[Theme of May K-Movie] Korean Directors to Lead the Korean Wave
[Theme of May K-Movie] Korean Directors to Lead the Korean Wave
  • Kim See Moo (Film critic)
  • 승인 2022.05.04 11:44
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  Korean content, or K-Content has become a trend in the culture of the world, with movies and dramas particularly on the powerful wave. The current of the so-called K-Movies looks quite serious, and now it even seems more natural to use the term ‘K-Movies’ rather than ‘Korean cinema.’ Same can be applied the term ‘K-Directors’ to refer to Korean directors. This current of K-Movies can be understood in the context of Korean wave that is hitting the world.

When it comes to the father of K-Directors who won a reputation outside of Korea, there is a veteran who should not be missed. It is Director Jung Chang-hwa. In 1967, Jung was invited to Shaw Brothers Studio, the Hong Kong-based film production company, and made series of Korea-Hong Kong collaborated action films, pioneering in the growth of Korean film industry. Among the films he directed in Hong Kong are Temptress of a Thousand Faces(1969,) Heads for Sale (1970,) Valleys of the Fangs (1970,) Six Assassins (1971,) The Swift Knight (1971,) and Number One (1972.) Temptress of a Thousand Faces was the first Hong Kong film exported to Europe. Moreover, Number One was released in the U.S. with a new title Five Fingers of Death, topping the box office in its first week. Jung’s success might be an exceptional case in that he made a global success through distribution network. The Film Festival Circuit is what helped Korean films come into the international spotlight. Director Bae Yong-kyun’s Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left For the East showed the world auteurism-based Korean films by winning the Golden Leopard prize at the 42nd Locarno Film Festival in 1989. The film was released in Switzerland in 1990, and successfully received by taking 9th in the box office.

  However, there was a long way to go to the grand prize of the Venice, Cannes, and Berlin, the “Big Three” film festivals in the world. Im Kwon-taek, one of Korea’s most famous directors, was able to earn the international recognition when his film The Surrogate Woman (1986) brought its lead actress the Best Actress Award at the 44th Venice Film Festival. Park Chan-wook enhanced the position of Korean films by winning the Grand Prix at the 57th Cannes Film Festival for Oldboy (2003.) Another Korean director Lee Chang-dong won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes for Poetry in 2010. Late Kim Ki-duk
brought a big joy to his fans as well as to himself by winning the Golden Lion at Venice for his unconventional film Pieta in 2012.

  Then comes Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite which was awarded the Palme d’Or at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival, Korea’s first in its film history. It also attracted more than 1 million audience in France, a record number for a Korean film released in the country. Bong continued this momentum to sweep Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards in 2020, making new film history of the world. His achievement promoted the position of K-Movies on the global stage.

  When released in North America in 2019, Parasite was received well enough to put its name on high ranks in box office and to gross over $100 million. With the heat of Bong’s Parasite still going on, Minari (2020) directed by Lee Issac Chung became a hot topic in world’s film arena. This film attracted attention upon winning the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020. It continued its accolades in a number of international film festivals, and became a box office hit in Korea as well. Minari was produced by Plan B Entertainment owned by Brad Pitt, and filmed by Korean-American director Lee Issac Chung, which means it is an American film. I would say that Minari is a typical K-Content that delivers Korean sentiment produced in the Hollywood system.

  Hwang Dong-hyuk who created Squid Game, the K-Drama of global success in 2021, is another K-Director worth attention. It is said that American online streaming service company Netflix which reserved all rights for the series saw a record high number in its stock price thanks to the popularity of the series. A number of K-Content has been produced since then to meet high expectations of movie fans around the world.

  Pachinko, the Apple original series released on March 25th, is another K-Content that can be seen in the context of the Korean wave. Based on the novel of the same name written by Korean-American author Min Jin Lee, the series describes a Korean immigrant family across four generations as they left Korea to settle and survive in Japan during the Japanese colonial rule. Main actors and actresses Youn Yuh-jung, Lee Min-ho, Jin Ha, and Kim Min-ha are drawing global attention with their excellent performance. Korean-American directors Kogonada and Justin Chon have filmed the series.

  Before Kogonada debuted as a film director in Columbus in 2017, he had been known for his video essays on well-known directors such as Wes Anderson, Ozu Yasujiro, and Stanley Kubrick. He also created video essays for The Criterion Collection, using clips from masters’ films, including Mirrors of Bergman, Eyes of Hitchcock, and Hands of Bresson. He said Kogonada is a pseudonym adopted from Japanese screenwriter Kogo Noda.

  Justin Chon or Chon Jitae in Korean, acted in films like Twilight and Revenge of the Green Dragons before he debuted as a director in comedy feature film Man up in 2014. Chon won the Audience Award at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival for Gook, which tells the story of Korean-Americans during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. With his fourth feature film Blue Bayou invited to the Cannes for Un Certain Regard last year, Chon is being expected to take over the craze of Minari by Lee Issac Chung.

Kim See Moo is a film critic. He studied plays and films at Hanyang University and aesthetics at graduate school of Hongik University. He took his Ph. D in Film Studies writing the dissertation Reexamining Lacan’s Concept of the Subject at Dongguk University. He is the president of A Study Meeting of Lee Jang-ho’s Films. He worked as a president of the Korean Cinema Association from 2015-2016, and jury for Dong-a Ilbo’s Annual Spring Literary Contest from 2015-2018. He won the PAF Critics Award in 2018. Among his publications are Star Persona(2018,) Hong Sang-soo’s Comedy of Human (2015,) Korean Film Directors: Lee Jang-ho (2009,) and Defending the Film Art (2001.) He also translated Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers (1996,) Concepts in Film Theory (1995,) and Anatomy of Film (1994.)


* 《Cultura》 2022 May(Vol. 95) *

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