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THE BIG MIX : Video : So Many Video Stores, So Many Languages. . . : Far Eastern Hits in Koreatown

The articles on these pages, plus those to follow in daily Calendar, explore the multicultural spheres of Homeland Video. This special issue was edited by David Fox, Sunday Calendar assistant editor.

February 05, 1989|GUY AOKI

When Helen and Steve Yoon opened the first video shop in Koreatown that carried a full range of TV shows from Korea, customers flocked to their store. That was in 1982.

"Now," Helen complains with exaggerating, "they open up their own--so they don't come."

Helen, 42, co-owner of VIP Video with her 45-year-old husband, admits the competition hasn't actuallty affected the flow of customers coming to their shop, located in the VIP Shopping Plaza on Olympic Boulevard. The constant influx of Korean immigrants each year--sociologist Euiyong Yu of Cal State Los Angeles estimates there were 580,000 Koreans living in Los Angeles in 1982, but 150,000-200,000 live here now--has meant a steady stream of customers.

But competition from other Korean video stores in the area (Steve Yoon estimates their number at 20) has helped drive their profit margins down: They once rented out videos for $2 each. Now the average is less than $1 per tape.

Like many other Koreans surveyed in the community, the Yoons say that videos of Korean TV programs are much more popular than the Korean motion pictures, which are of lower quality. Of the Yoons' TV offerings (they get in 25 new titles every week), soap operas are the most popular, making up about 70% of overall business.

FOR THE RECORD - Imperfections
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 12, 1989 Home Edition Calendar Page 99 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
In Guy Aoki's "Far Eastern Hits in Koreatown" (Feb. 5), there was a typographical error. The number of Koreans in Los Angeles in 1982 was estimated by a sociologist at 80,000--not 580,000 as printed.

The second most-popular titles are historical series (where the action usually takes place some 300 years ago), which make up about 25%, followed by comedy and variety shows. American movie titles account for between 20% and 25% of the store's overall business, with action movies and hits such as "The Last Emperor" and "Moonstruck" the most popular.

The Yoons have been in the United States for 10 years. They first owned a linen store in the same shopping plaza before opening VIP Video. They believe their video store serves as a way for customers, many of whom are recent immigrants, to keep in touch with their culture and home country.

Initially, the Yoons were able to receive Korean programs directly from two TV networks broadcasting in Korea--KBS and NBC. But for the last three years, they've had to get programs more indirectly. Korean broadcasters lease the rights to their programs to KTE (Korean Television Enterprises) Ltd. (which pays royalties to the TV networks) in the United States. KTE then leases the West Coast rights to the Han Jin Video Production Co. Han Jin, in turn, sells one copy of each title to stores such as VIP, who then make their own copies to sell to their customers. The Yoons pay Han Jin $1,500 a month for 100 titles per month.

The Yoons are usually able to obtain videos of the TV shows within a day of their broadcast on local ethnic and cable stations. But given the busy schedule of most of their customers, "they don't have time to see the shows on TV," says Helen, "so they come here."

VIP Video also carries some Korean motion pictures, which are sent from the producers in Korea to two or three distributors here. Only authentic copies of Korean movies, as well as some Japanese and Chinese titles, are rented and sold.

According to the owners, the older Korean generation likes soap operas. Some of the younger men like knife/ninja-type movies and crime series, with others of the younger generation taking to the musical or comedy shows.

One of the most popular TV soap-opera programs (which roughly translates to "I Will Forget You Tomorrow") is about a couple who were together since junior high school days. After graduating from college, the man met a rich woman and married her, dumping his longtime sweetheart. "People don't like him," says Helen. "They can't see how he can be so 'strong and cold' toward his former lover." The title, she explains, refers to a vow the woman makes but is unable to live up to. It's the ongoing sexual tension of the relationship that attracts viewers.

Sunny Yoo, who owns the VIP Luggage Store near the video store, has been a regular customer of the Yoons ever since they opened for business. She says she rents videos only from VIP, visiting the store twice a week, usually taking home 6 to 10 videos at a time for herself and her family.

Yoo's husband likes the TV crime dramas, her daughters like movies for children, and Yoo enjoys a singing-contest program in which the contestants are all housewives. But her favorite is "My Country's History," a weekly drama series.

The Yoos' three daughters are 6, 10 and 15, and although Sunny Yoo says her oldest watches American videos once in a while, the teen-ager enjoys the Korean videos as well. "She can't understand exactly what they say (because) there are very hard words. In the video, they're talking too fast. (But she's) watching and learning."

This special issue was edited by David Fox, Sunday Calendar assistant editor.

VIP, 3030 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 388-9331.

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