Friday, November 24, 2006

What's Going on in Korean Cinema

With the Christmas and Seollal (lunar new year) holidays approaching, expect a surge in major releases. Both big Korean movies and Hollywood blockbusters. The first "big" movie of the season will probably be Park Chan-wook's I'M A CYBORG BUT THAT'S OKAY (I'll try to review it after the press screening next week).

In the meantime, Darcy Paquet at has a very good write-up about the current state of Korean cinema. I'm not sure how much of his thoughts on the rise of independent cinema is real or just wishful thinking... But even wishful thinking can become real if enough people wish the same thing.

The rising interest in Japanese movies is quite interesting. Japanese culture was pretty much banned in Korea from the Korean War until 1998. Then the local market slowly opened. First, three award-winning Japanese films were allowed in. Then award-winning films in general were allowed. Then in January 2004, almost all Japanese po culture was allowed.

(Although, strangely, Japanese animation was still quite regulated. Strange, I say, because Japanese animation has long been the most ubiquitous form of Japanese culture in Korea. Some of it was dubbed into Korean (and sometimes even presented as Korean), and others were available on the black market and in Japanese culture cafes. EVANGELION has been hugely popular for years. Everybody knows GATCHAMAN (BATTLE OF THE PLANETS in America, and EAGLE 5 in Korea). And Japanese comic books were widely available in translation since I first came to Korea. Yet another one of Korea's non-ban bans.)

(Parantheses 2: I tried linking to the Wikipedia article on Evangelion, the first choice in that Google search I linked to, but it seemed to crash my Firefox brower every time. I have no idea why. Feel free to let me know if you have any theories/solutions.)

Anyhow, so Japanese movies and TV shows were allowed into Korea en masse, beginning January 2004. At first, a lot of people were worried that they would overwhelm local programming, revealing how much Korean media has cribbed from Japan. But then, surprise surprise, nothing happened. Japanese movies and TV and music barely made a ripple here. Except for Hiyao Miyazaki films and the 1998 release of LOVE LETTER, Japanese movies did poorly. Japanese TV dramas got fairly mediocre ratings. Life moved on.

Turns out, however, that there was a decent market for Japanese culture here. It just needed some time to incubate. This year has seen many Japanse movies do respectable numbers, led by THE SINKING OF JAPAN. I doubt Japanese product will overwhelm Korea, but it good to see the market growing more diverse.

It is especially good to know that most people in both countries have little interest in the annoying nationalism and stupid anti-Korea/anti-Japan garbage spewed by some in both countries. Among the people who really matter -- the filmmakers and writers and designers) (not to mention the average folk who care about movies and music and such) -- there is a healthy interest in the art and pop culture of their neighbors. And on a business level, the two nation's entertainment industries are growing more and more interconnected.

As for Darcy's feeling that there is a lack of energy in Korean movies these days... I am actually a little optimistic, for the first time in quite a while. The big guns of the industry (Bong Joon-ho, Kim Jee-woon, etc.) seem to be working on some good stuff right now. And there are a bunch of new directors making films with potential. CJ Entertainment and Nabi Pictures have teamed up to create a bunch of low-budget genre movies (I'm a big believer that low-budget schlock can be one of the most fertile fields for a film industry). In TV, the cable channels are increasingly churning out new shows to compete with the lame dreck on mainstream TV, much as HBO started to do in the 1990s. Sure, there is a lot of crud out there... but as Sturgeon's Law says, 95% of everything is crud.

(Or Sturgeon's Revelation, if you want to be pedantic).

(Note: While writing this entry, my Firefox browser crashed. But upon reopening it, I discovered that my entire post had been saved. I was so surprised and happy. All hail Firefox 2.0!)


Jon Allen said...

interesting background thanks.
I love the title I'm a cyborg but that's ok.
I hope we can get to see it with subtitles.

small glitch in para 3 with one of the links

Melissa said...

firefox IS great, I agree.