In this introductory article, we examine how the South Korean (hereafter Korean) cinema has undergone a transformation from an ‘antiquated cottage industry’ (Huh 1989, 4), in the 1980s into a thriving international cinema—albeit with a host of new challenges and tensions—in the ‘post-boom’ years of the 2000s right up to the present. First, a general overview of the 1980s sets the stage for the Korean cinema’s transnational development over the last decade. Although the important and timely book edited by Shin and Stringer (2005) focuses primarily on the 1990s and the advent of a ‘New Korean Cinema’, this epithet can legitimately be applied to a longer historical continuum involving the ‘re-emergence’ in the 1980s of a ‘cinema of quality’ (Gilmore 1989, 21 —the beginnings of an international film industry phenomenon also known as the ‘Korean New Wave’ and marked by widespread critical acclaim.2
Second, we canvass the key issues and concerns addressed in the thoughtprovoking pieces included in this special themed issue. Combined, the articles brought together in this special issue of
Since the early 2000s,
Apart from its industrial context, the term ‘Planet Hallyuwood’ also takes us beyond an oversimplified understanding of its development from a neocolonialist pan-Asian perspective. That is, it is imperative to maintain a critical distance from the notion of cultural imperialism within Asia’s cultural markets, which all of the contributors in this special issue achieve with great care. Henceforth, the term and concept does more than appeal to the fusion of homogeneous cultural identity of Asian culture into a Hollywood-style Korean creative and culture industry. This depicts Hallyu’s formidable goal of avoiding a similar type of replication of uniformity best known by the global Hollywood industry. Thus, the term ‘Planet Hallyuwood’ can be read as a counter to worldwide cultural standardization by global media outputs, and further as a localized ‘cultural proximity’, which is created by such rich factors as local culture, language difference, and local market strength, as well as other cultural variables.
Exploring the material conditions that underlie the somewhat slippery label of Planet Hallyuwood opens up new possibilities for understanding the contemporary Korean cinema—the cinematic component of
2In October and November 1994, the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, in association with the Korean Motion Picture Promotion Corporation (Seoul), held a landmark festival that featured notable films by directors Im Kwon-Taek, Jang Sun-Woo, Kim Ui-Seok, Lee Myung-Se, and Park Kwang-Su—five quintessential ‘Korean New Wave’ filmmakers. See: Rayns, Tony. 1994. Seoul Stirring: 5 Korean Directors. London: Institute of Contemporary Arts.
Under the military regime headed by General Chun Doo-hwan (1980-1988) the Korean government sought to increase the protection accorded to the film industry and the arts in general while simultaneously opening up the market to free competition. A new generation of hopeful artists and filmmakers began contemplating pathways for making films. One group of fledgling filmmakers, calling themselves the
Despite this early flowering, one of the chief obstacles that continued to plague the industry was the censorship of both domestic and foreign films. All films were closely reviewed by Korea’s primary censorship organization, the Performance Ethics Committee (hereafter PEC), which began censoring films in 1979. The PEC primarily targeted domestic films with political themes, particularly material showing communism and North Korea in a positive light, before their public release. Anticommunism as a national ideology was alive and well in this pre-Sunshine Policy era before relations between the two Koreas thawed a little as the result of some constructive dialogue.5
At the same time, two main policy instruments were used to control the entry of foreign films and limit their exposure to local audiences. First, in order to restrict the consumption of foreign media content—and probably to manage its heavy workload—the PEC censored foreign films one at a time, involving a twoor three-month approval process for each film. In turn, the distribution process for both domestic and foreign films was hindered as a result of the bottleneck that this system created. Second, an import quota, launched under the Syngman Rhee government in the late 1950s, gave excessive protection to the domestic market by allowing only a relatively small number of US films, and a handful from other countries, into the local market.6 Between 1975 and 1984, according to industry statistics published by the Korean Motion Picture Promotion Corporation, an average of only 33 foreign (primarily Hollywood) films were imported into Korea per year.
Thus, apart from cultural film screenings at various foreign embassies in Seoul and the black market trade of videotaped movies, Korean filmmakers and the general public were largely prevented from engaging with foreign cultural material. Nevertheless, these ‘underground’ viewing practices helped to generate the informal creation of a primitive but avid cinephilia culture in Korea.
In 1988, seeking to develop closer ties with the US, the government of newly elected President Roh Tae-woo (1988–1993) granted Hollywood distributors unprecedented access to the Korean market by terminating film import quotas. Almost immediately, MPEA member companies (Universal, Paramount, MGM/United Artists, and 20th Century Fox) opened branch offices in Seoul and began directly distributing their films (Hollinger 1988). 7 As a result, Korea’s ‘underground’ cinephiles now had greater access to a range of Hollywood and other foreign films, which they eagerly consumed.
From the late 1980s, the Korean film industry began a process of two-way expansion—from the outside in and the inside out—with the number of foreign film imports reaching 2,705, or an average of 338 films annually between 1989 and 1996.8 Even more significant changes came with the formal removal of censorship regulations and practices. In 1996, under the government of Korea’s first civilian president, Kim Young-sam, the South Korean Constitutional Court declared film censorship to be illegal. Since this landmark ruling, new spaces for freedom of expression have opened up and censorship is now considered a tool of the authoritarian regimes of the past. The government replaced the PEC with a rating system, providing less restrictive and negotiable classification possibilities. Suddenly, the bottleneck of creativity burst open, providing a vital impetus for both arthouse and commercial filmmakers to pursue fresh ideas. It is precisely this moment that, in the view of most commentators, marks the beginnings of the Korean cinema’s latest Golden Age. Within a relatively short period, a brood of talented filmmakers and writers began drawing local, regional and international attention to a host of new cinematic possibilities—a homegrown inventiveness which prior to 1996 had been stifled under the Motion Picture Law.
Decades of military dictatorship, preceded by three years of occupation by the United States Army and thirty-five years of Japanese colonial rule, had kept the Korean ‘CinemaTiger’ in a state of slumber.9 What has followed could not form a starker contrast with the restrictive conditions of the past. Since the advent of democratic government, successive waves of popular Korean culture (aka
After 1996, conditions were ripe for the production and exhibition of an increasing number of domestic films by directors such as Lee Chang-dong, Kim Ki-duk, Lee Myung-se, Im Sang-soo, Park Chan-wook, Hong Sang-soo, Lim Soon-rye and Kim Ji-woon, to name only a few. A bevy of rising stars and the proliferation of ‘savvy’ domestic film companies, as well as the bolstering of the quasi-governmental film promotion and development agency, the Korean Film Council (hereafter KOFIC), have also helped the industry to win the lion’s share of the domestic market as well as an international reputation.10 By global standards, the dominance of Korean film in its own domestic market is an extraordinary cultural triumph, one shared with few other national cinemas— notably China, France, India, Japan and the United States. The continuing momentum of Korean film on its home turf is the result of a proactive government film policy, strong audience support for local films, and the offering of a range of dynamic genres that continually aims to exceed audience expectations.
By 2000, high-quality local films were flowing outward to the export market, enabling aesthetically provocative filmmakers and their genre-bending commercial, art-house, and independent films to connect with international audiences at key festivals. Thus, the cinematic component of the Korean wave had well and truly matured, but on Korean terms and in a Korean way. Henceforth, all the major film festivals—Berlin, Cannes, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Rotterdam, Tokyo, and Venice—could not get enough of Korean films, soliciting the industry’s latest productions and scheduling special retrospectives. Simply put, over the past decade it has been Korea’ s turn to be in the global spotlight, as the national cinemas of Japan, China and Hong Kong have been in the past.
However, the burgeoning of Korean cinema has also attracted a new set of challenges. Since 2006 new pressures have been testing the international stature and future development of the Korean film industry. Extreme levels of competition between domestic art-house and commercial films, piracy and illegal downloading, and the halving of the Screen Quota System (SQS) (as well as other government policy changes) have caused a significant loss of profits, paying viewers, and domestic and international DVD and cable-TV markets. Also, the number of films exported has shrunk. Whereas in 2008 a total of 354 films were exported, this figure slipped to 279 in 2009 (although still much higher than the 38 films exported in 2000).11
Additionally, there have been two major changes at KOFIC which have caused major disruptions for this central policy and promotion agency, and also for the whole of the non-commercial side of the local industry. Chairperson Kang Hansup and his successor Cho Hee-moon were both forced to relinquish their posts because of their mismanagement of the organization. However, since March 2011, the new chairman, Kim Ui-seok, best known for directing the comedy
The articles collected in this special issue on the Korean cinema seek to deepen our understanding of the Planet Hallyuwood phenomenon by looking beyond widely known and award-winning films such as Park Chan-wook’s
Darcy Paquet’s reflections on the transformation of the Korean film industry launch the collection with a privileged overview of the key issues driving the recent progress of the Korean cinema. In “An Insider’s View of a Film Industry in Transition: Meditations on the Contemporary Korean Cinema”, Paquet first asks what makes the Korean cinema unique and then goes on to consider a variety of pertinent issues: the commercial vs. the arthouse auteur, independent documentary traditions, low-budget filmmaking initiatives, and the search for good stories and screenwriters. For readers unfamiliar with the author and his work, Paquet is most well known for founding the website Koreanfilm.org, one of the foremost English-language sites on Korean cinema. He is also the author of
What makes Paquet’s insights so valuable and complementary to the other eight academic studies in this issue, and why they deserve to be republished, albeit as abbreviated versions of earlier essays in
The study on the Korean actor–star Song Kang-ho by Brian Yecies, offers an intimate exploration of the trajectory of Song’s on-screen performances from the release of his fourth film,
Perhaps the most detailed article in the present volume—and probably anywhere else on the subject—is Seo Jeong-nam’s analysis of Kim Jee-woon’s critically acclaimed
Seo’s analytical approach clearly reveals how
Building on the distinctiveness in the first three articles, Pil Ho Kim and C. Colin Singer offer a groundbreaking conceptualization of three pivotal periods of queer cinema in Korea: the ‘Invisible Age’ (1976–1998), the ‘Camouflage Age’ (1998–2005), and the ‘Blockbuster Age’ (2005–present). Their analysis of the narrative, audience, and critical reception surrounding two watershed films from the Invisible Age,
Finally, Kim and Singer demonstrate how films across both the commercial and independent arthouse spectrum evoke core sentiments and modes of social, cultural and political expression embraced by the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) movement in Korea from the mid-1990s to the present. Their case studies of the blockbuster film
In terms of cinematic eye candy, no feature-length animated film can top
The chief value of Martin’s study lies in his analysis of the transformation of
Gord Sellar’s article, “Another Undiscovered Country: Culture, Reception and the Adoption of the Science Fiction Genre in South Korea” offers a different take on the genre-bending question from the approach taken by Seo Jeong-nam, and Pil Ho Kim and C. Colin Singer. Sellar takes us beyond the often oversimplified issues of industrialization and their impact on the Korean film industry by investigating a range of successful (and unsuccessful) films that have attempted to ‘Koreanize’ science-fiction (hereafter sci-fi) material. His study of recent Korean sci-fi films includes
As Seller suggests, a set of definitive strategies lies to hand for overcoming the cultural barriers that have previously hampered the creation and depiction of localized traditions within these and other Korean sci-fi films. Without giving too much of his conclusion away, Seller suggests that Korean sci-fi filmmakers need to upskill themselves with the genre’s core tropes, and continue pushing the genre-bending boundaries even further—perhaps by utilizing the kind of narrative innovations that have so stimulated audiences of Chinese, Indian, French and other foreign films. By adopting such strategies, Korean filmmakers will be in a position to develop a unique glocalized storytelling language that is free from post-colonial nationalist–historiographic discourse, banal genre conventions and narrative forms, and a lackadaisical tendency to rely on Korean geographical settings as markers for ‘local culture’. In other words, the sci-fi sector of Planet Hallyuwood offers fertile soil with ample potential for lush growth.
Ae-Gyung Shim’s “Anticommunist War Films of the 1960s and the Korean Cinema’s Early Genre-bending Traditions” analyzes specific filmmaking trends under Park Chung-hee’s totalitarian military government in order to show how the contemporary Korean cinema’s fresh approach to genre-bending has evolved over the last half century. Shim shows how the Korean cinema has developed hybrid narrative conventions that mix the local and the global (mainly Hollywood) through dynamic cultural and artistic processes of assimilating, modifying and recreating. Whilst a similar case could be made for contemporary film industries around the world, Shim’s investigation reminds us that the so-called New Korean Cinema did not spring forth fully formed. In fact, Korean filmmakers have been able to draw on the rich legacy of many thousands of films from the US shown on public exhibition and dating back to the early 1910s. With this in mind, Shim analyzes some of the major genre-bending practices adopted by filmmakers in the 1960s to overcome the creative challenges and limitations imposed by a national mandate to produce propaganda films with a heavy ideological and anticommunist bias.
A companion piece to Ae-Gyung Shim’s historically based article, and one that eagerly accepts the task of fleshing out the inner technical workings of
Doobo Shim’s article “Whither the Korean Film Industry?” concludes this special issue with a political–economic analysis of the remarkable but understudied internal changes that have transformed the face of the Korean film industry. For Shim, the industry’s commercial accomplishments are far more complex than the narrow story that is often told in the trade and popular press of its underdog struggle against American cultural imperialism within a local vs. global paradigm. To reveal the distinctive character of Korea’s active role in the media globalization process, Shim invokes the notion of ‘cultures of production’ (du Gay 1997) as a framework for explaining how important developments, including ownership and vertical integration processes, have shaped the Korean film industry in the 2000s. Perhaps where Shim’s analysis matters the most to this complex story is his clear view of how
Clearly, the articles comprising this collection have only scratched the surface of what remains a fascinating story in the making. There is still an enormous amount of investigative work to be done, for instance, on the points of convergence and divergence between Planet Hallyuwood and other major international cinemas such as ‘Planet Hollywood’, ‘Planet Bollywood’ and ‘Planet Hong Kong’. Digital cinema, new production practices, and new technologies such as 3D in the commercial and home theater environments need further exploration, as well as the roles that film festivals, independent/arthouse filmmaking, and fandom are playing in the expansion of Korea’s national film and digital media industries. Also, the strategic pursuit and facilitation of international co-productions through collaborative ventures and industry networking events and business summits are an important part of this dynamic story. Taken together, all of these issues and new developments point to a Planet Hallyuwood in flux, and also to a stimulating dialogue that we hope this special issue of
3Shortly after the publication of these remarks (Gilmore 1989), Gilmore became the longstanding director of the Sundance Film Festival—the biggest independent (non-major Hollywood studio) film festival in the US. 4See Koreana Vol. 3, No. 4 (Winter 1989), available by searching for the subject ‘cinema’ under Back Issues on the Koreana home page at: http://www.koreana.or.kr/months/album.asp?lang=en. The color photo montage in “Parade of Artists” (pages 41–44) depicts a scene from Why Has Bodhi Dharma Left for the East? (1989) and directors Bae Yong-gyun, Im Kwon-taek, Lee Chang-ho, Lee Doo-yong, Bae Chang-ho and Park Chul-soo—the leading directors of the time. 5Between 1998 and 2008, under the presidencies of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun before Lee Myung-bak was elected president of South Korea, the Sunshine Policy was the name given to South Korea’s official reunification policy in relation to North Korea. 6In addition, a Screen Quota System (hereafter SQS) had been in place since 1966, requiring all cinemas to screen local films for a minimum of 146 days per year. However, the SQS remained largely ineffective for nearly thirty years until the establishment in 1993 of a Screen Quota Watchdog, which effectively monitored the number of foreign and domestic films exhibited at commercial cinemas. This agency, the predecessor of the Coalition for Cultural Diversity in Moving Images (CDMI), ensured that the SQS was working. However, in July 2006, as a result of four decades of relentless pressure from the Motion Picture Association of America, the SQS was reduced by half as the result of free-trade agreement discussions with the US. 7In return, the Roh Tae-woo government negotiated lower tariffs for items intended for export to the US, such as Korean automobiles, computer parts, and telecommunications equipment. 8This figure is derived from various issues of Korea Cinema between 1985 and 2007 (Seoul: Korean Motion Picture Promotion Corporation/Korean Film Commission) and Korean Film Observatory (2001–2007), the quarterly KOFIC trade journal covering the local film industry and policy issues. 9For a wider discussion of the ‘CinemaTiger’, see Yecies (2010). 10In 2006, 61.2 percent of all films screened in South Korea were locally made, and in the first half of 2010, local film openings maintained almost half—47.5 percent—of market share. See: Korean Cinema 2000, 265; Korean Cinema 2006, 495; and Korean Cinema Today (July-August 2010): 5. 11Korean Cinema 2004, 297; Korean Cinema 2009, 42; Han’guk Yŏnghwa Vol. 1 (March 2010): 42. 12The OSMU production and promotion franchise strategy involves spinning off a variety of products (pencil cases, shoes, backpacks, television series, etc.) and creating tie-in campaigns (kid’s happy meals, product endorsements, cross-media applications, etc.) from a single animation program and/or group of characters. Since about 2005, the MCST has required that all creative and cultural content funding applications for animation projects include a detailed OSMU strategy plan.