[Theme of May K-Movie] International Film Festivals and the Korean Wave of K-Movies
[Theme of May K-Movie] International Film Festivals and the Korean Wave of K-Movies
  • Kim Hyung Seok (Film critic)
  • 승인 2022.05.04 11:59
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  The Korean wave refers to the cultural phenomenon that was driven by the spread of Korean pop music (1990s) and dramas (2000s) across Japan and East Asia while ‘K-Movie’ is a more energetic move that evolved through Europe’s film festivals, spreading to North American market, and that have been perfected through the Academy Awards. Korean movies have been recognized on the international stage since the 20th century. Despite poor conditions for the film industry in Korea, Director Lee Doo-yong’s The Hut (1980) and Mulleya Mulleya (1984) and Im Kwon-taek’s The Surrogate Woman (1986) and Come Come Come Upward (1989) were acclaimed at major international film festivals including the Venice, the Cannes, and the Moscow Film Festival. Those films were, however, partly based on Orientalism, and Korean films did not bring any news from abroad in the 1990s.

Then came the Cannes Film Festival in 2000. Korean films entered a new phase there. Director Im Kwon-taek’s Chunhayng was invited to the official competition, Hong Sang-soo’s Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors to Un Certain Regard, Jung Ji-woo’s Happy End to the International Critics’ Week, and Lee Chang-dong’s Peppermint Candy was invited to the Director’s Fortnight. Korean films were finally able to join the international flow in the 21st century through the Cannes Film Festival, edging toward the center from the margin. In the 20th century, Korean films stayed at the marginal area in the big circle of international film world, both industry-wise and aesthetic-wise. One of the major reasons is Korea’s sort of isolation policy for the industry. Although it is said that Korean movies had its golden era in the 1960s, they were no more than a big fish in a small pond, considering the quota system that limited the release of foreign-made films to only 20-30 a year. Moreover, Korean movies were hardly expected to be invited to international film festivals due to their lack of advantages. It also seemed like a dream to hold an international film festival in the country.

Then the Busan International Film Festival took place and Korean films began interacting through international film festivals since mid-1990s. The results of such efforts were seen at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000. Four Korean films were screened there and, 2 years later at last, Director Im Kwon-taek won the Best Director Award for Painted Fire at Cannes. An even more crucial achievement of Korean films came when Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy was awarded the Grand Prix at the Cannes in 2004. The film was mentioned as a representative of ‘K-Movie’ for a while. Since then, K-Movies continued to win prizes at renowned international film festivals in Europe and North America, such as the Berlin, the Venice, the Sundance, the Rotterdam, and the Locarno Film Festival. ‘Phase 1’ of K-Movies was perfected when Director Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019 and swept four Oscars including the Best Picture and the Best Director at the Academy Awards the year after. ‘Phase 2’ of K-Movies is going on through OTT (Over-The-Top) with films and dramas taking over the reputation of those acclaimed films. The Cannes Film Festival in 2000 was the starting point of all this achievement. That is why I would say that Korean films have risen to the current status not based on the growth in the industry or support of policies, but mainly through international film festivals to introduce Korean directors and films to the world.

  Directors are not the only ones to see the changes in the status of K-Movies. Actress Kang Soo-yeon rose to stardom through her roles in Im Kwon-take’s films in the 1980s, and Moon So-ri, Jeon Do-yeon, and Kim Min-hee got the trophy for the best actress at the Venice, the Cannes, and the Berlin Film Festival respectively in the years after 2000. Other actors and actresses also had opportunities to be cast in international projects after appearing in the films by Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, Lee Chang-dong or Hong Sang-soo. Youn Yuh-jung is another actress who showed the world how excellent Korean actors and actresses were by winning the Best Actress Award at the Academy Awards for her role in Minari. As Korean movies and dramas now come into the spotlight through OTT, Korea’s actors and actress are more recognized internationally than before. However, the ground for such outcome has been set by the actors and actresses who shined at different international film festivals before.

  Such achievements now point what should be the aim of the international film festivals held in Korea. The filmmakers who were introduced in or got support from the Busan International Film Festival, Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, or Jeonju International Film Festival in the past are coming back to Korean film market as recognized filmmakers. This phenomenon suggests that ‘K-Movie’ refer to something with more extended meaning. Limiting ‘K-Movie’ to solely Korean-made films reduces the domain of K-Movie. The term ‘K-Movie’ now includes not only the influential power of Korean films on the global film circle but the role Korean movies play as part of the international film world. Therefore, it is important to keep a long-term perspective on various film projects that involve Korea and their results as well as films ‘made in Korea’. Film festivals would be the most adequate platform to extend the domain of K-Movie in that sense. Not under the industry-specific pressure, film festivals can encourage flexible and creative filmmaking. It is an upgraded role of Korea’s international film festivals, which have mostly focused on introducing new movies so far.

  For such a goal, Korea’s international film festivals have couple of problems to solve. First, they need plans and strategies to help them last. Depending significantly on the subsidies from the local government could put them under political pressure. It means those festivals could be discontinued overnight. To reduce such a risk, there needs to be societal consensus on the cultural influences of film festivals. That is, the public needs to be aware how culturally important it is to support film festivals. Film festivals have been taking place for over 20 years in Korea, but this problem remains to be solved.

  Another problem is related to polices. Korea’s film festivals are currently getting limited financial support, which is provided as government grant in cash only to several film festivals. More active ways are to be adopted. It needs to be highlighted that film festivals have played a significant role in bringing current K-Movies and K-Dramas’ global success. The system should be created to let local governments, businesses, and public institutions work with film festivals held in Korea. It might not be easy to achieve, but our efforts to bring it to reality will help put Korea’s film culture on a more solid base and begin another phase of K-Movie.

Kim Hyung Seok was born in Seoul in 1971. He studied Korean history at Korean University and theater and film at the graduate school of Dongguk University. He had worked for film magazine Screen as a reporter and a chief editor before working as a freelance journalist for 10 years. He is now a programmer for the Pyeongchang International Peace Film Festival.



* 《Cultura》 2022 May(Vol. 95) *

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