The Korea Herald


Korean cinema`s past, present, future


Published : March 30, 2010 - 13:33

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Film critic and specialist in Korean cinema, Darcy Paquet recently offered a rare overview of the past, present and future of Korean cinema.
According to Paquet, Korea had produced around 200 films a year in the 1950s and 1960s, an outstanding number in relation to the strength and size of Korea`s war-torn economy of the time. The 1970s, however, saw the centralization of television and as an inevitable consequence, both film quality and quantity dropped. It was not until late 1990s that Korean cinema regained a degree of commercial and artistic strength. Since then, it has seen a decade of exponential development.
Paquet calls it the Korean Film Renaissance.
Korea currently makes between 50 and 80 films a year.
Paquet is a visiting professor at Kyung Hee University, a consultant for the San Sebastian (Spain) and Udine (Italy) film festivals and author of "New Korean Cinema: Breaking the Waves," published this month by Wallflower Press London. He is also the founder of
Organized by YEOL Society for Korean Cultural Heritage at the Seoul Museum of History on Tuesday, Paquet`s lecture titled "Roots of Korea`s Film Renaissance" surveyed the journey of Korean cinema since the 1950s. In a private interview the following day, Paquet further discussed the journey thus far and spoke on its possible future directions.
This modern day Renaissance had its genesis in Kang Je-gyu`s "Shiri" (1999), in Paquet`s opinion. Being "the first blockbuster event film of the modern period," with politicians "attendances and clippings on the news, Shiri represented a commercial step forward, increasing confidence and invoking a willingness to take risks for the fellow filmmakers of the decade, " Paquet said.
By 1999, the film market had risen by 20 percent to 40 percent, and another 50 percent in 2001, and an astounding 60 percent in 2006. Though Paquet proposed many economic, cultural and political reasons for this revival, the underlying reason offered was that the foregrounding from the 1970s onwards had allowed this success.
"While the directors who ultimately became the most famous in the new era were of a later generation, their achievements would not have been possible without the ground-breaking achievements of their predecessors," said Paquet.
"The period covered starts in the 1970s when film enthusiasts congregated at the French and German Cultural Centers in Seoul, to the 1980s when informal film-making groups opened at many universities and young directors participated in the broader pro-democracy movement, to the 1990s when new producers began to dismantle an industrial structure that had suffered from years of obstructive government regulations, to the 2000s when Korean cinema underwent a spectacular commercial birth," described Paquet.
Paquet`s contextualization of the period within international film history as well as domestic history also offered a global understanding of the Korean film industry`s developments.
"Much of the creative energy of Korea`s film renaissance springs from the tension between three major influences/traditions: realism, melodrama, cinephilia" -- this was the "hypothesis" established by Paquet for the YEOL lecture. Through discussing the past and still prevailing influences of these Western traditions, Paquet analyzed the current Korean cinema as a fusion of the narrative, stylistic and structural aspects of realism, melodrama and cinephilia.
Extracting the apposite elements from these Western terminologies, Paquet related the subject matter of the populace in realist films to the political freedom sought in many Korean films; the popular ply of sentimentality in Korean narratives was correlated with the emotional ambience and structures of melodramas; and similarly, the merging of genres in cinephilia was compared to the "quirkiness" of Korean films.
Paquet`s observation on the relevance of Italian neorealist cinema to Korea`s post-war period provided a particularly engaging parallel as well as situating Korean cinema within a global picture. Through a short extract of Yu Hyun-mok`s "Stray Bullet" (Obaltan) (1961), Paquet displayed the analogous portrayal of the desperate state of poverty of the working class to post-war Italy`s neorealist films around the 1950s.
In regards to the future of Korean cinema, Paquet was open. Drawing a rather romantic image, Paquet referred to the current directors as "children without fathers" who "were able to create diversity in the types of films because of the freedom from not having an older father figure." Thus, as these directors now become fathers to the younger generation, Paquet discussed the potential of the descendant filmmakers with anticipation and eagerness.
Concerned more with whether Korean films will retain their diversity in style and scale, Paquet was apathetic to the possibility of Korean cinema becoming Hollywood-ized. Rather, drawing parallels with Mexican directors, Paquet remained confident that Korean directors would likewise retain their own distinctive style whilst also enjoying international acclaim. "I remain optimistic," Paquet concluded.
The YEOL lectures aim to provide rudimentary knowledge and discuss the cultivation of Korean arts in the English language. With audience members including non-Koreans currently living in Korea and Koreans who have previously lived abroad, the English speaking nature of the lectures establishes a transnational and broad-minded approach to the topics of the lectures. Furthermore, the subjects discussed recognize the interdisciplinary nature of the arts, ranging from folklore to film to fengshui. (

By An Ji-yoon