very popular with Koreans and expats alike: you simply walk in, choose your DVD, the clerk sets you up in a little viewing room with comfy couches and then puts the movie on a very large screen for your viewing pleasure (for a nominal fee). It’s a great way to spend an evening with friends or special someone, and the DVD selection is usually very good.
If you just want to rent a movie and take it home to watch, there are independent rental shops in almost every neighbourhood in Seoul. Like in most countries, you will pay a small rental fee (about 2-3000 won per movie) and are expected to bring the movie back the next day. These places are great if you want to watch Korean films with subtitles since most DVD’s have that option.
The Opera House at the Seoul Arts Centre is truly a sight to behold. With four levels, almost 2500 seats and lavish decor, the theatre oozes style and grace. Opera has become quite popular in Korea over the past few decades and Korean opera singers are among the best in Asia – or, indeed, the world.
Performances can be pricey, with the least expensive seats going for 30,000 won and the VIP’s going for 200,000 won. You can book tickets as far in advance as you like with The National Opera of Korea. Since the opera house is located at the Seoul Arts Centre, you can book through them on their website or by calling. The Seoul Arts Centre is located in Seocho-gu and for more information you can call at 586-5282 or visit their website here: http://www.sac.or.kr/
There are dozens of performances per year and they are always well worth seeing!
These are the main venues for live theatre in Seoul:
The Seoul Arts Centre: http://www.sac.or.kr/ (Seocho-gu, 580-1400)
The National Theatre of Korea: http: http://www.ntok.go.kr/english/en_ntok/en_residentcompanies/en_drama/en_drama.cms(Jung-gu, 2280-4114)
The National Drama Company of Korea puts on plenty of performances using many different mediums and styles throughout the year. They sometimes perform in English, but most of their works are, of course, in Korean. To find out more about the theatre group you can visit their website (http://www.ntok.go.kr/exclude/drama/introduction.html). Prices, venues and ticketing vary according to the performance, so be sure to contact the company for up to date information. You can buy tickets online for the National Theatre of Korea, but you will have to call to book a ticket for the Seoul Arts Centre.
The Korea National Ballet Company (http://www.kballet.org/intro/intro_about_eng.asp) mainly performs at the Seoul Arts Centre (Seocho-gu, 580-1400) while the Korea Ballet Association (http://www.koreaballet.or.kr/english/main.html) performs at various venues throughout Seoul including the National Theatre of Korea (Jung-gu, 2280-4114). Tickets for performances can range between 5000 won to 150,000 won depending on the performance and the venue. You can call the Seoul Arts Centre to make a booking.
For more information on major arts events in Seoul, please check out the Seoul Arts Centre website, The National Theatre of Korea website, or expat magazines such as 10 Magazine (http://www.10mag.com/) or Eloquence Magazine (found in all expat communities around Seoul)