In This Article Korean Cinema

  • Introduction
  • Reference Sources
  • Anthologies and Special Issues
  • General History
  • Journals
  • “New Korean Cinema”
  • The Colonial and Immediate Postwar Periods
  • The Golden Age Korean Cinema
  • Korean Cinema under Military Dictatorships
  • The “Korean Wave” and Other Types of Popular Culture
  • Classic-Period Directors
  • Other Contemporary Directors
  • Documentaries
  • Independent Films

Cinema and Media Studies Korean Cinema
by
Kyu Hyun Kim
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0152

Introduction

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.

Reference Sources

An indication of the relatively late development of scholarly interest in Korean cinema, both in and outside Korea, is the lack of reliable reference materials in print form. By the 2000s, Korean scholars had turned toward the Internet as the source for concordance. Websites such as Korean Movie Database, Korean Film Archive, Korean Film Biz Zone, and HanCinema do claim an advantage in that they can be updated and revised easily, and new information on new Korean films, as well as old ones, keeps accumulating with an alarming speed. For print works, Korean Film Council 1977– and Korean Film Council 1999– should be consulted.

  • HanCinema

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    Cédric Collemine’s site provides updated news and information on contemporary Korean cinema, and is useful for tracking down information such as variations of English titles for Korean films, film credits, and casting news.

  • Korean Film Archive.

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    The oldest English-language web page entirely devoted to Korean cinema. Created by Darcy Paquet in 1999, it includes reviews of more than 400 Korean films, news reports, full lists of Korean films released annually since 1999, actor and actress profiles, an illustrated bibliographic guide, DVD and Blu-ray reviews, director interviews, contact information for Korean film and distribution companies, and short essays by Paquet and other contributors to the website.

  • Korean Film Biz Zone.

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    Previously operating as a website for the Korean Film Council (KOFIC), the site now includes an online version of Korean Cinema Today, pdf files of KOFIC publications, production news, festival and market-related information, and interviews.

  • Korean Film Council. Han’gukyŏnghwayŏngam. Seoul: Korean Film Council, 1977–.

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    Since 1977, this annual yearbook put together by the Korean Film Council has made available the entire list of films produced each year, as well as various statistical data. Although in Korean language, this is an important source of information for anyone interested in material aspects of Korean cinema.

  • Korean Film Council. Korean Cinema. Seoul: Korean Film Council, 1999–.

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    The English-language version of Korean Film Council 1977–, the Korean Cinema series is geared toward information regarding the released films rather than macroeconomic or industry statistics.

  • Korean Movie Database.

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    An essential website for basic information on Korean films and filmmakers. Established in 2006, the Korean Film Archive’s KMDb is constantly being updated and renewed. It also features VOD services for the hard-to-find old motion pictures, documentaries, interviews, and other audiovisual resources.

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