Saturday, January 14, 2012

The History of Korean Cinema .... on screen

The fact of the matter is, outside of Korea, Korean cinema is still a very 'new' thing. Generally most people may have seen your Oldboy's and My Sassy Girl's but outside of that the earliest film that those in the West will have likely seen would probably be JSA (2000) or Shiri (1999). This puts Korean cinema in an interesting position of only being around 14 years old (15 using the Korean birthday system!). For a national cinema so young, it really has come along leaps and bounds, but the more interesting thing to me is what was it like before this point.

Does anyone know who the fuck this chick is and what she 
has to do with Shiri? I still can't figure it out!

We produced a video montage in the lead up to the film festival last year (KOFFIA), which covered a short history of Korean cinema. It proved to be very popular upon release, both with local and international audiences. It was rare to see coverage of films prior to this BH date (BH: Before Hallyuwood). It was beautifully edited by Kevin Park and with an equally delightful score by Samuel Choi, both who were just beginning to ply their trades. I thought I would reproduce it here on the blog as it really deserves to get as much exposure as possible. And yes, even it reflects the state of Korean cinema exposure, given only 6 films featured were released before the BH point, and 10 after it. But it gives a short glimpse into the history and progress the Korean industry has made, and maybe one day an extrapolated version would be produced by others fans around the world. Check it out below!

'The History of Korean Cinema', Thanks Kevin and Sam

Now, a real highlight of the Busan International Film Festival this year was the current trend of Korean cinema history documentaries. Some of my favs of the fest too and something any die hard Korean film fan must seek out. To begin with there was the clearly last minute edited Ari Ari the Korean Cinema, but that didn't take anything away from this terrific doco. With interviews with nearly every Korean director I've ever heard of (that is still alive!) it really was astounding to see such a variety of opinions on the industry.

'Ari Ari the Korean Cinema' trailer, sorry no subs

Around 120 people were apparently interviewed and its planned to be the first in a series of feature documentaries, which is great to hear. Side note, there was this strange side story with actress Yoon Jin-seo which seemingly tried to make the film into a docofiction, the new festival craze that worked so well with Jia Zhangke's 24 City, was entertaining in Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience, and somewhat effective in Lake Mungo, was really not needed and didn't help the film at all in my opinion. It seemed it believed that it needed to have this element to make it enjoyable or have people watch it, which is a shame.

Shin Film in action!

Then there was The Golden Age of Korean Cinema and the Legend of Shin Film, reviewed by Variety's Russell Edwards in a very positive manner, and again something Asian film aficionados should seek out. Soon we will see in Australia a non-Korean's coverage of the industry with Leonardo Cinieri Lambroso's Through Korean Cinema, which looks at its history through 5 prominent filmmakers, Park Kwang-su, Lee Myung-se, Lee Chang-dong, Park Chan-wook and Im Kwon-taek. (Note if you live in the UK, look out for Lee Myung-se at the Korean Cultural Centre this month!). An interesting aspect given 3 of the 5 have operated prior to the BH point. 

'Through Korean Cinema' trailer

(Plus don't forget Kim Ki-duk's Arirang, a documentary piece looking at himself as a filmmaker. Check out its great trailer!). This sudden rise in the internal and external analysis on the screen could possibly stem from two areas. One, the success of Korean documentaries around the world at festivals and in a box-office sense in Korea itself, led by the charming Old Partner, has given motivation and confidence to those that once thought it impossible. Documentaries had largely been ignored by the Korean public until the lovable cow in Old Partner came along and entered peoples hearts.

'Old Partner' trailer

Two, the fact that the industry is now in 14-BH and enough time has passed since the 'Korean wave', well the initial wave anyway, that now people have begun to analyse the events of this sudden rise of the industry and what came before, during and after it. Whatever it is, it can only be a positive thing, as it produces entertaining materials, and will likely lead to comebacks of directors and revivals of past trends. Ari Ari the Korean Cinema for example was co-directed by Heo Chul, a documentary maker, and Chung Ji-young, who was making his 1st film in 14 years. Not only that, but Chung was also part of the BIFF omnibus film A Journey with Korean Masters, which was my favourite Korean film of the festival (and the reason why Oh In-hye was at BIFF!). 

Oh In-hye and her controversial Red (orange?) Carpet appearance

Four absolute masters of the industry, Lee Jang-ho (A Wanderer Never Stops on the Road), Park Chul-soo (Green Chair), Lee Doo-yong (The Last Witness) and Chung (North Korean Partisan in South Korea) made wonderful funny, moving and talented short films for the project produced by Seoul City. They all had a bit of a laugh at themselves but were easily the most effective Korean films I saw at the festival. You can read more about the project here, with higher quality photos than mine below.

My extremely dodgey Blackberry photo from the gala screening of 
"A Journey with Korean Masters"

Park Chul-soo also made a comeback with a co-directing role in Red Vacance, Black Wedding with Kim Tae-sik, with all of the above directors having previously operated BH, it makes it all the more intriguing. Along with these documentaties, there has been a drastic and rapid increase in written works about the industry of late, none more so than the massive amount of content produced from the Korean Blogathon that first took place last March, and the Jopok Week that followed (Great job Martin, Rufus and Pierce!). Sites like Modern Korean Cinema, Hangul Celluloid and Hanguk Yeonghwa have recently thrived with content, but this analysis I will cover in another blog!

The Korean Cinema Blogathon, coming again this March!

If you are a Korean film fan, you owe it to yourself to catch these works and develop your knowledge of the cinema that you so love. Or better yet, add to it's wonderful history yourself by producing content covering its history!

Follow me @TullysRecall
Kieran Tully

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