Sorry, someone is sitting there!

Posted: August 23, 2010 in Entertainment
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A few weeks ago I went to the cinema in Jangsan, Haeundae. Practically everything I enjoy about the cinema was there. Movie posters, old and new, selling their films to a world ready to be taken out of the everyday world for a gifted moment or two. There was the almost tangible feeling of the alluring anticipation of seeing a film on the big screen. Then sitting in your seat just in time to catch the trailers of future films, designed to do nothing more than entice you back to the cinema. Finally, being lost (hopefully) in a world that the director is trying to portray. All parts of the cinema magic were to be found in that typical Korean cinema.

For all that, there is something that greets you when you enter a Korean cinema that you won’t find in many other countries. Thrusting through the all-pervading odour of popcorn in the lobby, there is the smell of squid sizzling on a grill in front of a salivating customer. Also in the average cinema in Korea, you are likely to find groups of people standing haphazardly around the lobby. More than likely this will be thanks to the queue ticketing system.

You see, purchasing a ticket that will entitle you to a seat is not as straightforward as you might think. When going to the kiosk counter to purchase your ticket for both the film and the time you want to see it, you first of all have to ponder a plan on a computer screen. From this, you choose your seat and pay for it. You can then rightfully stand around in no particular order with other purchasers. They are all clutching their tickets, waiting for their number to be called. In addition to this gathering, there are the food and drink sellers waiting to take your order. That’s something you may not welcome, particularly if the smell of squid has shaken and not stirred your olfactory senses.

Depending on the time of day and the popularity of the film, you could then, like me, have entered into an empty auditorium. Spatial awareness having deserted me five minutes prior, I was left with a seat that looked fine on the computer but the reality was that pretty colours on a monitor can be misleading. It was only when seeing the real thing that the seat a row or two back looked more inviting. With no one around, did it really matter? I moved. The flick started and in walked a group of people, noisier than anybody else.

One eye on them and one eye on the film had me watch as they stopped and hovered over my row. While a silhouette in the darkness cannot portray every emotion clearly, the group appeared severely troubled that somebody could be sitting in their seat in the all-but-empty cinema. If the cinema had been crowded I would have been more than willing to move… But all I could do was chuckle to myself as I watched them slink away into some seats a few rows further down. Shortly afterwards, maybe ten minutes in, a couple entered. Coincidentally they had also chosen the increasingly popular row and it so happened that their seats were adjacent to mine. So within the space of fifteen minutes I had been shunned and isolated by one group and strangely accepted by another.

Working for a private English academy in a different time zone my body clock has had to adjust. But it seems that it has not adjusted completely. Subsequently this has led me to frequent later showings of films. However, it seems that regardless of the age restriction posted in western countries, the Korean authorities – or the cinemas that I have been to here – have chosen to ignore this. I have seen toddlers in 15+ rated films, babies crying because it is past their bedtime and where a gigantic explosion has not only destroyed a building but also mutilated several people. This laid-back attitude of what is proper for juvenile viewing also embraces Korean terrestrial television. Films such as Terminator Salvation, Die Hard and almost anything with adult material can be seen 24 hours a day. While swearing is not censored in English it is translated into Korean by subtitles. In fact the only censorship I have seen on TV is a knife blurred when it was used as a weapon. But we’ll leave Korean TV for another time.

© John Brownlie 2010

  1. Conrad Fallow says:

    Looks like you’re not stuck in some swanky apartment all the time and getting stories about life in South Korea from whoever. You sound as if you get out there and have a good look round before you want to write anything about it. To be honest I reckon that second-hand comment is for second-hand people and I think that you’re telling it as you personally see it. Yeah, it may sometimes be a bit light-hearted for some but I think there’s always a bright side to life. Who wants to read travel articles alll the time from people who have probably travellied round the place on free perks from airlines and hotels?


    Yours truly,

    Conrad Fallow

  2. Jeffrey says:

    In all the years that I have been in Korea–and that is 20 if you are keeping count–I have never gotten used to the smell of grilled squid at a movie theater. It has been a couple of years since the last time I went to a movie in Korea, but the cinemas today are much better than they were back in 1990. One of the nicest ones back then was the Lotte Cinema in Chamsil.

    • elbear1 says:

      First of all I take my hat off to you for being in Korea for over 20 years. I can only assume that the theatres having changing all that dramatically in the past couple of years either. They still show films, have comfy seats, grilled squid and popcorn, what more do you need? Since I’ve been here they’ve built an IMAX in Busan and possibly the only thing that appears to be more mainstream these days is 3D movies and huge budgets.

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