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.)