SciFi Japan

    Merchandising Younggu

    Visiting the Merchandising Company for Shim Hyung-rae`s Creations Author: Kim Song-ho Source: Zena Pictures / Zero Nine Character Co., Ltd. Special Thanks to Hong Gi-hun and Park Sang-kyu


    There has never been a heyday for Korean monster films. Japan in the 1960s had their first "monster boom", and there have been countless movies and television programs in the decades since. The US has also produced hundreds of such films. But, until now, there have been only a handful of Korean monster films made since the 1960s. Even so, there is history of monster films in Korea. From the quintessential giant monster movie YONGARY, MONSTER FROM THE DEEP (Daekoesu Yonggary, 1967) to the recent hit DRAGON WARS (D-War, 2007), Korean monster films have been produced for over four decades, sometimes experiencing ebbs and flows, or even depressions. However, merchandising businesses derived from those films have never taken off. The first Korean monster toy I ever bought was a soft vinyl figure of 1999 Yonggary from REPTILIAN (Yonggary, 1999). I found it in 2000 at a toy store in Seoul. It was located in the corner of the store, covered in thick dust. Until recent years, that appearance was a symbol of the Korean monster merchandising business. Seven years later director Shim Hyung-rae, who made the previously-mentioned REPTILIAN, gave us another monster film: DRAGON WARS. Despite Shim`s boasting words before it`s release, REPTILIAN was not successful at the Korean box office and was released direct-to-video in the United States. But DRAGON WARS, despite it`s many pros and cons, attracted more than 8 million admissions in Korea alone and became the fifth highest grossing Korean film of all time. In the United States, it was the first Korean film to receive a nationwide release. In 2008, DRAGON WARS was released in various other nations including mainland China, Russia, Japan, Malaysia, India and some Arab countries. In Russia, it was even voted the best Asian film of the year.

    Those remarkable achievements resulted in releasing a variety of tie-in merchandise. After release, many DRAGON WARS-related goods penetrated the market and those products were in superior quality than what had been released before. Moreover, the merchandising of DRAGON WARS is being unfolded by a company with enthusiasm and vision. Zena Pictures / Zero Nine Character Co., Ltd. is an enterprise that develops merchandising of characters created by Younggu Art Entertainment. So far, the company has released several products including souvenirs, stationery, and apparel, and is currently planning products for THE LAST GODFATHER, the upcoming film by Shim Hyung-rae. Also, it will release a premium, limited edition diorama figure set of the Dragon and Buraki in March. The diorama figure is based on the climactic battle of the Dragon and Buraki from the film DRAGON WARS. It consists of a model of the Dragon, the head of Buraki and a display stand. The resin diorama was sculpted by a Korean company with the supervision of Younggu Art Entertainment. Currently, Zero Nine Character is taking pre-orders via its online shopping mall. The Price is 329,000 Korean won (approximately 238.98 USD) and limited to 300 pieces. According to the company, the diorama figure is for sale in Korea only and there are no plans for overseas sale as of now. But if you are interested, you can ask the company about the product on its official websites. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Interview with Mr. Yang Hee-seung, managing director, Zero Nine Character Co., Ltd.

    Date: January 31, 2009 Place: Zero Nine Character Co., Ltd. building (located in Hyewha-dong, Seoul) Interviewer: Kim Song-ho

    SciFi Japan: What was the initial purpose of founding Zero Nine Character? Mr. Yang Hee-seung: Zena Pictures / Zero Nine Character Co., Ltd. is a company that deals with the merchandising business for the creations of Younggu Art Entertainment. It was founded on September 21, 2006. Currently we are involved in developing, distributing and licensing products based on the Younggu Art films. We are also taking part in constructing a theme park which is one of the ultimate goals of Younggu Art Entertainment. And as a character design company, we are planning our own characters and the contents based upon them. SFJ: How is the relationship between your company and Younggu Art? Mr. Yang: Mr. Yang Hoon-mo, the company`s CEO, was one of the business partners of Younggu Art in the late 1990s, when it was producing REPTILIAN. Upon producing the next project DRAGON WARS, Mr. Yang and Younggu Art agreed that they would commence business together. We have many mutual business projects now and the relationship between the two companies is very close. SFJ: Which DRAGON WARS product was the most well-received?

    Mr. Yang: That depended on the times. At first the 500-piece zigsaw puzzle sold well. After opening the film, the pendant necklace became a hit, because it was featured as a prominent prop in the film. Recently, the bestsellers are 3D puzzles, mugs and the premium diorama figure. One thing we regret is that those products failed to be available before the film opened. Overseas products are usually released beforehand and they sell well because there are high expectations for the film to encourage purchase. But that was not our case. It was because of problem in the system of the Korean character business. It was very hard for us to get partners, because they didn`t react with enthusiasm for character business with a Korean film character. Until now, there were no particular cases of full-scale merchandising of the Korean films, so we had to do business from the scratch. It takes two to six months for planning through final release for one product. Of course, there were such interests after DRAGON WARS was released, but it was too late to develop new products and distribute them in time. That is why there were not many items available when the film was actually in the theaters.

    Another factor was the depressed economy. There was a case when we sent a sample to a manufacturer, but it did not come to fruition because the manufacturer considered there were no payability. SFJ: Is D-War Books a subsidiary of your company? Mr. Yang: No. D-War Books is a separate corporation that specializes in publishing. I feel D-War Books has contributed much to the Korean film merchandising business, by releasing a D-WAR making-of book and a series of D-WAR comic books. However, due to many conditions, the company could not publish many samples it had planned. SFJ: DRAGON WARS was released in Japan last November. How was the result? Mr. Yang: DRAGON WARS was screened at 100 theaters for more than 6 weeks. I understand that it was a considerable result for a non-Hollywood foreign film in Japan. We are now focusing our efforts for advertising in the DVD market. In Japan, Sony Pictures and some of the hi-profile companies will handle the DVD, so we expect success. It will be released in March or April and we are considering a special DVD pack with the Dragon and Imoogi figure manufactured by a Korean company. SFJ: Would you like to give us some details of the upcoming products?

    Mr. Yang: For DRAGON WARS, following the aforementioned large-scale diorama figure, a small-scale figure is being planned. And we will gradually move our product lineup from DRAGON WARS to THE LAST GODFATHER, the upcoming project of Younggu Art. THE LAST GODFATHER is a directing-starring vehicle for Mr. Shim Hyung-rae and we expect it will showcase his comedic talent, as he was once the best comedian in Korea. Also, we hope that it will score more overseas sales than DRAGON WARS. I am sorry we cannot give you many details, because it is still in planning stage. But I can say that the products will feature Young-gu, Mr. Shim`s character in the film [Shim played Young-gu in a series of successful comedies in the 1980s and `90s]. SFJ: Do you have anything to say to the SFJ readers and the foreign fans? Mr. Yang: Throughout Mr. Shim`s career as a Korean director he has always tried to present his films to a worldwide audience. He chose Hollywood because it is the center of the motion picture business, although it suffers a lack of fresh ideas. Mr. Shim`s films have many unique ideas and potential, so we believe that they will please moviegoers around the world. With that in mind, Zero Nine Character hopes to meet the foreign fans with quality products. Thank you. Acknowledgement: This article and interview would not have been possible without help of Mr. Hong Gi-hun, founder and current moderator of Big Monster Club, the biggest and the most active monster film club in Korea. Also, Big Monster Club member Mr. Park Sang-kyu kindly provided pictures.

    ________________________________________________________________________________________________________ For more information on DRAGON WARS and Younggu Art Entertainment, please see the previous coverage here on SciFi Japan:

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