≡ Menu

The Korean Cultural Environment in Film — Crippling Creativity and Reputation in One Fell Stroke

A current article in the JoonAng Ilbo affords a good opportunity to consider the state of affairs within the Korean Film Council and Arts Council Korea (Arko) and what happens when the government and politics gets involved in what has fueled the much vaunted “Korean Wave” overseas. 

The first that many heard of problems in the Korean film industry might have been When Lee Chang-dong submitted the screenplay for his film “Poetry” to KOFIC to request funding last year, the film council panned it with a “zero” and when Poetry later screened at the Cannes Film Festival, it won the prize for best screenplay, however a sordid history can be found lurking behind the facade of the Korean Film Council.

The Korean Film Council was founded as a government-supported body (remember the Ministry of Culture &Tourism?), in accordance with law that was designed to improve the quality of Korean films and to promote the industry.  Korean films have certainly gained in both quality and recognition throughout the world, with time, however the council itself has seen its self surrounded in many problems, first the resignation in 2009 of Kang Han-sup, due to an incredibly low rating performance and then his replacement, Cho Hee-mun, a professor from In-Ha university, who it seems was “influence peddling” — “while he was in Cannes, Cho had allegedly made personal phone calls to the council’s juries who were reviewing films that had been submitted for the council’s production grant, and demanded certain films to be selected.”quote 

Political interference is not a new event though in the Korean film industry.  One film “A Small Ball Launched by a Dwarf”, in 1981, “was a critical favorite and considered a front-runner for the Best Picture prize (in Korea), on the day of the awards ceremony it was removed from eligibility due to pressure from the new military government” at that time. (quote)

Additionally, the KOFIC has made decisions to dismantle local media centers that support independent film makers, decisions that do seem to have their roots in politics:

For two years, Indie Space and the Media Center had been managed by the Association of Korean Independent Film and Video. The former is a dedicated theater for independent filmmakers like Yang where they can screen their work cheaply, while the latter facility, better known as Mediact, is a public cultural center where individuals can learn filmmaking techniques and borrow equipment. It’s helped nurture many of Korea’s now successful directors, who say they used to frequent the center, but on Nov. 20 last year, the association had the facilities snatched away from them, and the film council announced it would adopt an “open audition system” to determine the new operators.

After several rounds of evaluations, the council picked the Korean Association of Diversity Film to manage the Indie Space and the Citizen Visual Art Culture Organization for Mediact.

Yang had never heard of either of the groups, which wasn’t surprising. The KADF had been founded Nov. 13, just before the announcement of the “audition” system, and the CVACO was established on Jan. 6, 2010 – six days before the film council reopened the bidding for Mediact after failing to choose an operator during the first round.  Both Choi Gong-jae, chief director of the KADF, and Jang Won-jae, head of the CVACO, are members of the New Right, one of Korea’s biggest right-wing pro-government political groups . . . Kofic Chairperson Cho Hee-mun is also actively involved in the movement. (quote)

Regardless of political affiliation, corruption in business and politics can and will bring down any organization and perhaps a fresh effort to protect the Korean film industry against such is needed. (This article on the New Right movement, in South Korea, is also worth reading, as reference.)

About the author: Psst, want to buy some used marble cheap?

  • untold

    This is hardly suprising. The brightest talents in the Korean film industry seem to be at odds with both the government and polite society. Kim Ki Duk is unpopular at home- even with young Koreans- but feted abroad. ‘President’s Last Bang’ endured minutes of blank screen time when it was shown in domestic cinemas. Films like ‘A Bloody Aria’ are violent, shocking, funny and both politically aware and incorrect, but make relatively limited impact until exported.

    To be more specific, Lee Chang Dong was a minister for culture under the last government, so trashing his script was an act of pure blind political spite. The new guy in charge is the clown who tried to grope Kim Yuna (and then threatened to sue the entire internet for commenting on his lewd advances) when she came home from the winter olympics in order to claim a brief moment of political advantage.

    The Korean (Cinematic New) Wave, in the west at least, was based on shocking and imaginative films like ‘Old Boy’ and ‘Bad Guy’ rather than soupy melodramas, and will not be repeated until the (next) government throws it’s weight behind the abundance of talented independent filmmakers who are fighting their corner, politically and aesthetically, in the half arsed Samsung society that Lee Myung Park wants to create.

  • milton

    A disturbing article indeed.

    For more on the horrors of what happens when the government tries to meddle in artistic and cultural affairs, look no further than Korea’s music scene.

    In the 1960s and ‘70s, Korea had a burgeoning rock scene. Sure people like Shin Jung-hyeon and Kim Cho-ja were borrowing the vocabulary and language of Western psychedelic and progressive rock, but they were making it their own and their music is still great to listen to today. It resonates with passionate, originality, and artistically it stands on its own. But then Park Cheong-hee decided to nip this inchoate music scene in the bud and demanded that artists begin writing songs that were non-political or that praised the country. The result? Artists quit the scene, were harassed by police, or complied at the expense of their art. Big corporations began to fill the vacuum with the mass-produced, un-artistic, insipid K-pop that Korea is so notorious for. Today there is not much of a tradition of indie pop or artists making it big after starting in their garages. Everything is top-down and monopolized by a music oligarchy who use their influence and power over TV, radio, muzak, and other pipelines to ram saccharine-sweet commercial pop down the throats of everyone. It’s really a corporatocratic dictatorship in which artistic dissent is not allowed. When was the last time you saw a band playing original music on MNET?

    I’ve always wondered what would have been had Park Cheong-hee allowed the music to play on. The advent of cacophonous K-pop was inevitable, since the Korean music scene always was and is heavily influenced by the West. But it’s also quite possible there would have been a nice thriving, independent, underground scene filled with artists making music for music’s sake. There would have been more channels available for the artistically inclined, and more venues such as college radio stations, indie music festivals, music TV stations and so on for these artists to reach the public.

    It’s worth asking if growing Korean film industry will suffer a similar fate. If the above article is a harbinger of things to come, then I strongly suspect Korea’s film industry will be sapped of its artistic merit, and K-cinema will become like K-pop: pure krap.

  • milton

    Listen and ponder what might have been:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xg0PzO4zxMY&feature=related

    Nice blend of Western prog rock with elements of traditional Korean musical stylings. Now where’d I leave that J…

  • seouldout

    Just hold on a cotton tootin’ moment. You want all the chest-swelled-with-pride economic development, roads, steal mills and ship building AND artistic freedom in a thriving underground scene? From Park Jung Hee? A military dictator?

    Consider yourself lucky that he wasn’t Idi Amin and have you for lunch.

  • http://kwillets.typepad.com/kwillets/ KWillets

    “Political interference is not a new event though in the Korean film industry.”

    That’s quite an understatement. The postwar Korean film industry was deeply intertwined with the government.

  • Canarias

    @untold

    김기덕 may well be the best example of sheer frustration at the moment. To paraphrase, he has said, “I will make movies in Korea, in Korean, with Korean actors, but I could not care less about Korea and Koreans as an ‘audience’”. There is some real sadness in that.

    He apparently doesn’t take kindly to being an artist who is not domestically validated with a film degree, regardless of the quality of his work. That ‘qualification’ here only points to something far more sinister, the literal need to purchase legitimacy. Miles simply got on a bus, met Charlie, and followed him around. Imagine life without Miles!

  • non korean

    If you come from the Keynesian school of thought and you believe the industry needs help. The right course of action is more government regulation and more money pumped into it. Not to mention more taxes on the people to”help”. Of course we need politicians directing artists. How else are they to know what to do?

    If you come from the Austrian school of thought, you get the government out so the artists can work their magic without government interference. And hey you can also lower people’s taxes so they have more disposable income for the arts.

    Now if only the politicians can figure out the Austrian school of thought works best in this situation and the economy at large.

  • untold

    Why yes non korean, sounds wonderful. And so relevant to the Korean economic model. After all, a country who’s development was based on large scale investment from central government working with big business in a protected market needs a stern lecture on the enternal verities of the Austrian school of economics.

    As for the government supporting cinema through the universities, film quota and investment in non mainstream films- no one really thinks that could work. Except in backwards countries like France, of course, and you know their film industry will never amount to anything.

  • untold

    Oh and does anyone have any information on the killer Korean 70′s soul/funk music I sometimes hear in older ajjoshi’s taxis and buses? I want to get a compilation together, but don’t know where to start looking. Any artist names or albums would be very welcome.

  • non korean

    untold

    I wasn’t referring to Korea specifically just general economics. But if you want to talk about Korea specifically we can.

    No doubt the government did use what little money it had to invest in industry and basic infrastructure. Korea was pretty smart to spend that money it got from Japan on infrastructure and industry that was in its infancy rather than putting a chicken in every pot. And if my country was poor and didn’t have industry, I would certainly advocate spending money on developing industry. Heck the first companies of the world were government chartered. Every country needs some help from government to get industry going. I’m no purest. No need to set up that straw man just to knock it down. The GDP certainly rose during that time. But when you look at a chart of GDP, you will see the more dramatic rise in the 80’s and 90’s when the government liberalized the economy and was more hands off in directing it. Of course there are countless factors involved in such things as “the economy” but you get the idea.

    My main point is, if a person thinks it is a bad idea to interject more government into the creative process and ideas of the art industry, why would they believe it is a good idea to do so with the creative process and ideas of any other industry? Now again I’m not a purest and I’m not saying there is no need for government. The government needs to regulate certain areas of industry. It must regulate copyright laws for the entertainment industry and environmental laws for the coal industry. But how is it the entertainment industry is special or somehow more effected by government? I’m not interested so much in proving a point as much as I am interested in why someone would think so. Any takers?

  • lollabrats

    “Kim Ki Duk is unpopular at home- even with young Koreans- but feted abroad.”
    –untold

    KKD is unpopular because he makes boring movies, not because he is being censored by the government. This is an example of the capitalist system working.

    “‘President’s Last Bang’ endured minutes of blank screen time when it was shown in domestic cinemas.”
    –untold

    The film was improperly censored by a court decision, which was overturned in the appellate process. Incidentally, the film was released in 2005, when RMH was president. Also, the Korean experience of “PBL” is unique and cannot be compared to anything else. The director himself offers an interesting observation about how Korean audiences and outsider audiences differed in how they saw the film. Outsiders saw a black comedy; Koreans are still traumatized by the assassination and many did not find or appreciate the “humor” in it. And we know that the film does make inaccurate characterizations of PCH.

    “…films like ‘Old Boy’ and ‘Bad Guy’ rather than soupy melodramas, and will not be repeated until the (next) government throws it’s weight behind the abundance of talented independent filmmakers…”
    –untold

    This is a pretty wild and strange conclusion. Presidents have nothing to do with the quality of films that are produced. You can throw as much money into your dometic film industry as you want, but that won’t mean you will make good movies. Also, what do you mean when you imply that the Korean government should support the domestic film industry more than it does today?

  • lollabrats

    “If you come from the Keynesian school of thought and you believe the industry needs help. The right course of action is more government regulation and more money pumped into it. Not to mention more taxes on the people to”help”. Of course we need politicians directing artists. How else are they to know what to do?”
    –non korean

    This is a strange post in which to include a rant against Keynes. You can make an argument that an unfettered free market and complete lack of government intervention would have long ago killed the Korean film industry and ensured that it would never amount to anything.

    “My main point is, if a person thinks it is a bad idea to interject more government into the creative process and ideas of the art industry, why would they believe it is a good idea to do so with the creative process and ideas of any other industry? ”
    –non korean

    What do you mean by “interject more government?” You are writing like those tea party folks and I can’t quite follow what you are saying. Do you mean that South Korea should abandon all protectionist measures involving its dometic film industry? It seems clear that the industry really desires more stringent protectionist measures. Do you mean that South Korea should never invest in the film industry in any way? Are you saying that the Korean government dictates to filmmakers how a film should be made? As far as I can tell, Korean filmmakers are making the movies they want to make. The government is not keeping KKD, Park Chan Wook, and others from making movies the way they want to make them. Even “Poetry” ended up being made.

  • lollabrats

    Actually, the reason I am commenting here is because of this bit of info from the Joongang link:

    “With 170,000 members across the country, the New Right is affiliated with organizations in Vietnam, Australia, Japan and the United States.”
    –Joongang

    There is an affiliated rightwing organization in Vietnam?! I wonder what that means and who they could be.

  • http://populargusts.blogspot.com/ bulgasari

    @2
    Park Chung-hee did his best to crush or control all western influenced popular culture at the time (and showed himself to be little different from his counterpart to the north in that respect), including music, comics and movies. You forgot to mention just how PCH went about controlling music – by banning marijuana.

    http://www.froginawell.net/korea/2006/05/marijuana-crisis/

    Not mentioned in that post is that pot was not actually made illegal until after their arrests (in 1976). The artists arrested were then banned from performing and had their songs banned from the radio.

    A former Peace Corps volunteer told me that in the 60s pot was everywhere in the countryside, but that it was the elderly who smoked it – not young people. The US government also tried to get the Korean government to stop Koreans from selling it to US soldiers, but I think initially the Korean government didn’t care that much, at least until it became politically useful internally.

  • untold

    lollbrats- Kim Ki Duk is boring because… you say so? I think rape, murder, buddhist symbolism, supernatural occurrences, social commentary and foul language are all pretty interesting. His films are popular in other countries. Is this an example of capitalism working, or not?

    The fact that domestic and overseas audiences have different tastes in Korean films is an argument in favor of the government supporting the artier end of the spectrum. They may not attract funding or audiences domestically but can sell well overseas and generate real income as well as raising Korea’s international profile.

    With regards to President’s Last Bang, I don’t think that historical inaccuracies or potential offence to a potential audience are reasons to actually censor a film. Whatever the legal/judicial process by which this happened, it was an embarassing situation for Korea. And, to be honest, a little more public scrutiny and discussion of the more difficult periods in Korean history would probably be a good thing for society.

    I agree that it is possible for Korean filmmakers to succeed without government support. But I think the kind of films which win international awards and find a wider audience may well require support from the government. As for ‘throwing money’ the history of the French film industry shows how government support can actually foster talent.

    How can the government help? On the supply side by supporting training and education relevant to the film industry, as well as sympathetic venues for indie directors. The quota was a reasonable response to the fact that the large American companies have a stranglehold on distribution (ie. they own the movie theatres) in the US and use it to push their own product to the exclusion of other more interesting films. The fact that it is private companies doing this doesn’t make it any less competitive. Again the French model suggests how quotas can help domestic film makers to find an audience over time. Finally, as previously mentioned, investment for films with potential outside the mainstream. The free market may deliver blockbusters like Haeundae, but often fails to support films which have artistic merit (not that Haeundae is necessarily lacking) and commercial potential. Short termism as market failure.

  • untold

    ‘The fact that it is private companies doing this doesn’t make it any less competitive…’
    correction ‘more competitive’, or ‘less uncompetitve’!

  • seouldout

    The free market may deliver blockbusters like Haeundae, but often fails to support films which have artistic merit (not that Haeundae is necessarily lacking) and commercial potential.

    There’s your slippery slope. Who defines artistic merit and which artists have it? And how do you know this failure happens often? Couldn’t is also be rarely, never or always?

    Keep in mind that to this day the Korean movie business itself has repeatedly appeared before the gov’t hat in hand pleading for financial support, quotas and other support. The industry itself is at least partly to blame for gov’t meddling.

  • lollabrats

    “lollbrats- Kim Ki Duk is boring because… you say so? I think rape, murder, buddhist symbolism, supernatural occurrences, social commentary and foul language are all pretty interesting. His films are popular in other countries. Is this an example of capitalism working, or not? ”
    –untold

    untold–you have made a number of claims, which are not supported by reality. For instance, you say that Kim Ki Duk is popular in other countries because…you say so? I am sure that you would agree that we can roughly estimate a film’s popularity by its earnings. Could you tell me which of his 15 or so films were popular hits worldwide? How much did it earn? Or are you trying to say that when “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… And Spring” earned about 2 and a half million dollars in the American box office in 2004-05, that that somehow constitutes popular success?

    As far as I can tell, the audiences of the world have spoken. Most people do find Kim Ki Duk’s films uninteresting. And they have passed judgment with their wallets. So, yes, I think that Kim Ki Duk’s “failure” to achieve nation-wide popularity in South Korea is the result of normal market activity and not some nefarious plot by Lee Myung Bak. Incidentally, just about all of his films were released during 1996 and 2008. So, if you are going to make baseless claims regarding Kim Ki Duk’s market failure against anyone, perhaps, you should be complaining to leftists who controlled the Blue House during part of those years.

    Incidentally, you may be interested to know that Kim Ki Duk has, in fact, been censored by the governments of…the UK and Denmark for his depictions of “animal cruelty.”

    Moreover, subject matter has nothing to do with whether a film is interesting. I am sure that you are completely aware that perfectly horrid films can contain instances of ” rape, murder, buddhist symbolism, supernatural occurrences, social commentary and foul language.” I am more interested in the quality of execution. And you are, too.

    Which is not to say that I think Kim Ki Duk makes poor films.

    “The fact that domestic and overseas audiences have different tastes in Korean films is an argument in favor of the government supporting the artier end of the spectrum. They may not attract funding or audiences domestically but can sell well overseas and generate real income as well as raising Korea’s international profile.”
    –untold

    You have not shown that Korean audiences differ markedly from non-Korean audiences. A scan of Korea’s box office hits list will show a nice mixture of Hollywood blockbusters and domestically produced hits–sort of like most others’ lists.

    While I agree that Korean excellence in filmmaking would raise the cultural profile of South Korea, I disagree as to the reason why Korean films are largely limited as an export. Korean films are not suffering from a lack of government funding. Rather, there just are not enough scripts of a certain quality that can draw international interest and make enough outsiders willing to overcome the language and cultural barriers.

    Money is simply not the answer. Hollywood can brute-force some measure of financial return with expensive effects, but it is obvious that money does not guarantee any sort of success. What the Korean industry needs is a good mix of a number of quality writers, who can offer Korean filmmakers a range from well-crafted small scale stories to epics. Right now, most of the best Korean films being exported are of the small-scale sort. If this continues, no amount of Cannes success will make the world think that Korea produces anything but boring arthouse films or action and horror genre flicks.

    “With regards to President’s Last Bang, I don’t think that historical inaccuracies or potential offence to a potential audience are reasons to actually censor a film. ”
    –untold

    And it took about a year for the court to agree. In fact, the appeals court basically chastised the censoring judge in their decision. But this had nothing to do with President RMH, I don’t think. At any rate, I have only ever seen the film in its censored version. But I didn’t think that it was all that important. Either way, the film does a poor job of explaining to viewers ignorant of Korean history what is going on and who is who. It’s more interesting and easier to follow if you already know the gyst of who’s who and what’s happening.

    Still, if the family of the man who was murdered is the subject of a movie which mischaracterizes him as to possibly affect his reputation as well as the reputation of the family, then the family should not be barred from at least suing the filmmaker in the courts.

    “But I think the kind of films which win international awards and find a wider audience may well require support from the government. As for ‘throwing money’ the history of the French film industry shows how government support can actually foster talent. ”
    –untold

    If Korean filmmakers want to find a wider audience–in other words, make internationally popular and interesting films–then Korean citizens and not the Korean government has to step up. The Korean government can spend money and introduce regulations to keep its domestic industry from collapsing. But it cannot pay any amount of money to grow the ability of artists.

    When the Korean cinema partly collapsed in the middle part of this decade, the Korean filmmakers blamed everyone but their own lack of talent. They especially blamed Hollywood. But as far as I could tell, Koreans polls showed that Koreans generally found much of Korean cinema to be uninteresting.

    Market failure is not a refusal to subsidize this or that movie. Market failure is not making films that interest enough people to make profit. Kim Ki Duk, I believe, has made profitable films. He makes low budget films, which do not sell well in any one market, but does enough business. And scrounging up investors is the job of every filmmaker, whether you live in America or France.

    Again, I should point out that “Poetry” did find investors. If the script is really good, someone will pay for it. The investors, in return, will earn a little profit. It seems the capitalist model did work out.

    Finally, I just don’t see that either the Korean film or pop music industries are being overly hampered by the government. If anything, they have survived because of it. For Korean artists to raise the reputation of their art, they themselves have to give cause to raise it. And I think they are in the process right now of raising it.

    ;)

  • untold

    A few points
    Firstly, the Korean government has a history of interfering with and censoring films. This is a bad thing, I think we can all agree. The current administration are petty and vindictive, as the case study in the original article suggests.

    Secondly there are many successful models of state support for the arts, in particular cinema.From the BFC to Canal plus public private collaborations have produced some great films which have also made money. I am not sure why advocating the extension of this model in Korea is so controversial. Certainly if you allow the domestic industry to survive and directors are able to continue working, this will help to develop existing talent. As for growing talent, educational opportunity is the best way to achieve that end, and this also falls well within the remit of the state.

    We both agree that Korean audiences do not always support Korean film, but draw different conclusions. The best chance of an ‘Oldboy’ breakout film in the west is from leftfield. Hence a role for government in supporting films based on artistic merit as much as commercial potential.

    Hollywood’s stranglehold on distribution restricts access to the US film market. This is uncompetitive, hence my support for a retaliatory film quota over here. Not really talking about budgets or effects here.

    As for success/popularity? You have a point about blockbusters, but Korean films are well regarded, win awards, get good distribution in the major cities and sell well on DVD, particularly in the UK. This is what I would consider success, and I don’t think these criteria are unreasonable (I guess I have lower expectations than you of an industry the size of Koreas). The positive enhancement of Korea’s international image is another significant benefit of exporting quality cinema. For the real mass appeal the Korean wave will have to sell in the rest of Asia, a different market requiring a different product, but that’s not really what my argument is concerned with.

    So to simplify:
    1. Political interference and censorship is and has historically been a bad thing for Korean cinema.
    2. On the other hand Economic support is to be welcomed and is viable, based on Korea’s model of economic development and the positive examples from the European education and film industry.

    The only real assumption not based in reality is that government economic intervention is inevitably doomed to failure. Like the song says, it aint necessarily so.

  • http://hunjang.blogspot.com Antti

    Oh and does anyone have any information on the killer Korean 70′s soul/funk music I sometimes hear in older ajjoshi’s taxis and buses? I want to get a compilation together, but don’t know where to start looking. Any artist names or albums would be very welcome.

    Not soul/funk but folksy or “psychedelic” pop, you could start from Now sung by Kim Jung-mi and composed and arranged by Shin Joong-hyun. And it hardly gets better than this. See this blog entry to download both Now and also Param (“Wind”), which came out the same year and contains mostly same songs. Kim Jung-mi gives of course the album its very special flavor with her distinctive and soulful singing, but it’s in the end a Shin Joong-hyun album.

  • http://pawikirogii.blogspot.com pawikirogii

    ‘Oh and does anyone have any information on the killer Korean 70′s soul/funk music I sometimes hear in older ajjoshi’s taxis and buses? I want to get a compilation together, but don’t know where to start looking. Any artist names or albums would be very welcome.’

    if you click my name, you’ll find a stereo video of what i think you’re looking for. i won’t go into detail here but to me, the shit is funky AND from the famous In Soon Yi. if you like it and you know computers, you can download it as an flv and then convert it to a music file. if you like their sound, let me know here and i’ll try to post more; there are some soulful numbers where only In Soon Yi sings.

    ps gangpe, always use ribeye and always have your butcher cut it as thin as two sheets of paper. practice makes perfect.

  • untold

    Thanks for the links, looking forward to some good new music.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com setnaffa

    How much government money did Manet, Monet, Matisse or other actual artists take? (Hint: none.)

    Government-sponsored art is no different from the propaganda put out by the Norks. In the beginning, it starts off as innocent; but the artist begins to hate themselves and their benefactor. Just look at how PBS has changed. Frank Capra made “Why We Fight,” which contained many falsehoods–which bothered him greatly in later years, though he always defended his actions by saying it needed to be done.

    Those who believe taxpayers should pay “artists” who make non-marketable products should do so themselves, not force others to do so. Each of us has a different view of “art” and we should be free to support what we like, not compelled to support things we find distasteful or offensive.

    Governments should stay out of the whole “art” business except to prevent exploitation of women, children, and the elderly. They should not censor it nor fund it. They should be free, afterward, to prosecute those who advocate sedition; but there should be no “pre-approval” required.

    Sure, the Government will need folks to design web pages and various publications; but there has always been a distinction between those who seek a steady income and those who seek a Patron…

  • yuna

    Government-sponsored art is no different from the propaganda put out by the Norks

    Picasso: Guernica.
    Government doesn’t play a part in creating the talent of a genius, but once found they should be nurtured, by private patrons, husbands, government, or anyone with money who recognizes it. It’s the power of independent recognition that is lacking in Korea.

  • lollabrats

    “Hollywood’s stranglehold on distribution restricts access to the US film market. This is uncompetitive, hence my support for a retaliatory film quota over here. Not really talking about budgets or effects here.”
    –untold

    This is another yet beyond ridiculous complaint that has no bearing on reality. Cinemas in America have only their own survival and profitability in mind–they are not in the business of restricting their own business opportunities to serve Hollywood’s interest. If it turned out to be the case that Korean films could do big business in America, then American theaters would show more of them. But Korean films do not.

    Furthermore, distribution arms of American studios are not in the business of restrictricting their own opportunties either. If Korean films were guantanteed highly profitable products in America, then both Hollywood and large theater chains would leap at the chance to do business with them. But they do not. If Koreans want better access to American theaters, they need to seriously raise their own artistic standards across their own industry first.

    I don’t know where you are getting your information, but I am baffled by some of the things you have said. How in the world have you failed to realize that theater chains in America are driven by the need to maximize their own profits. Running a cinema anywhere is not an easy business. And it is common for local arthouses to go out of business for lack of interest. In fact, large American chains used to show more arthouse foreign stuff. But they have long realized that those films are not profitable enough to drive business. This is partly because worldclass artists like Ingmar Bergman, Kurosawa Akira, Jean-Luc Godard, and others who used to draw American intellectuals have had no successors. Remember, cinemas make most of their money from selling you popcorn, sweets, and drink, and not from ticket sales. In other words, as a business, cinemas are inherently in a tenuous situation. If Korean films could regularly drive concessions sales better than other films, then they would indeed see better opportunities in America.

    If you need further proof that Korean films generally do less business than American films, you need but glance at the preferences of Korean audiences themselves. Screen quotas exist in South Korea. They do not exist in America. The reason why this is so is because both American and Korean audiences generally prefer American films over Korean films. And the reason why this is so is because American films generally offer a more interesting experience than Korean films. To believe otherwise is to be seriously deluded. In fact, screen quotas all over the world exist for one reason, to prop up their own underperforming domestic industry at the expense of Hollywood.

    It is pretty absurd to say that Hollywood is keeping Korean films from succeeding in America. This is truly a misplacement of blame. I don’t think that even Korean artists think as you do.

    ^^;

  • non korean

    lollabrats

    “You can make an argument that an unfettered free market and complete lack of government intervention would have long ago killed the Korean film industry and ensured that it would never amount to anything.”

    One could make this argument but I noticed you didn’t. You didn’t because you are smart and know it isn’t a good argument.

    “What do you mean by “interject more government?””

    I mean having the government in the entertainment business for anything more than upholding basic laws. The government is currently beyond this point. So anything more than it is already involved, is not helpful.

    “Do you mean that South Korea should abandon all protectionist measures involving its dometic film industry?”

    Yes. I can understand some protection or unfair advantage created by the government for a valuable industry in its infancy. Understand does not mean condone just that I can understand the logic and advantages of it. Korean entertainment is very advanced and there is no need to spend societies resources propping up an industry that doesn’t need propping up.

    “Do you mean that South Korea should never invest in the film industry in any way?”

    Yes. There was a time when it might have been needed but not now. I don’t have any facts or figures but since the Korean wave, I see more Korean films in theaters than Western ones. This is NOT due to some quota. When I talk to the thousands of people I’ve talked to about movies, Koreans willingly go to Korean films because they like them. Sure there is always the most recent animation for kids movie or the most recent action block buster from Hollywood, but Koreans are generally quite satisfied spending their money on Korean films. Why would a successful industry need money, protection or any unfair advantage from government and tax payers? Let alone if it is even just to use tax payers money for such things.

  • lollabrats

    “How much government money did Manet, Monet, Matisse or other actual artists take? (Hint: none.)”
    –setnaffa

    This is clearly and obviously false. Government commissions, sponsored competitions, and patronage of the arts have been going on since the invention of government. It is not difficult to find architecture, paintings, tapestries, scrolls, pottery, sculptures, music, poetry, dramas, films, TV shows, city planning designs, gardens, etc made by world class artists all over the world, paid for by a government.

  • lollabrats

    ^paid for–at least in part–by a government.

  • lollabrats

    “One could make this argument but I noticed you didn’t. You didn’t because you are smart and know it isn’t a good argument. ”
    –non korean

    The following is a quote from the wiki page covering “screen quotas.

    * Argument for

    The recent decision of the South Korean government to reduce the screen quotas system was due to heavy pressure from the U.S.A. trade negotiators after the talks between South Korea and United States for Free Trade Agreement FTA. The example of Mexico shows the fatal result of the ending of the screen quota system. Mexico enforced the screen quota system to prevent being swallowed up by inflow from Hollywood, but repealed the system under pressure from the United States in 1994 when Mexico made the establishment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the U.S. As a result, the film industry in Mexico has totally collapsed in the 10 years following the establishment of NAFTA. Mexico once produced more than 100 films a year until 1994, but only four films were produced in a year after the collapse of Mexico’s film industry.

  • lollabrats

    @non korean

    Mexico’s cinema has clearly survived because it has world class artists like Alfonso Cuarón. Nevertheless, my feeling is that you are right and that South Korea should within decades, if not sooner, repeal the quota system. If the Korean industry ends up permanently unable to stand on its own merits, then I don’t know if it is worth saving. If world class artists with wildly different styles like Im Kwon Taek and Park Chan Wook cannot inspire more young Korean talents to try filmmaking, then maybe it was just never meant to be. As it stands, I agree with you that Korean cinema is on the rise.

    ;)

  • http://twitter.com/KimcheeGI KimcheeGI

    Oh and does anyone have any information on the killer Korean 70′s soul/funk music I sometimes hear in older ajjoshi’s taxis and buses? I want to get a compilation together, but don’t know where to start looking. Any artist names or albums would be very welcome.

    If you’re looking for a mix try the sound of seoul mix cd by dj soulscape. It’s a90 minute 60′s – 70′s korean rock, soul, funk, disco, boogaloo, jazz mix. Put it on a mp3 player or CD. If you’re really old school, transfer it to cassette. The linked page has a youtube promo video too.

  • lollabrats

    “The best chance of an ‘Oldboy’ breakout film in the west is from leftfield.”
    –untold

    I love this film. But according to Boxofficemojo.com, it has had a total worldwide box office gross of about $15 million dollars. If it had been an America movie, then I have no doubt that it would have done much much better everywhere. I think “Oldboy” was harmed from achieving its potential in sales because of the lack of reputation of its Korean peers. But reputation of excellence has to be slowly built, one product at a time. And in this way, “Oldboy” has to be merely one in a string of excellent films, which Koreans have to export. And Cannes victories only add legitimacy and interest. But again, these quality films tend to be small-scale stories.

    Koreans need to improve the quality of their “event feature,” potential blockbuster-type films. Films like “D-War,” “Shiri,” and “Tae Guk Gi” are not at the level of “OldBoy” or “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.” Cinema is largely a business venture. And making bigger features better has to be and seems indeed to be a key aspiration of the Korean industry. Successful big movies lead to more capital to invest in more big movies, as well as smaller ones. And it makes the industry as a whole much more resilient. Unlike China and India, Koreans need to have big successes in exports to grow a big domestic industry.

    But I don’t think that any government can financially invest in big movie projects. This is something Koreans have do improve on and figure out themselves. Ultimately, if the Koreans want to be a self-sustaining industry without the need for quotas or having to resort to hoping to succeed “out of left field,” then they need to export a string of quality big films. “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” did surpass “OldBoy” in sales, but Park’s last two movies did not do so well. My belief is that had Park made two more quality hits, then that he would have completely altered the perception of Korean cinema everywhere. He would have made it easier for smaller Korean films to gain greater notoriety in America. It doesn’t require much to gain public interest in America as an artist…just a string of two or three compelling films for Americans, and maybe four or five for foreigners. (easier said than done i know)

    ;)

  • lollabrats

    “Picasso: Guernica. ”
    –yuna

    Guernica is an example of a government being happy with their commissioned painting. Sometimes, the government comes away unhappy. When Amsterdam commissioned Rembrandt to paint “The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis,” they were incredibly disappointed. Rembrandt reacted by famously slashing up the masterpiece into fragments. Now the main fragment hangs in the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm. In 2008, the painting was valued at $123 million.

    ;)

  • non korean

    Lollabrats

    I have to say your knowledge of cinema is impressive.

  • untold

    lollabrats- Given the economic bargaining power of the big six , protection of the domestic Korean industry is not an unreasonable policy. Surely you understand how supply conditions shape market outcomes before the wonderful democracy of consumer choice comes into play?

    A quote from an overview of the growth of the big studios here:
    http://www.answers.com/topic/motion-picture-and-videotape-distribution

    ‘For the independent exhibitors, distributors, and producers, one of the most unsettling aspects of the resurgence of major studio involvement in distribution and exhibition was that the studios hoped to guarantee their access to screens. Although the Paramount decree required divestiture and mandated that motion pictures be distributed theater by theater solely on merit and without discrimination, the reintegration of the industry has removed these safeguards altogether.’

    I am including this just to suggest that you might be overdoing the ‘no basis in reality’ rhetoric a little bit. Many commentators are concerned with the clout the media conglomerates have.

    As I mentioned before, I don’t expect Korean films to compete with Shrek. Where we differ is that you assume that the unregulated free market is will reward the films that most deserve it, whereas I think artistic merit and future potential deserve and require a degree of protection in an increasingly concentrated industry. Government support and protection can help a small industry to compete more effectively in the long run (read your economic history, try ‘Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism’ by Chang Ha Joon) and I would put the Korean film industry forward as a deserving case study.

    French cinema has historically benefitted from public support and screen quotas, and is in good shape these days. The UK film council has also enjoyed some success(http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/jun/07/report-warning-uk-film-tax-cuts) . These examples suggest that state intervention in the arts is not always doomed to failure. If you are willing to concede that this is possible, then you must also accept that your objections have alot to do with your own ideological commitment to free market dogma.

    (Apologies for the links… will work it out next time)

  • yuna

    Sometimes, the government comes away unhappy

    Still a win situation from a grander perspective.

  • lollabrats

    “I am including this just to suggest that you might be overdoing the ‘no basis in reality’ rhetoric a little bit. Many commentators are concerned with the clout the media conglomerates have.”
    –untold

    That’s a fair criticism. I will try to refrain from hyperbole and hysterics. :)

    “If you are willing to concede that this is possible, then you must also accept that your objections have alot to do with your own ideological commitment to free market dogma.”
    –untold

    Yes, my belief in this particular case is based on a popular ideology. However, this ideologial basis is based on a mixture of real observations and speculations. The speculative aspect exists for the simple reason that none of us know what would happen should South Korea repeal screen quotas. Also, I hope, that in the course of this thread, that I have shown that my points are more nuanced than that of an inflexibly ideological zealot’s.

    I can accept that the Korean industry is not quite world class at the moment and may need to be further protected with quotas. However, I think that Korean artists would benefit from not being so ideologically driven to maintain quotas.

    I think they would more rapidly improve if industrywide the Koreans viewed quotas as training wheels to be discarded at a later date. And I think they should marshal their efforts to one day be able to compete at the level of American products. They need to strategize for the future. They need not abandon their Korean culture to do it, but the industry needs to sit down and collectively and honestly scrutinize over what is keeping them from breaking out further and faster. That kind of strategizing is how Koreans emerged as world leaders in a number of fields and industries, including in shipbuilding and home elctronics. Basically, they need a transcendent business plan.

    At the moment, I think the Koreans are aware that they are not competitive with Americans. But I don’t think they are willing to do what it would take to actually become competitive. Moreover, I think they should take a good look next door at the mess that is the Japanese domestic film industry and realize that sustained global success in cinema is not guaranteed. Sure, a wonderful Japanese film recently won an Oscar. But you can’t compare this period to a past era when Kurosawa and Mifune Toshiro were in their prime.

    “Surely you understand how supply conditions shape market outcomes before the wonderful democracy of consumer choice comes into play? ”
    –untold

    I understand the point you are trying to make, but I would agree only to an extent. Just as money for higher production values does not guarantee success, more money spent on promotion and more opportunities for consumers to easily access exhibitions also do not guarantee success. They do help, but they do not guarantee that people will want to pay to experience the product. But I also would agree that Korean films, like the cinemas of other non-English speaking industries have a number of obstacles they must overcome.

    But I still think you are misplacing the blame. As I said, American distributors will gladly do business with Korean producers if Korean producers could reliably send profitable titles to America. American distributors and exhibitors are actively searching for potential foreign hits. At this time, Korean products do not have much of a reputation. But the fact is, Koreans have not been exporting sustained quality. And Americans have clearly been burned.

    Some Americans have not yet realized, for example, that one of the laws of the universe is that if Rain is in your movie, then your movie must flop and be of trifling artistic value. Another example is how the $2 million “Il Mare” was remade into a $45 million dollar flop called, “The Lake House.” And it is in this climate that a film like “Oldboy” might be released practically ignored. Americans have been doing their best to import foreign products for exhibition and rights to remake for a while now. But only a very few seem to make financial sense. Being able to break into the American market more easily still comes down to building a reputation for making films of a certain quality and style. And in that, the fault is in the dearth in Korean supply.

    “(read your economic history, try ‘Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism’ by Chang Ha Joon”
    –untold

    Actually, I’ve been meaning to order this book:
    http://www.amazon.com/Fixing-Failed-States-Framework-Rebuilding/dp/0195398610/ref=pd_sim_b_2

    This one offers policy recommendations that take into account observations of the real difficulties in nation building.

    But yes, I don’t think anyone doubts that PCH engaged in protectionist measures and that this did help nurture Korean industries. Both non Korean and I agree with you. But as “non Korean” notes above, South Korea today is not South Korea of the 1960s. Today, it is South Korea that is actively engaged in forging free trades with other nations, buying up resources and land from third world countries, and opening up markets everywhere. It even wants the US to ratify KORUS moreso than the US President and blue collar Americans do! If South Korea had not liberalized, however, it would never have made the progress it has since the 80s.

    And it should be noted that protectionism carries with it various costs, including in the form of higher prices, lower quality goods, and scarcity, while providing a disincentive to domestic industries to improve and become competitive. What PCH did was not only install protectionist measures, but also direct Korean industries to push themselves to make their products exportable and, ultimately, become competitive with foreign high quality high tech products. It seems to me–and I believe most readers of this blog would agree–that the Korean film industry is not feeling the same type of compulsion to excel, which Korean shipbuilding had long known. Protectionist measures, I believe, will only keep Korean artists content with being, at most, the French of the East, if they ever even reach French quality. This is why I think film quotas is bad for Korea. I just think there may be an alternative path.

  • lollabrats

    “Lollabrats

    I have to say your knowledge of cinema is impressive.”
    –non korean

    Thank you. But I don’t think I am so knowledgeable as I am overly opinionated and blab on more than I should.

    ^^;

  • yuna

    paging : blockquote cleanup

  • lollabrats

    @untold:

    I should at least leave this these 2 links to show that I do understand your position.

    https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=7022295

    In this NPR interview, Mexican talents talk about the consequence of NAFTA. I will quote a sample of the interview below.

    “Ms. BERTHA NAVARRO (Producer, “Pan’s Labyrinth”): It’s very complicated. Since the Mexican government signed NAFTA in ’93, we went from 120 films or 110 a year to seven. Okay? It opened without any kind of protection. So it’s been really tough.

    GARCIA-NAVARRO: The effect is still taking its toll. Victor Ugalde is the head of the Mexican film fund Fidecine, which gives money for movies to be made here. He says it has been a slow recovery.

    Mr. VICTOR UGALDE (Fidecine): (Through Translator) We had labs, equipment for rent, post-production services – we had everything. With NAFTA, we were reduced to being simply consumers of American products and ideas.

    GARCIA-NAVARRO: In 2002, Mexico produced 14 films. In 2006, that number rose to about 60. But the films all have small budgets here. “Babel,” not to mention, “Children of Men,” could not have been made in Mexico right now. ”

    http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Independent-Film-Road-Movies/Mexico-SOUND-AND-THE-GOLDEN-AGEOF-MEXICAN-CINEMA.html

    I will quote the relevant part below.

    ” The election in 1988 of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, a Harvard-educated economist, signaled a profound change in the direction of the Mexican economy. Salinas was committed to a free-market ideology, and in 1990 he began negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States. Ignacio Durán Loera, the new director of IMCINE, attempted to increase state financing of production through the creation of the Fondo para el Fomento de la Calidad Cinematográfica (Fund for the Promotion of Quality Film Production). While Durán was able to solicit co-production financing from Spain and other foreign investors, it was not enough to keep the industry afloat as state-owned studios and movie houses shut down at the same time that private investors withdrew from the industry. Film production dropped from one hundred films in 1989 to thirty-four in 1991.

    However, the international success of IMCINE-financed films such as Como agua para chocolate ( Like Water for Chocolate , 1992), Amores perros ( Love’s a Bitch , 2000), and Y tu mamá también ( And Your Mother, Too , 2001) gave Mexican filmmakers recognition and thus access to international financing. ( Amores perros won numerous awards and grossed $10.2 million in Mexico and $4.7 million in the United States alone.) Perhaps in response to these successes, the Mexican government in 2003 set up a permanent fund with a preliminary budget of $7 million that aims to attract co-production money to support film production. However, today, most of the films and videos in Mexico are still imported from Hollywood. In addition, the Mexican film industry is not just competing with American films or French films, but with multinational co-productions that can generate products with a guaranteed international appeal. It seems that the future of a viable Mexican film industry is dependent on its ability to produce films that appeal to a global audience.

    Read more: http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Independent-Film-Road-Movies/Mexico-SOUND-AND-THE-GOLDEN-AGEOF-MEXICAN-CINEMA.html#ixzz0sr7scb5r

    So this is what leads me to believe that protectionism is what keeps Hollywood from annihilating the Korean film industry. But I think this sentence above makes the correct observation: “It seems that the future of a viable Mexican film industry is dependent on its ability to produce films that appeal to a global audience.” I don’t think they are seriously considering the consequences and possibilities of globalism; they are more focused on the fear of failure. They may say otherwise, but I don’t see them acting toward the best outcome.

  • untold

    Thanks for the thoughtful and informative reply. I think we agree on quite a few points, though we clearly fall on opposite sides of the Austrian/Keynesian divide suggested by non korean. Certainly it would be better if the Korean industry was able to compete independently in the longer run, and I fully accept that American audiences are capable of voting with their feet, and will probably never flock to Korean films in really significant numbers.

    I think the rather strident tone I adopted in my initial post is linked to my disappointment in the Korean Wave- which, as strange as it might sound, was the main reason for me coming to Korea- petering out the minute I arrived at Incheon. That and the irony of being able to watch Korean films in the cinema (with subtitles) more easily in London than over here.

  • milton

    Lollabrats and Untold,

    Fascinating discussion. I have nothing to add, except to say there’s a lot of food for thought on this thread that needs digesting.

    Pawi, Antti, and KimcheeGi,

    Thanks for sharing! Very, very much appreciated. Great tunes.

  • lollabrats

    “I think we agree on quite a few points, though we clearly fall on opposite sides of the Austrian/Keynesian divide suggested by non korean.”
    –untold

    Actually, I am not as ideological as I sound above. I am definitely not Austrian, as far as I know about that, which is not much. My ideological allegiance is conditional. When the economy is healthy, then I am more neo-liberal in attitude. And pretty pro-business. But when crashes occur, I am decidedly Keynesian to the extreme. I do believe that a ridiculously massive economy that crashes requires a ridiculously massive stimulus to restart economic activity and especially to get banks to feel comfortable with lending. I do believe that this is the quickest way to recovery and pay back debts. But I do understand why people feel that the counterintuitive process makes no sense.

    And unlike some folks who pine for the gold standard, I do not believe that there exists an economic model that would foresee and prevent crashes. I think behavioral research will inevitably prove that causing crashes is a natural consequence under certain situations independent of whether the currency is based on gold or regardless of the economic model driving policy. Causing crashes is something we just do when a bunch of us get together and make certain types of bets and then certain conditions, whatever they may be, occur.

    But then again, I am no economist. A regret. But it is important to note one major difference between the Korean situation regarding unfettered access to film audiences and the Mexican situation with NAFTA. The difference is that the Korean won is today much more stable and trusted than the peso was leading up to Mexico’s ratification of NAFTA.

    http://frank.mtsu.edu/~berc/global/oldissues/summer95/p2.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1994_economic_crisis_in_Mexico

    http://www.epi.org/page/-/old/briefingpapers/1997_bp_nafta.pdf
    ^warning–this is pdf

    The first two links give a good but brief account covering the collapse of Mexico’s economy post-NAFTA. The third link is a report from 1997, which gives a brief account of why curious policy decisions by the Mexicans inevitably resulted in the collapse of the peso after NAFTA’s ratification.

    This is a significant difference between the Koreans today and the Mexicans a decade ago. The reason why Mexicans saw financing for their films evaporate and film studios and movie theaters spontaneously close is directly related to the peso’s collapse in the mid-1990s. Credit completely evaporated in Mexico. And cinema was only a part of the entirety of the Mexican economy which encountered difficulty raising capital or borrowing from banks.

    Obviously, South Korea today is in a much stronger position than Mexico was at the time. And this is why both non Korean and I believe that Korea is in a better position to consider repeal of quotas. Actually, Mexico at the time was somewhat similar to South Korea at around the same time. South Korea would encounter its own massive recession, withdrawl of foreign capital, spate of bankruptcies, and credit freeze only a few years later in the Asian Fiancial Crisis of 1997-08 as it too was in the process of liberalizing its economy and trade. But, bubbles and recessions were a common occurance all over the world at the time because America had just proven that communism does not work and many sovereign governments, including China, were encountering difficulties keeping asset prices from becoming much too overvalued as optimistic globalized investors looked to risky, potentially high reward places to park their investments.

    But the point is that that is the past for South Korea.

    Eventually, I think that Mexico’s film industry will reconstitute itself and become greater than most people expect it to become. The reason is because although Mexico had some of the best talents in the world before NAFTA, the collapse of the Mexican film industry drove those talents into the US and Europe, where they have had to clearly prove themselves as being truly competitive with the best in the world at collaborating on the creation of high quality drama and comedy. Americans and Europeans clearly did benefit from the influx of Mexican talent and, post-NAFTA, a number of Mexican productions and artists became major successes globally. Today, it is not unusual to see Mexicans featured in Hollywood productions.

    At present, I do not believe that there are nearly as many accomplished Korean artists as there are Mexican artists. One of the great benefits of Mexican culture is that it was profoundly influenced by both the American and European dramatic and cinematic traditions. By contrast, an important aspect of Korean culture seems to be about rejecting some aspects of western traditions. For instance, it does appear that Korean actors, while admitting their desire to perform as well as American actors, seem to intentionally reject dramatic lessons Americans have learned in the last 50 years in favor of styles and flourishes, which western aesthetics have long abandoned.

    “and I fully accept that American audiences are capable of voting with their feet, and will probably never flock to Korean films in really significant numbers. ”
    –untold

    No, this is exactly the attitude I would encourage Koreans to resist. This attitude lays the condition for self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe this feeling is the fear that drives Koreans to desire quotas. They have doubts whether they can succeed globally in a big way. But changing world attitudes toward and perceptions of Korean cinema require that Koreans themselves to make profound changes and improvements to how they do their business.

    “I think the rather strident tone I adopted in my initial post is linked to my disappointment in the Korean Wave- which, as strange as it might sound, was the main reason for me coming to Korea- petering out the minute I arrived at Incheon.”
    –untold

    Then I wonder how you must have felt about Park Yong Ha’s suicide. My goodness. He was in “Winter Sonata,” which was one of the key exports in the Korean Wave…

    Incidentally, an important aspect of American and Mexican cinematic tradition involves the brain drain of Europe during the Nazi and communist eras. Both Mexico’s and America’s cinemas benefitted from the emigration of highly skilled artists. This is a crucial aspect that is different in Korea. Koreans are gaining English teachers and non-fiction writers, but they are not gaining boatloads of highly skilled screenwriters.
    :p

    Another difference between America and Korea is that intelligent depressed Koreans are much more likely to kill themselves than turn to writing as an emotional outlet for their suffering. America has long benefitted from depressed and suicidal people who felt compelled to write stories, poems, and scripts. America has also produced magnificent tales of brooding heroes.

    “Taxi Driver.” “Streetcar Named Desire.” “Five Easy Pieces.” “On the Waterfront.” “Vertigo.” “Chinatown.” “Midnight Cowboy.” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woof.” So on. Perhaps someone could advise suicidal Koreans to advance Korean culture and make money and gain respect by writing dark brooding stories about how messed up Korean society can be instead of killing themselves.

    :)

  • yuna

    A lot of it comes down to what someone mentioned on the other Nagaland thread. A lot of the success of a films – it is simply down to how close you look like the main characters. It also shows how black films (either films with black actors in the lead or made by black directors) in America, despite everything, is still not as mainstream. In much of the popular culture, identification with the physical self comes first., then idenfication with the situation(culture) That is why it works in most of Asia. Places like Iran would be the identification with the culture.

    Whenever I get disappointed with some of the saccharine crap from Korea, this Lars von Trier onion clip cheers me up.

  • yuna

    a films?

  • R. Elgin

    I might add, there is a difference between vetoing funding for a script because of politics or because of having no sense of good or bad but the result is the same. If funding decisions were made purely upon merit, it could only strengthen the industry, IMHO.

    Some of my acquaintances go out for government funding but they all know not to count on it since someone else always has a connection so they work different angles.

  • lollabrats

    “A lot of the success of a films – it is simply down to how close you look like the main characters. ”
    –yuna

    “Slumdog Millionaire” did about $141 million at the US box office.
    “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”~$128 million.
    “Hero”~$53.7 million.
    “Rumble in the Bronx”~$32.3million.
    “Jet Li’s Fearless”~$24.6 million.
    “Kung Fu Hustle”~$17 million.
    “Supercop”~16.2 million.
    “Enter the Dragon”~$25 million in 1973.

    I believe these are the top outliers of films starring Asians. These numbers reflect only American box office numbers as compiled by boxofficemojo.com. Minus the top Indian film, the rest on the list clearly have several things in common.

    I wonder whether your point is valid. It may be that there are more complex emotional effects at work. For instance, the Japanese have successfully followed a business strategy of featuring caucasian facial features, blue or green eyes, or blondes and red heads for their main or featured characters of their video games, manga, anime, light novels, toy lines, and advertisements.

    The thinking goes that whites easily sell to Asians, but Asians do not sell as well to whites. Or in other words, the assumption is that Asians do not have any trouble imagining themselves to be physically white, while whites generally prefer to imagine themselves white. Hence, it would be cost-effective to feature whites because they can sell to both Asian and white markets. There seems to be further evidence here in that Asian film goers have no problem watching American films and identifying with white characters. By contrast, whites seem to primarily love kung-fu masters, ninjas, and samurais.

    Having said all this, I don’t think that any conclusions as you have drawn is as yet appropriate. We will have to wait for a bit more maturity of global markets and a reordering in geopolitics before we can begin to say anything conclusive. Already, American advertisement has begun to transition to featuring more Asian faces for reasons different from the reason blacks began to be featured more prominently starting in the mid-1990s. African Americans had to protest and demand that advertisers and corporations change their advertisement strategies. Advertisers preferred white faces to attract white youths. A black American was not considered as valuable as a white target, all things else being the same. And even if blacks watched more television and were likely to buy more of a product, they were not as valuable targets for advertisement. But today, Asian faces are increasingly prominently featured in advertisements. Sometimes, it is because advertisers want to associate a product with China.

    My hunch is that you may be wrong, yuna. I think economic and political status and influence may have the biggest say in any individual’s mind regarding what she may find to be an acceptable representative for herself in media.

  • yuna

    lolla, yes. what I have said is probably a snapshot of how it has been in the last 20 years, 30 years or so. However, what I was trying to emphasize is the undeniable influence on, and ties to the superficial that films and dramas have on its audience. For example, a good storyline is important, good scripts and good acting too. However, I still think we won’t see women actors over the age of 40 or 50 make up the main characters of the majority of the films – the clothes, the hair, the make-up , even if the demographic of the consumers change.

    With respect to the White->Asian one way thing, I believe that has been because of lack of choice for the Asian audiences. With the choice present and the globalization it will change as you say. The examples you have given, I think they still stand out as exceptions to the rule. In addition there are shows like The Cosby show, Fresh Prince of Bel Air – they were successful on their own merit of the script and characters, and not the unrealistic set-up.

  • lollabrats

    “The examples you have given, I think they still stand out as exceptions to the rule.”
    –yuna

    Yes. I did call them outliers. They are exceptional successes.

    yuna, here’s a hypothetical. Let’s say that it is the year 2100. China is the largest democratic free society in the world. It is also easily the wealthiest and most powerful state in the world. It does not have a screen quota system anymore. It’s cinema is accomplished and successful and it is not unusual for Chinese films to be nominated for Oscars.

    In that world, do you think that Asian-American actors would be commonly featured in lead roles for major Hollywood projects?

    (pardon, I am off to bed.)

    :)

  • lollabrats

    ^the above is just a thought. I think we are like minded here.

    ;)

  • Darth Babaganoosh

    I believe these are the top outliers of films starring Asians.

    Note that seven of those eight are “chop socky” flicks. Feeds into the Asian stereotype that they all know kung fu.

  • untold

    Again interesting points from lollabrats. I guess you are pragmatically in favor of quotas in the short term, but see the ‘evil’ outweighing the ‘necessary’ in the long term. To be honest, it’s not so much that I am looking to disagree with you, it’s more that the idea of breaking the US market and becoming a major economic force was a bit of a red herring for me. I would see Korean films as fitting in the ‘world cinema’ niche, with maybe a couple of minor hits each year.

    My main priority would be to direct funding to the more arty films that might fit into this niche. The benefits? I guess trailblazing for the industry as well as raising and modernising Koreas profile overseas. It certainly had an impact on my perceptions and awareness on Korea, and could even benefit the beleaguered sparkling tourism effort some. It may seem elitist but I also think it is possible to make a case for artistic merit that goes beyond strictly economic criteria.

    There might be something of a paradox in film financing in Korea. The films which are percieved to have the most artistic merit in the West, and the films which do well domestically are often not the same. I wonder if I should be hoping for more cheesey melo films to make money so the industry can finance the kind of films I like. Which of course is a national priority!

    Flippancy aside, I accept that there are risks in the government choosing what kind of films receive support(as setnaffa worries), but if you involve academics, creatives and business experts in the decision making process, it doesn’t have to be a slippery slope to totalitarian art- again I can only point to the many examples of unusual/challenging/political but commercially viable films from Europe that have recieved at least some kind of art council support.

    From what I gathered by my in depth research (skimming the Korean Herald) part of the recent crisis of the film industry was due to reckless overexpansion and lazy duplication of successful formulas. I agree with you that the government should regulate booms, but intervene mainly in times of economic crisis. Short termism, particularly in terms of investment, can be a problem for the free market. I wonder if the government could a stablising role in terms of raising and channelling investment (not just directly providing finance) for the alternative/indie scene most likely to be damaged by economic fluctuations and blockbuster flops, but with the kind of benefits I suggested earlier.

    Like I said, just putting forward a few ideas rather than seeking to contradict.

  • lollabrats

    “There might be something of a paradox in film financing in Korea. The films which are percieved to have the most artistic merit in the West, and the films which do well domestically are often not the same. ”
    –untold

    Again, I think this is wrong-headed.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2221383/pagenum/all/#p2

    This is an interesting article about the exact same debat…except concerning the difference in Chinese films western arthouses try to promote and the types of Chinese films that are big successes with the Chinese themselves.

    I will quote a sample of this nice article below.

    “The traditional path for Chinese directors was to make art films in China, get acclaimed at overseas festivals, be banned once or twice at home, and then be permitted to become art-house darlings in America. If they were good boys, they might even get a Hollywood deal. This is the route that Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Lou Ye, and most recently Jia Zhangke, subject of a panting profile in The New Yorker, have taken. But China’s newest and most popular directors aren’t having it. They are making big-budget blockbusters and romantic comedies for Chinese audiences and couldn’t care less about success in the United States. They’re also making better films than the precious cinephile stars.”

    Maybe Sonagi has seen these, but I have not seen many of the “popular” Chinese hits. I have seen the arthouse ones, though. Some were good, but all were dull.

    Ultimately, audiences are more alike than not. American audiences vastly prefer entertaining films over their own arthouse fare. You should not expect that other peoples should feel the exact opposite way.

    You can see Bollywood, Russia, France, and even Korea trying to figure out how to make a good big event film to export to the world. But they still have not figured out what not to do. In Korea, “D-War” split the nation between the folks who deplored the poor quality of the work and those who cheered at its successes. This shows that Koreans do recognize and agree with the aspiration of their domestic industry to become an exporter of films of large-scale stories. They don’t want to be an exporter of merely boring little niche stuff. Who would want to be just that?

    Of course, unlike China and India, Koreans do need to be able to export their big films in a big way if they want to grow their industry. But to do that, they need to significantly improve their skills at making big event films.

    “I can only point to the many examples of unusual/challenging/political but commercially viable films from Europe that have recieved at least some kind of art council support.”
    –untold

    I agree. There is plenty of evidence that democracies largely do a good job of advancing the art of cinema whether their government supports it or not.

    “the recent crisis of the film industry was due to reckless overexpansion and lazy duplication of successful formulas.”
    –untold

    Interesting. This sounds sort of right. But I can’t philosophically agree with all of it. I can believe that the partial collapse of the Korean industry in this decade was fueled by a bubble in the industry caused by an optimism over the initial success of the Korean Wave. Japan was actually experiencing their own Japan Wave bubble and collapse at roughly around the same time. Because of “Pokemon”‘s colossal success, Europe and America built up an import infrastructure to profit from the projected coming Japanese anime/ video game/ manga/ toy wave. Japan, in return built up their own infrastructure and invested heavily into their production capacity. Unfortunately, when everyone realized that “Pokemon” is a unique franchise, the bubble completely collapsed. And Japanese fans largely ended up blaming Japanese producers who they believed relied too much on the “moe” gimmick at the expense of development of quality scripts.

    But that does not sound completely right. It makes sense that producers would focus on the most profitable aspects of their production. At the same time, the upper tier producers clearly did try their best to find and develop quality story ideas. But the problem is writing quality hits is hard! Even American writers cannot consistently produce amazing stories. Americans, though, write enough good enough scripts. And America benefits from the fact that they can choose scripts from English-speaking writers from all over the world.

    Nevertheless, the Japanese bubble acted as a golden age in anime, manga, and video games. And this period produced some titles that are amazingly well crafted and utterly entertaining. And there are some characters that are so compelling that it seems a crime that few outsiders will ever learn they existed.

    But this kind of sounds like the Korean Wave, too, though not quite. The Korean wave did not produce any drama or character nearly as compelling as the best the Japanese were producing at the same time. But this kind of over-expansion and collapse is not unusual. As your link to Answer.com details, bubbles and crashes were usual occurences in American cinema’s history. But I do think that the Korean Herald analysis of blaming the failure on “lazy duplication of successful formulas” may be unfair. The centerpiece of the Korean Wave was based on television dramas and I think that this criticism is directed at producers of TV dramas. If the Korean artists could have produced better materials, they probably would have. But I think they simply could not. In other words, I don’t think they were being lazy; I think they were incapable. I saw three of the major ones: “Stairway to Heaven,” “Winter Sonata,” and “Dae Jang Geum.” I saw several other, too. They show great promise. But I think they also show that the Koreans are completely ignorant as to what it is they are doing wrong. And there are a great number of things they are doing wrong.

    I just can’t believe that the Koreans will be a major cultural exporter until they figure out where their dramatic aesthetics are faulty.

    But “duplication of successful formulas” also describes most successful and popular hits.

    “I agree with you that the government should regulate booms, but intervene mainly in times of economic crisis.”
    –untold

    Neo-liberals are economic “conservatives.” A major contingent of neo-conservatives are former foreign policy “liberals.” I think during booms that regulation should have a small footprint, but I think it is retarded when big business insist that regulators not regulate. BP might be happy with a lack of regulation when things are going well. But I have no sympathies when they mess up because of their own unregulated actions.

    “I wonder if the government could a stablising role in terms of raising and channelling investment (not just directly providing finance) for the alternative/indie scene most likely to be damaged by economic fluctuations and blockbuster flops, but with the kind of benefits I suggested earlier.”
    –untold

    Perhaps you are right. Perhaps this makes sense for South Korea.

  • milton

    A fantastic Shin Jung-hyun album from 1969. The last 16 minute-long jam is pretty frickin’ mindblowingly trippy.

    http://lost-in-tyme.ucoz.com/blog/2008-07-28-357

    This music is a real treasure.

  • untold

    I think I was a bit unclear. The paradox I was trying to suggest was a bit more commonplace/banal- the films I like getting financed as a result of the success of the commercial films I don’t.

    I think I have more interest and faith in the talent in Koreas indie/alternative secene than you but the search for the popular and populist international ‘event movie’ is a laudable one, and would be great news for the Korean industry. I think there is room for both kinds of films, but that the indie scene is both of value and more vunerable at present. This was quite a sad case (scroll down for ages to get the article): http://www.hancinema.net/film-director-kwak-ji-gyoon-commits-suicide-23532.html

    I do feel that when even unfanciable films like ‘똥파리/Ddongpari/Breathless (I love how ‘Shit Fly’ changes to ‘Breathless’)’ get reviews in national newspapers in the west
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/jan/28/breathless-south-korea-film-review
    this suggests that Korean filmmakers have built up a reputation for exciting product through exporting unusual films. I also agree that this is not the only route to success (and you will probably point out that a negative review like this one can damage future prospects).

    I guess I care less about the big breakout films , except as far as they affect the fortunes of the industry which produces the arthouse/extreme stuff I like. I have tended to think of the Korean Wave as an artistic movement in cinema (hence my initial insistence on support for the indies) whereas the whole 한류 phenomenon was perhaps more about shifting economic units in all kinds of cultural products.

    Any hints on Korean films you have enjoyed? Some old films which suggest the slightly unhinged nature of Korean cinema are the original ‘Housemaid’ by Kim Ki Young, ‘Aimless Bullet’ by Yu Hyun Mok, ‘Chil Su and Man Su’ by Park Goang Su and ‘Madame Freedom’ by Han Hyung Mo. All designed to reach a popular audience, I promise!

  • lollabrats

    Milton, Pawi, Antti, and KimcheeGi, thank you for sharing those links. The music was much much more interesting than I was expecting. I don’t shi-reoh (shi-reoh!). Most of the Korean pop music I know from that time are acoustic guitar folk music and trot, neither of which interest me. But these music are great! :D

    As far as contemporary African American musical influence in Korea goes, it is clearly still there. Today, hip-hop and R&B are two of the most dominant pop music genres in America. Korean youths seem to have embraced these genres. Korea is also going out of its way to attract top rock performers around the world and Korean private citizens are still growing their own indie scenes. I don’t think kpop will harm this development at all. What we have seen in the last 100 years all over the world is that indie scenes thrive best when youths want to push back on what they believe is too much commericialism in their national market. Of course, this has usually meant favoring certain types of African-American-inspired music over certain other types of popular music, which are usually conspicuously tied to focused advertisement campaigns. And whether kpop itself has no artistic merit is another debate, I think. :p

    I hope you all will forgive me, but I would like to spam some links here about American-inspired popular music in China and Japan.

    China:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/red/sonic/#audio

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cui_Jian

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nothing_to_My_Name

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPZTC_Gkm64

    The first link is about a documentary about the rise of American-inspired rock music in China. The second link leads to the wiki page about the “father of Chinese rock music.” The third link describes the rocker’s most important song, “Nothing to My Name,” which is the English name to the song the Tiananmen student protesters adopted as their anthem. The last link leads to the song itself. The rock song is a nice blend of Chinese and American influences.

    Japan:

    Japan, of course, is one of the most artistically rich popular music scenes in the world. Over the last decade, because of the anime bubble, Japanese anime has become a dominant platform for musicians to gain listener attention.

    Here are some interesting music, Milton, I think you may enjoy, of Japanese songs, which have been featured in anime. These are not Motown or Funk type songs, but most of these do feature the bass, usually in the beginning.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIuXxdLD_Uk
    “Shounen Heart” by Home Made Kazoku

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-C9-XCxMmMI
    “Upside Down” by Boom Boom Satellites

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sccg1CZzi4
    “Shiki no Uta” by Minmi

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6H3scywB_s
    “Kaidoku Funou” by Jinn

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSBjly_IeLo
    “Futuristic Imagination” by School Food Punishment

    ^beautiful ED animation from “Eden of the East.”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9896cYPaFf0&feature=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4quWmUJYQCU
    “The Real Folk Blues” by Kanno Yoko

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQcKjnVPUEI
    “Cloud Age Symphony” by Okino Shuntaro

    ^beautiful OP animation from “Last Exile.”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_drm4sTKxA

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4y-YZzZLOgw
    “Kirei na Kanjou” by Arai Akino

  • lollabrats

    “I think I have more interest and faith in the talent in Koreas indie/alternative secene than you”
    –untold

    I am a cultural omnivore. The reason why I have been stressing the big films is for practical concerns. Koreans need to earn the reputation for exporting sustained quality with big films if they want to be grow the industry. In the meantime, I just do not think that Koreans will have difficulty making smaller arthouse fare for western export. And awards and recognition at Cannes and other festivals does pique my interest. I do want to see “Breathless,” for instance. I have seen about 30 Korean films so far in their entirety and I think the following is my top 10 of the ones I have seen.

    1) Oldboy
    1) Seo-pyeon-je
    3) Mal-ju-kkeo-ri Jan-hok-ssa (Spirit of Jeet Kune Do: Once Upon a Time in High School)
    4) Dal-kom-han In-saeng (A Bittersweet Life)
    5) A-hop Sal-in-saeng (When I Turned 9)
    6) Geu-ttae Geu-sa-ram-deul (The President’s Last Bang)
    7) Wang-ui Nam-ja (The King and the Clown)
    8) Sympathy For Lady Vengeance
    9) Bi-yeol-han Geo-ri (A Dirty Carnival)
    10) Mu-sa (The Warrior)

    But there are others I have enjoyed, including KKD’s “Spring, Summer….Spring.” That is one beautiful film. Unfortunately, I have had to stop playback of about two dozen other films. I just could not get myself to finish these others.

    I do not think that Korean arthouse cinema is in any way fading. I think it is on the rise. The partial collapse of the industry in the past decade, coupled with the growing recognition by large film festivals around the world of smaller Korean films, have, at least according to ArirangTV, sparked Korean artists’ interest in growing their own indie sector. I think it is certainly the case that Koreans are earning the reputation for exporting quality smaller stuff. But as to where it will lead, we will have to see.

    At least, I would like to see the Koreans begin to tackle in a more mature, skillful way the causes of suicide and why Koreans are unhappy at work, at home, and in marriage. They are working on it now, but we haven’t encountered that great dramatic piece about dysfunctional family like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” or cinematic piece like “The 400 Blows.” I do not think that Korean artists have yet created that transcendantly eloquent character who gives voice to the large number of privately raging Koreans.

    Hence, I think that this subject matter is the most likely ground zero for the birth of a mature korean dramatic art. And if a dramatic arts revolution centered around this subject matter occurs, then I think we may see something interesting across Korean society. But I think we will have to wait for a transcendent Korean artist to appear before that happens. But I’m just talking out my behind.

    As to whether I agree with R. Elgin’s concern that the Korean government is crippling creativity and reputation, I do not.

    ;)

  • lollabrats

    R. Elgin, I hope you will free my comment at 55 from moderation purgatory. Thank you.

    ^_^;

  • lollabrats

    ^It’s the one with the links for milton.

    :)

  • lollabrats

    “(and you will probably point out that a negative review like this one can damage future prospects)”
    –untold

    I think it does harm. It is easy to find American notices decrying the “excessive” violence and shock of “Oldboy.” And I think “Mal-ju-kkeo-ri Jan-hok-ssa,” like “Breathless,” probably does not make sense to many non-Koreans. I remember one reviewer for, I think it was, “My Sassy Girl,” wondering why casual violence is so common and acceptable by onlooking characters in Korean cinema and wondering what that’s all about. But I was thinking the opposite; I think it shows how unhappy people are trying to voice their suffering via cinema. There is a lot of interest by korean filmmakers in trying to reveal it. At some point, one of these artists is actually going to reveal his suffering in a big exportable way. At least, that’s my hunch. And then we’ll see.

    But for now, that’s alright. If you are going to make a film like “Breathless,” I think you are doing it because you really really want to tell this story–you feel compelled to tell this story–and not because you want to become rich by telling it. For this reason, I don’t think KKD should be complaining of being ignored by Koreans. If you intend to tell a story that clearly will alienate most people, then you shouldn’t be complaining about the lack of interest.

    “Breathless” is on my queue of films to view this winter.

  • Pingback: Politics and Film