Actor returns medal to protest FTA

Seoul, February 8:

South Korean movie star Choi Min-Shik today returned a top cultural award in protest at the government’s decision to cut a protectionist quota for homegrown movies.

“This medal has no longer any significance,” said Choi, the star of South Korea’s 2004 Cannes Grand Prix-winning ‘Old Boy,’ returning his Okgwan Order of Culture Merit to the culture ministry, “The medal of the government that has trampled on its own cultural sovereignty has no longer any value. So I’m returning it.” The Seoul government awarded him the medal in 2004 in recognition of his contribution to the country’s cultural development.

He staged a one-man protest outside the culture ministry surrounded by slogans reading ‘Without the screen quota, there would have existed no ‘Old Boy’.’ South Korea’s top movie actors have been staging a series of one-man demonstrations in downtown Seoul since the weekend to protest the government decision to cut the country’s protectionist quota for homegrown movies.

South Korea and the United States last week announced the launch of talks aimed at establishing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Seoul cleared the way for the FTA talks by halving the screen quota, a precondition of the US.

The 40-year-old screen quota system forced South Korean cinemas to show domestic movies on at least 146 days a year. Seoul promised to cut the quota to 73 days as of July 1. The decision was condemned by South Korean movie producers, actors and directors as an ‘anti-cultural coup d’etat’ with local farmers also vowing to fight against the free trade talks.

South Korea is the US’s seventh-largest trade partner. If clinched, the pact would be the largest US free trade accord in Asia. Bilateral trade topped $65 billion in the 11 months to November 2005, according to Seoul’s trade ministry.