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A Fresh Start for Korean Cinema: Overview of the First Half of 2007

2007/07/23 Source

Korean films have delved into new topics and covered a wide range of genres the first half of the year. Coming off of a disappointing year at the box office, the Korean film industry has answered with a number of truly noteworthy works of art. Although many of the films released this year were funded before the industry crisis of 2006, they have not generated the type of profits that once raised eyebrows around the world during the Korean film boom a few years ago.

The Industry has suffered greatly in the past year for many reasons. The Korean film boom spawned many hastily planned productions that ended up failing in theaters. Recently, after the loosening of the screen quota and the influence of the labor union on production costs, Korean film companies are investing with far more reluctance. None the less, this year Korea has unleashed the last batch of films that were direct products of the boom.

Whether funded during the boom or during the crisis, there have been many noteworthy films released this year so far. There have been award winners and heart warmers. From animation to documentary, Korea has unveiled another crop of masterpieces.

The most notable film of the year so far is clearly Lee Chang-dong's award winning "Secret Sunshine". The film stars Song Kang-ho and Jeon Do-yeon, who actually won the award for best actress at this year's Cannes Film Festival for her remarkable performance in this film. The film portrays the hardship of a mother, in a new town, dealing with a tragedy that transforms her life into a search for meaning. The film has enjoyed a long run in Korean theaters and is destined for a significant place in Korean cinema history.

This year Song Kang-ho also stars in another interesting film entitled "The Show Must Go on". This work is a clever new take on the familiar Korean gangster movie subgenre. It approaches the topic from a new angle. Instead of showing the gangsters as a family, it focuses on the actual family life of an individual gangster. The man seems like a normal working man when he comes home to his family, but as the film progresses we discover the problems that surface due to his profession. Although he dreams of a stable family life in an idyllic house, his family feels the strains of his increasingly hazardous occupation.

Uncommon Korean genres were also covered this year in film. Although Korea actually does much of the labor for many Japanese and American cartoons, rarely is a Korean animated feature film produced. "Yobi, The Five Tailed Fox" is the latest work from Lee Seong-gang. This whimsical tale is brought to life through many breathtaking visuals. Documentary films are also uncommon for Korean theaters. Kim Myeong-joon's "Our School" has built on its independent roots by touring small theaters around Korea. Due primarily to word of mouth, the film has gotten much attention and even playing time in select multiplexes.

Another film that shows a child who has grown up without typical conditions is Jang Jin's "My Son". This film stars Cha Seung-won as a father, serving a life sentence, who is released to spend one day with his son who he hasn't seen for 15 years. The son was only a small child when he left, so he finds himself in over his head trying to catch up. The film creates an interesting sense of tension as we feel his time running out and we become enthralled with the unraveling mysteries of their past.

The latest film depicting the life of an important figure from Korea's past is Jang Yoon-hyeon's "Hwang Jin Yi". This lavish epic, set in the Chosun Dynasty, stars Song Hye-kyo as Hwang Jin Yi, a legendary gisaeng (sort of like a Korean geisha) who actually had quite a bit of political influence. The film features a poignant love story accompanied by many vibrant sets and costumes. There is even a breathtaking scene shot among picturesque mountains in North Korea. Hwang Jin-Yi was also the subject of a popular television drama last year.

Hwang Jung-min stars in "Black House", a unique thriller that borders on the horrific. Summer is the time for horror films in Korea and this early summer release provides a message to go along with the obligatory gore. The story involves insurance fraud and a chilling mystery surrounding a decrepit old house.

From thrills to chills, the first half of 2007 has been a showcase for Korean cinema. Groundbreaking films have surfaced and international recognition has been awarded. The Korean film industry may be dealing with a temporary crisis, but the products they are currently releasing sure don't show it.

Josh Hoffman(KOFIC)

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