Cultural evolution: South Korea's CJ CGV celebrates cinema entertainment


Why leave the comforts and technology of home? Why buy concessions that are poor in quality and ridiculous in price? Why spend money on gas and time stuck in traffic? Those were some of the questions that Theodore T.Y. Kim asked during the CinemaCon 2013 presentation on “The Future of Exhibition, Architecturally Speaking.” In his position as cinema innovation advisor at CJ CGV, he went on to highlight some of the compelling answers that South Korea’s largest chain has been providing to its patrons. What about “cultural consumption” instead, he wondered. “Can we become less film-dependent and be a one-stop attraction instead? Can entertainment be more interactive rather than just passive?”

In general, Kim and the company believe, “People still want to go out and enjoy special experiences with their friends and family.” Asking themselves if “anything beyond cinema” is possible and how “multiplexes can turn into multifold experiences,” CJ CGV’s “Cultureplex” concept represents a great addition to FJI’s new and exclusive series on Cinema Entertainment Centers.

The first Cultureplex opened in November 2011 in Seoul’s trendy Sinsa-dong district, which can be described as New York City’s Soho, we hear. The entire building of CGV Cheongdam Cine City is an “entertainment hub,” Kim tells Film Journal International about its 13 stories and 8,360 square meters of entertainment offerings (90,000 sq. ft. with seven screens and 854 seats). “Many of our CJ Group brands are seamlessly integrated there. Each floor represents a different aspect of culture and entertainment. Together, all the offerings create an organic and functional community.”

On levels one and two, two cafés, a restaurant and offerings from Korean global food brand “bibigo” await. “CGV Cheongdam Cine City greets its customers in a truly extraordinary way.” Instead of popcorn, CGV Cheongdam Cine City guests are enticed by the smell of Italian coffee and “the aromas of European pastries and other delicacies,” offered by “Twosome Coffee” and L’atelier Tour les Jours.” “We welcome our patrons to bring those offerings inside the theatre anytime,” Kim assures. At the same time, he adds, “Why drive from dinner to a movie when great wining and dining awaits at our New York-style ‘Steak House by VIPS’ just a few floors down from the cinema?”

The third level houses “M Cube,” a fully equipped multimedia studio. The large open space and adjoining stage are used for live performances, showcases, parties and private events, he explains, and fashion shows are hosted on a regular basis as well. “The unique layout of the staircase that allows the audience to look down at the stage makes the venue appealing for many artists and celebrities to utilize for a variety of special events.” Another flight up, “fashion and entertainment meet” at the “1st Look Market.” Operated by CJ’s home-shopping brand CJ O-Shopping, celebrity fashions, accessories and other trendy wearables are complemented by entertainment books, media and magazines, “all working hand-in-hand to create a true media commerce.” CGV Cheongdam Cine City also features a Cine Shop on eight “where movie fans can enjoy shopping for movie merchandise including posters, DVDs and Blu-rays.”

Floors five to 13, at last, house the Cine City’s seven boutique theatres, which have all been uniquely themed and branded to create what Kim calls “an amplified and mesmerizing movie experience.” “ScreenX,” the first of several concepts for a more immersive viewing experience at CGV Cheongdam Cine City and other locations, takes its tagline of “Beyond the Frame” quite literally. By placing two additional screens on the side walls adjoining the center screen, the view of some 198 guests on the main and another 28 on the second level is certainly expanded.

Sponsored by and named after automaker Kia, the theatre’s signature trailer takes full advantage of all those screens and a simulated sunroof too. Other advertisers are using the additional surfaces, CJ CGV’s PR team confirms, and director Kim Jee Woon, who made this year’s Schwarzenegger/Knoxville actioner The Last Stand, has developed the first ScreenX feature film. While CJ CGV is planning to produce more in the format, during regular programming multi-projection remains turned off for now.

Moving from the combined “X” levels five and six to the 7th floor, the sounds of rap can be heard. Outfitted with 108 individual hi-def “Studio” headphones available at each seat, Kim calls the two “Beats by Dr. Dre” auditoriums “hip, private and immersive, all at the same time.” In addition to the headsets, sound comes from auditorium speaker arrays as well. “The unique design of every element in the Kia theatre, from the seats to the lobby walls, is definitely eye-catching,” he opines. “Other ‘Beats by Dr. Dre’ products are displayed in the club-like lobby for music lovers. All three of these auditoriums are the result of a true brand collaboration where our customers can enjoy the unique experience of each brand.”

This “different approach to cinema sound” continues at “Veatbox” on nine, where individual subwoofers are embedded into every single one of its 218 red and faux-leopard accented fauteuils. This makes for “a fun and exciting seating experience, while the sound-vibration seats allow for a more engaging movie experience where the audience physically feels the sound from the movie.” The name was derived from a combination of vibration and “Beat Box.”

At the “Sweetbox Premium” up on ten, with “wide and luxurious” seating for 18, movie sweethearts are appropriately treated to the nines with cuddle-ready leather couches, pillows, footrests and tables. “Resembling opera boxes, our Sweetbox provides a cozy and private space for couples to enjoy their movie…in the comfort of their privacy.”
Encompassing the 11th and 12th floors, “The Private Cinema” has 40 luxury seats and designer furniture, private restrooms and lounge areas, and its very own staff for fully customizable food and beverage service. As the name indicates, the space can only be rented in advance. The adjoining lounge offers flexible arrangements to suit customer needs including VIP parties, family dinners, bridal showers and private gatherings for up to 80 people, CJ CGV suggests. “The Private Cinema is the main highlight of CGV Cheongdam Cine City multi-cultural complex. It’s a premium screening room and environment for high-end consumers,” Kim says before heading higher.

Topping off CGV Cheongdam Cine City is the 4DX auditorium with moving and shaking seats for 144, provided by CJ 4Dplex (see FJI September 2013). “Motion seats and environmental effects,” Kim feels, “are the next revolution in the exhibition industry that will entice people out of their couches and into the theatres. We offer them a fun and thrilling experience without the need to ride a rollercoaster at an amusement park. The combination of 4DX technology, 3D and our own ‘SoundX’ system lets the audience experience the movie as if they are a part of it.” Countrywide, CJ CGV operates 21 4DX auditoriums already, engaging the five senses of some 2,500 South Korean moviegoers at total capacity. In 16 other countries, CJ 4Dplex has installed an additional 41 auditoriums.

Where we can buy tickets for all that movie-culture-fun has eluded our tour so far. “Placing ticketing and concessions on the eighth floor at CGV Cheongdam Cine City [is] going against the conventional wisdom,” Kim admits. “Instead of getting people to quickly buy their tickets and concessions, and moving them equally fast into the auditorium and outside the building after the movie, we do the exact opposite. We want patrons to see our theatres as community centers where they want to stay a while to enjoy the cultural experience.”

CGV Cheongdam Cine City has indeed become “the cultural landmark” of the larger Gangnam area, “offering one-stop urban lifestyle as a multi-cultural complex,” concurs Ik Jun Yun, executive of CJ CGV’s marketing division. “The philosophy behind CJ CGV Cultureplex continues to be transformed,” he adds, detailing examples of more recent cinema locations. When designing CGV Yeoeuido (opened August 2012 with nine auditoriums and 1,345 seats) for the district he describes as the Korean Wall Street, the company included a “Business Theatre” with fold-out tables, “designed to optimize seminars and other business-related conferences,” and the “Movie Collage” marking “the perfect place for foreign, indie and art film lovers.” The design theme evokes London, he continues. “Walking down our ‘Cinema Street’ makes you feel like you are on the streets of Soho, offering a pleasant getaway from the busy traffic and skyscrapers of the Yeoeuido district. The media art wall in the lobby projects different images to change up the Cinema Street atmosphere. The ‘Popcorn Factory’ and ‘Cine Shop’ add to the excitement of ‘traveling’ down the street.”

As a “premium” concession stand, the Popcorn Factory features “delicious homemade popcorn with exclusive flavors and various toppings and sauces.” At this point, that tantalizing offer is exclusive to CGV Yeoeuido and CGV Shinchon Artreon (opened June 2013 with nine auditoriums and 1,468 seats). Another member of the Cultureplex group, the latter will be featured in our upcoming “Class of 2013” report. For now, suffice to say that it introduces the “Wide Box” into the auditorium mix by providing “seats that are 1.3 times bigger than general theatre seating.”

While Cheongdam, Yeoeuido and Shinchon Artreon are all CGV Cultureplex locations, Yun explains, “Each theatre and facility is built differently, providing unique features for the target audience.” Additional cases in point: “With an art gallery as its lobby, CGV Cheonan Pentaport [opened March 2013 with 10 auditoriums and 1,191seats] inspired our first ‘Cinema Gallery.’ And CGV Chunggye [April 2013, seven auditoriums and 1,179 seats] is more of a family-friendly theatre where our ‘ScreenX’ was incorporated into the dome of the lobby as well as on the side walls. This is even more of a dimensional and fun experience that we are calling ‘Cinema Bridge.’”

“The moviegoing experience is limited to one activity. Namely, watching movies.” Yun explains why it is important for CJ CGV to offer multiple entertainment options under one cinema roof. “Featuring different culture and entertainment at movie theatres can provide the customers with a refreshing experience beyond just watching movies.” While many of the Cinema Entertainment Centers featured in this series offer bowling and arcade games, those do not seem part of the Cultureplex culture. “There are no game arcades in our Cultureplex,” Yun confirms, “because game arcades, which are usually enjoyed preferred by the younger generation, do not seem appropriate for Cultureplex, which is a multi-entertainment place for everyone.”

“We are continuously evolving and creating a new culture for the movie experience,” Yun continues. “Since opening Korea’s first multiplex in 1998, CJ CGV has never settled for being the number-one brand here. We have been moving forward and carrying new trends in exhibition by introducing the world’s first 4DX and ScreenX, as well as other innovative technologies. At the same time, ‘The Private Cinema,’ ‘Cine de Chef,’ ‘Gold Class’ and other premium offerings provide a truly exceptional experience.” In that tradition of implementing ideas and innovations, Yun concludes, “CJ CGV continues to create new culture paradigms through the Cultureplex philosophy—integrating a variety of entertainment into the conventional moviegoing experience.”

The author wants to thank Hyo Ryun Lim for assistance with this report.

CJ CGV at a Glance
Since opening South Korea’s first 11-screen multiplex in April 1998 (Gangbyeon), the cinema subsidiary of multi-business conglomerate CJ has grown to 838 screens with more than 100,000 seats at 106 sites nationwide, attaining a 50% market share in the process. Abroad, CJ CGV opened its first cinemas in Shanghai and Los Angeles in October 2006 and June 2010, respectively, before acquiring Vietnam’s largest chain, MegaStar, in July 2011.

Seoul-based CJ Group is the holding company for numerous businesses in the industries of food and foodservice, pharmaceutics and biotechnology, home shopping and logistics. In the entertainment segment, CJ E&M “leads the trend in culture with diverse content such as media, movies, music, performance and games.” Holdings include CJ Hellovision (advanced media and communication services), CJ Powercast (digital content for media and advertising), CJ Educations (providing educational content for children) and CJ CGV cinemas, of course.