The Korean Cultural Centre in London
Day 2 of the London Korean Film Festival kicked off at the Korean Cultural Centre, which is just around the corner from Trafalgar Square.
The Korean Cinema Forum was chaired by Tony Rayns, and he was joined by director Kim Han-min (김한민), lecturer and author Dr. Choi Jin-hee (최진희), and film critic and festival programmer Jeon Chan-il (전찬일). The forum was an interesting discussion about the Korean film industry, however it was severely hampered by time constraints so that only 2 questions from the audience were taken. The main points from the forum were:
- Dr. Choi Jin-hee claimed she believes Korean cinema is not going through a ‘Korean New Wave’, as the ‘Korean Wave’ generally refers to the period in the 1990s (and perhaps the early 2000s). Instead, she posited that this period is more likely a ‘Korean Renaissance.’ However, Jeon Chan-il slightly disagreed with this term, as while he acknowledged the output was changing, he felt it wasn’t a radical enough change to warrant a label of such magnitude. Kim Han-min diplomatically straddled both arguments, claiming that Korean films are constantly changing due to the nature of the industry as it is constantly redefining and restructuring itself.
The Korean Cinema Forum debates the industry
- At this point chairman Tony Rayns provided a context for the discussion, asserting that it’s important to be aware of how Korean history has shaped the industry. He pointed to 1993 as a pivotal year as the military government, which highly regulated and censored media production, changed into a democratic ‘people’s government’, when the regulations were dropped. Yet even with this new freedom, Korean producers didn’t have the skills and experience to make films, and so the industry floundered somewhat until it had been restructured. Jeon Chan-il slightly disagreed on the date, stating 1992 was actually the beginning of change in the industry.
- A member of the audience asked why the Korean film industry was so fixated on producing ‘blockbusters’, as it was often the mid-level budgeted films that were so successful. The questions took 25 minutes (!) to answer, but generally the panel agreed that companies that tried to produce blockbusters often went bankrupt, while low/mid-level budget films were often sleeper hits, including Kim Han-min’s Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon (최종병기 활) and Sunny (써니 ). Kim Han-min also claimed that sometimes Korean audiences were fickle and unpredictable, so it is difficult to determine what will be a successful/profitable film. Dr. Choi Jin-hee referred to the power of word-of-mouth, which is one of the main reasons why films such as Silenced (도가니) and Sunny were so popular.
- A final question from the audience asked how a fledging director/producer could get the funding for a project in Korea. Kim Han-min stated that there are various routes, including self-finance, internships, and scholarships amongst others. Dr. Choi Jin-hee also pointed out that screen writing competitions are a good way of entering the industry, as auteur Kim Jee-woon (김지운) found success via this avenue.
Dr. Daniel Martin introduces the ‘North and South’ debate
Next was the option to either stay at the centre to watch Kim Han-min’s Hand Phone (핸드폰), or to travel to the Institute of Contemporary Arts to view Sunny (써니 ). I opted for the latter. The cinema screen/room was quite small, but helped to create an intimate atmosphere. The film was incredibly well received by the audience, who were very vocal in their praise of the film and applauded during the final credits.
Following this, was a screening of Korean war film The Front Line (고지전). Prior to the screening, Dr. Daniel Martin gave a brief but informative introduction to the ways in which the North and South of Korea have been represented in Korean cinema. He pointed out that not all Korean films deal with these issues as many non-Koreans believe, but that the films that are produced are of high quality. Dr. Martin highlighted that the representation of the north has changed, as the vilification ceased a long time ago even as far back as 1954. Instead, films often posit that very little separates the people of each country, and that themes of ‘brotherhood’ or common goals are emphasised.
Dr. Martin then introduced The Front Line which also proved popular with the audience, with some members visibly wiping away tears as they left the cinema.