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Keeping It Reel – A History of Korean Film
When a projector somewhere in Seoul gave Koreans their first taste of the moving picture in the final years of the Joseon Dynasty, who could have predicted that the events brought by reality over the next hundred years would be every bit as cruel, strange, exciting, tragic, miraculous, and unpredictable as the content of the movies that struggled to keep up with them? By the time director Lee Chang-dong accepted the award for Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival for his film “Poetry” earlier this year, Korea had been through colonial occupation, world war, national division, civil war, dictatorship, genocide, democratization, and plenty more. Chang’s film was one of three major Korean pictures at Cannes this year; the country’s actors, directors, and films now enjoy a reputation for quality and originality among cinephiles across the world.
Korean film entered a slump in the 1970s due to government censorship, cumbersome regulations, competition from television, and poor production quality. The 1980s brought mixed fortunes: legal changes allowing some independent production came in 1984, while 1988’s lifting of import restrictions brought direct competition from foreign films.
The late 1990s saw the emergence of many of today’s leading Korean directors, such as art house hero Hong Sang-soo, Lee Chang-dong, bad boy Kim Ki-duk, and international superstar Park Chan-wook. The 1999 action blockbuster “Shiri” is considered the turning point into a strong phase of domestic and international success for Korean film. From 2001 until 2007, Korean films sold more tickets at the box office than foreign imports, a rare phenomenon in a world dominated by the power of Hollywood. Korean films, directors, and actors picked up prizes at Berlin, Venice, Cannes, and other global festivals, where other Korean directors often sat on judging panels. Korea’s own Busan International Film Festival became a major date on the global film industry calendar. Korean conglomerates suddenly took an interest and got involved, CJ Entertainment being a prime example.
Challenges remain for Korean film. Inadequate support for independent productions is a frequently cited problem, while a natural tendency to invest in lightweight blockbusters reflects limited audience interest in non-mainstream films. Even critically acclaimed Korean directors admired by critics worldwide frequently fail to make a splash at the Korean box office. Hollywood hits, as always, keep the competition stiff.
Nonetheless, the pool of talent in Korea’s film industry ensures that each year produces at the very least five or ten remarkable pictures. Look out for the Busan-based omnibus film “Camellia,” Hong Sang-soo’s “Oki’s Movie,” and Im Kwon-taek’s “Hanji” this year.
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[2010-08-27 16:42 Input / 2012-10-22 18:04 Modify]
Article source: Seoul Metropolitan Government Tourism Division