Article

Korean Cinema

Kyu Hyun Kim

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online August 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0152
Korean Cinema

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The current surge of interest in Korean cinema is acknowledged to have been initiated by the international success of Kang Je-kyu’s Shiri (1999), an exemplary Hollywood-style action thriller. Freedom from political censorship, infusion of finance capital, commitment of viewers to the domestic product, improvement in production quality, the rise of a new generation of film-literate and talented directors, and other factors conspired to launch the “New Korean Cinema.” It was really the success of this post-2000s Korean cinema that drew the attention of the worldwide critical and scholarly communities. Most Koreans born prior to the late 1970s retain the memory of Korean cinema as a popular art form that was much condescended to by intellectuals and the mainstream media. As a direct result, both film scholarship and film preservation did not receive much support until quite recently. Today, Korean Film Archive is almost single-handedly making heroic efforts to excavate, retrieve, and restore old films, even making expeditions to Russia and China in the effort. Scholarly study of Korean cinema has now moved out of its infancy, but it still has a long way to go before claiming adult status as a subdiscipline. Despite what appears to be the wild success of modern Korean cinema (Korean films routinely occupy two-thirds of the roster of the list of the ten biggest domestic box-office champions), the gap between international and domestic perceptions of Korean cinema is still wide. Korean cinema tends to be internationally perceived as either a domain of a few artistic auteurs struggling against the adversarial mainstream culture or, conversely, a site for churning out aggressively violent and extremist genre films. These views are further conditioned by the “so common to be invisible” Orientalist prejudices on the part of “Western” observers (to cite but one example, Korean women characters are automatically assumed to be “oppressed,” when in fact more than 20 percent of Korean directors are women, a proportion that far outdistances the situation in the United States). Korean cinema’s genuinely impressive diversity, as well as the presence of many talented filmmakers who cannot be pigeonholed by the binary division between “artist” and “commercial moviemaker,” is only slowly coming to be appreciated outside Korea.

Article.  10663 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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