South Korean law enforcement have announced the findings of their investigation into box office manipulation in which the reported performance of 323 films over the past five years were artificially inflated. Seoul Metropolitan Police have referred 69 individuals from prominent exhibition chains and 24 film distribution companies to prosecutors for potential legal action in connection with what has become an industry scandal.
The police’s anti-corruption and public crime investigation team initiated the inquiry earlier this year, culminating in raids on the offices of South Korea’s three largest cinema operators: CJ-CGV, Megabox, and Lotte Cinema. Additional searches were conducted at distributor sites including Showbox, Lotte Entertainment, and Kidari. As part of the investigation, a total of 98 film distributors and 462 movie titles were examined.
The modus operandi of the accused cinema operators involved inflating ticket sales figures in collusion with film distributors, resulting in exaggerated box office rankings reported through the Korean Film Council’s box office compiling service (KoBiz) from March 2018 to June of this year. This manipulation allegedly led to an overcount of 2.67 million viewers. Local films like “Hot Blood,” Waiting for Rain,” the 2022 documentary “The Red Herring” and action thriller “Emergency Declaration” were among those identified with inflated numbers.
The goal here was to create an illusion of a film’s success, potentially boosting licensing fees for TV, streaming, and ancillary market distribution. The case will now move to the prosecutor’s office, which will determine whether criminal charges should be pursued against implicated individuals and companies. Of course, once the case is resolved, don’t be surprised if it winds up affecting how the South Korean box office figures are collected and reported moving forward.