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[Korea Quiz] The birth of Korean cinema

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Aug. 9, 2023 - 14:02

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You may have discovered Korean cinema through "Parasite," the multiple Oscar-winning film directed by Bong Joon-ho.

But this rising Asian cultural powerhouse boasts a long cinematic history that traces a century back from 2019, when Bong’s film came out.

The very first film produced on the Korean Peninsula was "The Righteous Revenge," which premiered in 1919 at the country’s first movie theater Danseongsa in Seoul’s Jongno district.

It was a "kinodrama," a mixture of theatrical play and short films. Actors would perform on stage for an audience against the screen, which showed some scenery or where some motion pictures were played in between acts. Although there are some questions as to whether it can be seen as a complete film, the “Righteous Revenge” is widely recognized as the start of Korean cinema.

The significance of "The Righteous Revenge" lies in the fact that it was produced, directed and written entirely by Koreans. The success of this kinodrama, which featured an all-Korean cast, paved the way for the production and release of similar works in the years that followed.

Korea's first silent film, "Oath Under the Moon," was produced in 1923. Unlike previous kinodramas, this film was Korea's first full-feature movie, and it represented a step forward in the development of Korean cinema, moving away from its roots in plays and short films.

From these humble beginnings, Korean cinema has flourished and evolved over the years, becoming a global cultural powerhouse with works like Park Chan-wook’s "Old Boy (2003),” achieving international acclaim and recognition. The journey from "The Righteous Revenge" to modern-day masterpieces showcases the remarkable growth and creativity of Korean filmmakers throughout history.

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