Who doesn’t love a night out at the movies? Waiting anxiously in the ticket queue, scarfing buttery popcorn and washing it down with a big gulp of soda, leaning back in a comfy chair, and watching stories come to life on the big screen. If this sounds enticing to you, then you’ll love going to the movies in Korea where the cinema experience is elevated with every convenience you can imagine. Grab your snacks and settle down – we’ve got some films to catch!
K-Film, Hollywood Blockbusters, and Foreign Flicks
When I first moved to Korea, I thought that I’d have to give up watching movies at the cinema due to lack of English film selection and communication hurdles, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Korea has its own booming film industry, and as of 2013, more and more of those films are being offered with English subtitles in theatres. International films – particularly Hollywood blockbusters – are popular too, so there is a large English-language film selection and growing demand for foreign-language films as well. Add that to the convenience of buying tickets, and going to the movies in Korea is a breeze.
Ticket to Paradise
Buying movie tickets is unbelievably convenient. Posters advertising the films, show times, and screening options can be found outside the theatre and they tell you if the Korean film you want to see is subtitled. If the film was shot in English, you’re in luck since films usually have their original audio and are rarely dubbed, with the exception of animations. Click here for a schedule of subtitled film screenings in Seoul.
Buying advance tickets is the most convenient option and they can be purchased in-person, online, or from automatic vending kiosks which can be found inside the lobby or sometimes even outside the theatre, saving you a trip inside! Some of the websites require a membership, and since I don’t like that kind of commitment, I personally prefer the kiosks which are easy to use even without an English option. There are plenty of pictures and symbols to guide you through and foreign film titles are usually just transcribed into Hangeul, meaning that you can sound out the name of the film you want to see, provided you can read the alphabet. For example, the recent American blockbuster The Hunger Games is rendered ‘헝거 게임’ which is pretty easy to sound out.
If you’re still feeling panicky, the website cineinkorea.com will buy tickets on your behalf, allowing you to choose everything right down to seating arrangements. If you have any issues, assistance is just a click, call, or text message away. I have used the service several times and just love it.
Another thing that I love about Korean cinemas is that you get to choose your seats when you buy tickets. It seems that North Americans are the only ones who don’t do this, opting instead to line up hours early for our chosen flick, stampeding into the theatre to choose the best seats, and throwing a few elbows out along the way. Why the rest of the known world has elected for the mundane and decidedly less chaotic option of advance seat selection is unknown, but the Korean system suits me just fine. There’s even a little seat map you can check before you go into the theatre so that you don’t waddle back and forth aimlessly like a duckling separated from its mother.
If that’s not cool enough, the double-wide seats, inset coat hooks, and fold-up armrests mean that you can relax in style, especially in the front row where padded footrests compensate for the otherwise taxing viewing angle. But it doesn’t stop there! Select theatres offer specialty seating, such as loveseats, vibrating boom box chairs, and even seats with their own high-end headphones to block out ambient noise, all for just a few thousand won extra. If you really want to splash out, some theatres offer VIP seating in a special lounge, private cinemas, and dine-in experiences where cinema fans can enjoy a three-course meal and their film of choice, bringing a whole new meaning to the classic “dinner and a movie” date. And you thought the loveseats were fancy!
Before you settle in though, you’ll need a something to nibble on to get you through those suspense-filled action sequences. Delicious and affordable, movie snacks in Korea are served in portions large enough to feed a small army. While buying snacks at the movies in Western countries will cost you an arm and a leg or your first-born child, Korean confectionery is decidedly cheaper. Snack sets will cost between 5,000 and 10,000 won, or the price of a single ticket, and the selection is to die for.
Staples such as cheese-covered nacho chips, hot dogs, pretzels, and soda await, but the popcorn options are what make me swoon. Butter, onion, cheese, caramel – and perhaps even options I don’t know about! If you and your date can’t agree on a flavour, choose, fret not! You can purchase half and half, or ban-ban (반반), and everyone’s taste buds win. I like the couple set: ban-ban popcorn with one large soda – served with two straws, of course! If you’re looking for something more Korean, dried cuttlefish paired with a cold beer is a more exotic option. Bottoms up!
3D, 4D, Screen X, and Beyond!
If the snacking experience doesn’t dazzle you, then surely the screening technology will. Why watch 2D when 3D and 4D options are available? A regular 2D ticket costs about 10,000 won, 3D about 12,000, and 4D only 18,000. Even better, all tickets are half-price for matinees! 4D cinema is an experience worth trying at least once, though not for the faint of heart (or stomach!). Screened in a custom cinema, 4D movies are the closest you’ll get to being in the movie (so perhaps The Hunger Games is not the wisest choice!). Once the film starts and you’ve donned your 3D glasses, you can expect the seats to rock, roll, shift, and vibrate and sometimes you’ll even experience a gust of wind, spritz of water, and puff of perfume as different scents are pumped in to match the scenes on the screen! While I love 4D, it’s not for everyone. My sister hated it, but even then she said she was happy she went once – and survived.
Screen X may be the final frontier of the Korean cinema experience. Though still in the experimental stages and years away from being perfected, Screen X promises a more immersive film experience for viewers, expanding the visual area beyond the central screen to reach the space at either side. Whether film directors are able to master or even wish to use the technology and whether movie theatres refit their cinemas to accommodate the new style of film remains to be seen, but the premise is certainly exciting.
Film Festivals and Art House Cinemas
Those who are interested in all that Korean cinema and Korean movie theatres have to offer would do well to check out some of the peninsula’s wonderful film festivals. The Screen X technology mentioned above premiered at last year’s Busan International Film Festival, while Jeonju, Bucheon, and Paju all host fantastic film festivals as well. New events are popping up all the time, specializing in everything from animation to documentaries and screening the latest and most daring films, so check this list of festivals and keep your eyes peeled for one near you! If can’t wait that long for your film fix, check out one of Korea’s several art house cinemas, listed here.
What do you love about going to the cinema? Let me know in the comments! Pass the popcorn, please!
Written by Jessica Steele for The Korea Blog. Content may not be reproduced without permission.