Hawaii, Cannes, and Los Angeles : projecting South Korean cinema to the world
Date of Issue2018
Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information
In summer 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens dominated the box office in virtually every major film market on the planet. There were, however, two notable exceptions. Patrick Brezeski (The Hollywood Reporter) points out two markets where the force was not strong enough to hold local audiences – Vietnam and South Korea. At the South Korea box office, CJ Entertainment’s mountaineering adventure drama The Himalayas (Himallaya, 2015) outperformed The Force Awakens. Vietnam’s Star Wars-beating movie was, interestingly enough, Sweet 20 (Em là bà nội của anh), a remake of 2014 South Korean hit Miss Granny (Susanghan Kŭnyŏ). It was indeed a second regional remake. The Chinese version came first, only ten months earlier, with the title of 20 Once Again (Chóng fǎn èrshí suì, 2015). Surprisingly, all three versions were also produced (or co-produced) by CJ Entertainment, South Korea’s media giant. Brezeski, thus, concluded his article with this line: “If there’s any force to rival The Force, it might be just be the so-called “Hallyu, or Korean pop culture wave, which continues to dictate trends across much of Asia.”1 Certainly, South Korean cinema has been one of the most striking case studies of non-Western cinema success stories in the age of the neo-liberal world order where Hollywood dominates the global movie consumer’s mind, heart, and soul. Under the tsunami of the US products over the world’s media marketplace, South Korean cinema has successfully defended itself. A little more than a decade ago, New York-based film magazine Film Comment had its first special issue on South Korean cinema – “Korean Prospects: Inside an Asian Cinema Powerhouse.” Chuck Stephens, special issue editor, proclaims that South Korean cinema has undergone “one of the greatest renaissances in global filmmaking the world has ever seen.”2 As Stephens applauds, in 2001 South Korea became the first film industry in recent history to reclaim its domestic market back from Hollywood, and in 2006 local films had a 67% market share, the highest such figures in the world, except America and India. Moreover, adding to this film industry success story, the high-quality South Korean local product flowed outward to global film markets to connect with international audiences both in commercial cinemas, art theatres, and at major international film festivals. Pak Ch’anuk (Park Chan-wook)’s Oldboy (Oltŭboi, 2003) received the Grand Prix at the Cannes in 2003. Kim Kitŏk (Kim Ki-duk), on the other hand, had great success in Venice and Berlin with his idiosyncratic art-house cinematic works such as The Isle (Sŏm, 2000), 3-Iron (Pinjip, 2004), and, more recently, Pieta (P’iet’a, 2012). Other breakthrough auteurs, art-house and genre-bending specialists alike followed: Hong Sang-su, Lee Chang-dong, Im Sang-su, Kim Ji-un, Ryu Seung-wan, Bong Joon-ho, and Kim Dong-won. The aim of this short survey essay is to rediscover and reevaluate a history of contemporary South Korean cinema, the ways in which South Korean cinema has been curated, exhibited, and received in the West through international film festival circuits, art houses, and specialized theatre chains in North America and, to some extent, Europe. This essay begins with the Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF) in the early 1980s where South Korean cinema was „discovered’ by Anglophone film critics and academics for the first time and folds the discussion in the mid-2000s when South Korean cinema had finally become a fixture of the international film festivals after getting critical acclaims of celebrated auteurs.
DRNTU::Visual arts and music
DRNTU::Visual arts and music
International Journal of Korean History
© 2018 Center for Korean History, Korea University. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, reproduction and derivatives in any medium for non-commercial purposes, provided the original work is properly cited.