Korean Film Industry
Korean Film Industry
Korean Film Industry
Some writers and film critics have used the term renaissance to describe the new developments in the South Korean Industry. By using the term renaissance, Choi is referring to some of the changes and new trends that have been observed in the Korean film industry in the recent past. Choi notes that there is an increase in quantity and diversity of the films being produced in South Korea, which has been brought about by the increased interaction between the people of South Korea and those of the rest of the world. Further, the content of the film industry has changed to reflect the increase in interaction. For example, some of the films currently produced deal with topics such as globalization and national pride. Therefore, the Korean film industry has evolved to reflect globalization and interaction of the Koreans with citizens from the rest of the world.
From the 1990s, film makers and scholars began envisaging major changes to the Korean film industry. They had observed trends in the rest of the world’s films and noticed that there was transition from the traditional storytelling that mainly centered on entertainment and cultural transmission and modern themes such as globalization, the demand for human rights and gender issues. In short, the changes in the world mainly dealt with the new conflicts that the human population was concerned with. The films produced in South Korea from that time reflect some of the issues identified by Choi and other scholars. For example, the 1999 film Peppermint Candy by Lee Chang-dong signaled the changing content and style in South Korea. Unlike the conventional filming techniques, the storyline begins with the suicide of the protagonist followed by a reversed chronology of events. However, the content of the film was even more revolutionary. Issues such as suicide from apparently well off middle-class Koreans come to the fore in a country that is beginning to boast of the economic gains. The movie is a classic critic of the system and its effect on the citizens. It shows that the country has forgotten its citizens in its efforts to become a military and economic powerhouse as many citizens are struggling. While the economists release figures showing improved growth, and as Korean cities apparently throve with beautiful buildings, Peppermint Candyenlightens the public on the individual lives of the citizens. The protagonist, Yong-ho, is presented as an average Korean citizen who struggles with education, career and social life. However, he goes through much pain even as he is seen as an epitome of a happy Korean. At the beginning of the movie, the stress has driven him to the point of suicide. Therefore, the Korean nation is in contrast with the apparently good economy and struggling citizens.
The movie Joint Security Area showcases the conflict between North and South Korea. A military official of South Korea is killed in the demilitarized zone in which both countries have control. The investigation conducted unearths different versions from each of the countries. The filmmakers are enlightening the Korean population and the whole world on the effects of continued tension between the two countries on the ordinary citizens and the security officers. Therefore, the changes in the Korean film industry were necessitated by the increased awareness by the people about their forgotten status in the new dispensation where the government seemed to have forgotten its people in the quest to become a regional powerhouse. Paquet[A2] points out that from 1992, there was much hope among the South Koreans after the transition from the much hated military government to a more civilian one (1). At the same time, she notes that the fall of the military government made people understand the power of mass action. They held their government more accountable and expected them to change.
The two films allude to the possibility that the government may have forgotten the ordinary citizens and concentrated on regional politics. The change in the film industry was necessitated by the growing demand by the citizens for their government to pay closer attention to their suffering. Therefore, the film industry highlighted the issues affecting the common people in the country. The protagonist in Peppermint Candyis a representative of the common man in Korea yet he is an employee of the government. The choice of the security services careeris meant to portray the protagonist as a loyal citizen who has sacrificed for his country. In addition, the reversed order of events in which the climax is brought the beginning is a clever technique meant to remind the viewer of the result of the efforts. More importantly, it is notable that the government policies such as the use of torture are responsible for the mental anguish of the protagonist, which can be interpreted as a message that the government is using its citizens and abandoning them when they are in trouble. Similarly, in Joint Security Area, the main message is that as the governments maintain hard-line positions in their cold war, the casualties are the ordinary citizens, especially the members of the security forces. Therefore, the films show that the government of Korea has initiated policies and conflicts that have left ordinary citizens suffering.
The societal transition was brought about by the quest for relevance. While the film industry in Korea is not new, the traditional films concentrated on issues such as tradition with the dominant Karate films. While this was successful in the beginning, the societal interests changed and the people began to view them as outdated and out of touch with the issues that concerned them. Paquet[A3] notes that from 1992, the filmmakers realized that the film industry was about to collapse (1). She notes that at the time, many film companies had collapsed and ticket sales were at an all-time low. The low return on investment was because the films produced were not relevant to the audience expectations. Furthermore, she states that countries such as China banned Hollywood films. However, from 1992, there was liberalization in the market, which allowed western films to enter the Korean market. The international movies became popular, an indication that they addressed some of the issues that concerned them. Consequently, local film producers came up with new strategies to remainrelevant.Therefore, transition in Korea made the local film industry irrelevant but it improved after the popularity of Hollywood films.
Industry strategists suggested the complete overhaul of the Korean film industry. There was a suggestion by the Korean film Corporation that the sector had to transform from merely focusing on entertainment to the commercialization. Paquet[A4] states that there was a conscious decision to ensure that every film produced recouped its budget (1). Naturally, this meant that they had to think of films that would appeal to the audience, especially issues that affected them. Therefore, the films produced after 1990 had more content that dealt with emotion and builds a personal connection between the audience and the characters compared to the previous ones. For example, in Peppermint Candy, the audience is likely to identify more with the social issues that the protagonist struggles with. The Korean film industry changed to include issues that affected the people to make the movies appealing.
The government realized the need to change the way the film industry operated. Previously, an archaic law that had been put in place by the military dictatorship in 1962 was used (Paquet 3[A5] ). There was much censorship since any content that seemed critical to the government or portrayed the country in a bad light was not allowed. In addition, there were strict licensing laws that made it difficult for new film producers to come up. For example, there was a requirement that the companies had to own their own production studiosand the number of people they had to employ.The law forced small producers out of business and limited the competition, which lowered the standards of South Korea films(Piquet 3[A6] ). Between 1984 and 1986, there were far-reaching reforms such as freedom of expression. In 1986, the government passed the Film Promotion Law that allowed more freedom in film production. It also made it a requirement for the government to offer support to the film industry. The legislation led to an increase in the number of production companies from 20 to more than 100 (Piquet 4[A7] ). Therefore, it is clear that there was many restrictions on the development of the film industry in Korea before the 1990s.
Much change has been recorded in the Korean film since the early 1990s. Previously, there was much government control that limited the topics and ideas film producers could use, especially those that seemed to critique the government. Therefore, the filmmakers concentrated on entertainment pieces that had little connection with the social and economic issues affecting the people. The result was a lack of interest in the films produced and subsequent decline of the industry. However, after the change to a more civilian government, the people demanded more accountabilityand freedom of expression. In addition, the liberalization of the market made western films popular in the nation. Consequently, the local Korean filmmakers had to adjust to keep up with the new competition. Currently, the Korean film industry is well developed and commercially viable since the local population easily identifies with the movies produced. Therefore, Peppermint Candy and Joint Security Area show that Korean movies address issues affecting the citizens.
Paquet, D. The Korean Film Industry: 1992 to the Present.
The most significant reform that happened in the Korean film industry is the rapid commercialization of the movies produced in the country. Prior to the 1990s, there was a crisis is characterized by low sales of the released films. In South Korea, newly emerging genres attest to the need to produce commercially appealing movies whose sales can meet the production budgets. Initially, the Korean film industry was preoccupied with the need to adhere to a religion, morality, or government prescriptions at the expense of the needs of the audience. However, with the major reforms introduced in the 1990s, there was a realization that the film industry had to strive to produce commercially viable movies.
The film industry changed to deal with topics that were previously considered taboo. For example, the 1994 film Memento Mori by Kim Tae-yon and Min Kyu-dong was a major shift in content. It signaled a changing industry that was willing to expose the issues in society as they were. It exploresthe lesbian relationship between Yoo Shi-eun and Min Hyo-shin. Prior to the period, many of the films highlighted heterosexual relationships only. It was a time when the art industry was afraid or unwilling to expose certain issues the society deemed uncomfortable. The commercial success of this film shows that society is more willing to accept and explore these issues. Therefore, films must deal with issues in society fearlessly by portraying the true image.
Stringer[A9] observes that the genre classification and film relevance must be based on the reaction of the audience (95). Therefore, commercial success must start with an analysis of the needs of the audience. The Korean industry has become commercially viable because of its shift to focus on the truths in society.For example, Memento Mori is among the few films that boldly confront the issue of homosexuality, unlike the previous ones that do not have the courage to confront it. Stringer[A10] adds that prior to the liberalization and consequent commercialization of Korean films industry, the creators were more concerned about the needs of the government. Moreover, failure to adhere to the strict prescriptions of the government regulatory authorities led to consequences. However, once this restrictive regulation was removed, the players were free to focus on audience requirements. He notes that the shift led to an immediate improvement in the quality of the films produced in the country (97). Therefore, it is apparent that every business must focus on the needs of the customer to succeedcommercially. In addition, some of the films currently produced in the country are now dealing with issues in the international arena to make Korean films competitive. Therefore, film creators must consider the needs of the consumers to succeed in the local and international markets.
Film production allows society to deal with some of the issues that affect them. Stringer points out that the audience choice of films depends on the problems affecting society. He states that films that deal with sad tales have higher commercial viability when the society is facing difficult times such as economic crises (Stringer 97[A11] ). For example, the 2006 film The Host by Bong Joon-ho is a horror film that deals with a depressing tale of a monster kidnapping a man’s daughter and her father’s efforts to rescue her. The end of the horror film is the killing of the daughter. The success of the film could be an indication that society is full of depressing encounters and are happy to find an avenue to express their frustrations. In this sense, the film has transited from being a source of entertainment to a powerful tool of social commentary. In the case of sad films such as The Host, the industry has also become an avenue to exposure to the true state of society. The commercial success is a statement that the people are tired of happy films that hide the true state of society. Therefore, the Korean Cinema success is because of the change to the true reflection of society.
Critics argue that there is no authentic genre of Korean Cinema due to imitations of the more established western and other Asian films. Sung-Ill observes that the introduction of filming in Korean coincided with Japanese colonization and the Koreans were not in control of the content. Sung-Illadds [A12] that the film integration in the Korean society followed a Confucian pattern with more women watching films while men stuck to sport for entertainment (5). The gender divide in the Korean film is an expression of the society’s own prescriptions. Current films have also followed this pattern with men identifying more with films that deal with military might and women preferring the love stories (6). Earlier films had mainly dealt with Karate and other adventure, leaving out the interests of many female watchers. However, the current films deal with a diversity of themes, making the audience have a choice depending on their preference. The increase in the number of production companies has made it possible for the market to have films on almost all topics. Therefore, the Korean film became commercially viable when it focused on the issues that women could easily identify with.
There are more films that address the social issues affecting the Korean society. Some still carry scenes of karate and military conquest as a way of establishing authentic Korean settings and appealing to the militarized male folk in the country. In The Host, there is a subtle attack on the insensitivity of the police department in helping the father of the kidnapped girl. Moreover, the police ignore him when he reports that he has received a phone call from his kidnapped daughter. Therefore, monster symbolizes great danger or problems that the people face because they do not help from the government. Therefore, the film shows that people are on their own when they face major problems. In fact, they have to work on their own as underscored by their efforts to trace the kidnapped lady. Therefore, ordinary citizens should stop expecting the government to solve their problems.
The commercialization of the Korean cinema emphasizes the events in society. In fact, commercial success is possible when the viewer can identify with certain aspects or characters. The contextualization of films makes them relevant to the viewer and worthwhile for them to spend money on them. The commercialization of the film industry might have been a policy issued by the government but the actual realization of the aspiration required much thought and planning. Moreover, the filmmakers had to find out the interests of the audience and incorporate them. Stringer observes that the reception of films depends on the issues in the society in, For example, The Host is an illustration of a society that feels that the times are difficult despite the government’s concentration on issues of security and military might. In addition, the change in the regime allowed the people to comment on the excesses of the government and security forces. In fact, films such as the Host were used to criticize the security forces for a poor response when the citizens need them. Therefore, films that focus on issues in society are more likely to be successful.
The historical developments in Korean society shaped the film industry in Korea. The many years of isolation and military rule lagged the country’s film industry compared to China and America. Even now, Korean film still lacks connection with the international audience (Stringer 96[A13] ). Therefore, the commercial success of the films has not matched that of America and China. Nonetheless, many people purchase Korean films out of curiosity but not because of confidence or the admiration of good work. The Korean films can easily fill the void by providing alternatives to the viewers who might be seeking content different from the traditional Hollywood themes. In this case, the Korean industry has to remain originally Korean instead of attempting to follow western films (Stringer 96[A14] ). Thus, the progress made in the commercialization of the Korean film industry has mainly concentrated on Korea with little impact on the lucrative international market.
The efforts to commercialize the Korean films industry began as a conscious decision to make it financially self-sustaining. The filmmakers attempted to change the style and content of the movies to make them more viable and relevant to the audience as is the case with Memento Mori and The Host. There is more freedom in the choice of the content as filmmakers are bolder in highlighting issues that are critical of government actions. More significantly, there is an increase in the number of films that deal with issues that society can identify with. The greatest result of the effort to commercialize the Korean film industry was the creative ways of making content relevant to the audience. Therefore, commercializing the Korean filmindustry forced the producers to come up with creative content that related to the issues in the society.
Sung-Ill, Chung. “Four Variations on Korean Genre Film: Tears, Screams, Violence and
Stringer, J. “Putting Korean Cinema in its Place: Genre Classifications and the
Contexts of Reception.”
[A1]Question 1. It is 1556 words. The essays were answered separately, see question 2 on page 7
[A8]This is the Second Essay. It is 1478 words.