South Korea’s film industry is undergoing an amazing transformation. Since the late 1990s, a new wave of South Korean filmmakers has burst on the scene. Their movies thrill audiences all over the world, but South Korean cinema has made its greatest breakthrough at home. South Korean films have shot their way to the No. 1 spot in the local box office. Even Hollywood has been beaten into second place. So what is the secret behind the success of South Korean cinema?
Chris Berry (Professor): I think Korean films have succeeded in Korea because they deal with topics that only Korean film can deal with – things that matter to ordinary Koreans. On the other hand, they’ve succeeded internationally, especially in the Asian region, because they’re taking a 1)genre cinema that is familiar to people around the region and giving it an Asian 2)twist.
The Turning Point 腾飞转折点
The South Korean film industry really took off after democratic elections in 1987.The following year, with a new constitution, the strict 3)censorship, that had been 4)in place since the war, began to ease. South Korean directors now had the opportunity to explore other 5)controversial subjects from the country’s 6)tumultuous history. With this new-found freedom, filmmakers started to question the authority of 7)the Establishment, including police and justice under 8)martial law.
While South Korean filmmakers were exploring once forbidden topics, another law gave these films a fighting chance of reaching an audience. At the time the industry was taking off in the 1990s, South Korean cinemas had to screen local movies for 146 days of the year.
Berry: If there had been no 9)quota system in place, it’s unlikely that people in Korea would have been willing to invest in the Korean cinema. The guarantee of screenings guaranteed at least a certain return.
A Successful Genre 屡试不爽的电影类型
In the 1980s, many young Korean filmmakers went abroad to study, then brought back advanced filmmaking techniques. As they matured, they began to experiment with new story genres. This combination of style meets story created a string of box office smashes.
Berry: Since the 1990s, the Korean production system has been completely transformed from an old-fashioned studio system to a highly mobile and flexible production system that is very aware of 10)contemporary marketing techniques and the need for strong marketing budgets.
Korea makes between 50 to 100 movies a year, but films from one particular genre have become hits in the West.
Berry: For foreigners watching Korean film, they often get the idea that Korea itself is a very violent society. However, Korean society itself is actually relatively peaceable and relatively safe. This violence in the cinema must, I think, reflect in some sense the difficult history of Korea.
Korea’s 11)traumatic past is seen not only in films about war and division, but in violent action films. Some of the most popular have been directed by Chan-wook Park. He found international 12)cult status with his Vengeance 13)trilogy: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Old Boy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.
Old Boy won second prize注1 at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004 and had a limited international run thanks to the involvement of American director Quentin Tarantino注2.
Old Boy is a clever Korean reinvention of the classic
Hollywood action thriller. The 14)unwitting protagonist is kidnapped for 15 years. Then he’s given five days and a series of clues to exact his revenge on his kidnapper, Woo-jin Lee.
Director Park’s trilogy came to a predictable 15)blood-curdling conclusion with Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Once again it 16)revolves around kidnap and murder.
Film Critic: The director thinks that kidnapping and 17)confinement is a good way to talk about forgiveness and 18)salvation. That’s what it’s all about.
The Vengeance trilogy put South Korean films on the international festival 19)circuit. With a distinctly Korean style the films picked up 20)numerous awards and came close to winning the 21)prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
Berry: Chan-wook Park’s Revenge series has had a huge impact outside Korea, in particular in Europe and The United States, where this idea of Asian extreme has taken hold, and the association of Korean cinema – and also some Japanese cinema, with 22)ultra-violence and horror – has taken hold. The result is a kind of branding of Korean cinema in the West that maybe doesn’t 23)correspond to the local image of Korean cinema.
The Future 展望未来
South Korea’s movies were built on the stories of the country’s scarred history. As the country develops, there will undoubtedly be numerous stories waiting to be told –
experiences 24)unparalleled anywhere else. And there is a new generation of filmmakers ready to bring them to life on the big screen.
Young Director: It’s people’s passion that makes the movies. There are a lot of people in the industry, not for money or anything else, but because they love movies.
Berry: Korean cinema is now at the 25)crest of a wave. Ironically, Korean friends of mine constantly predict this wave is going to break and the end is 26)nigh. Maybe this is part of the Korean state of emergency 27)mentality. But they’ve been predicting this for years now. And yet every year more Korean films are made. They seem to get a higher share of box office. There seem to be more and more Korean films being exported. So far they’re still surfing the crest of that wave with no sign of it breaking.
Every year, film schools are filled with aspiring directors hoping to find their voice in the country’s booming cinema industry. They are the future of the Korean Wave.
注1:戛纳电影节的首奖为金棕榈奖(the Golden Palm),二奖为评审会大奖(the Grand Prix)。2004年,这两个奖项分别由纪录片《华氏911》(Fahrenheit 9/11)和《老男孩》获得。
注2:昆汀·塔伦蒂诺,美国著名导演,以其极具个人风格的暴力美学著称。他凭着《落水狗》(Reservoir Dogs)一举成名,《低俗小说》(Pulp Fiction)随后横扫各大电影节。继《杀死比尔》(Kill Bill)系列轰动一时后,昆汀2009年的新作《无耻混蛋》(Inglourious Basterds)获得了影评和观众的一致肯定,全球票房成绩骄人。