[FOUNTAIN]Disarm David to please GoliathI interviewed President Kim Dae-jung on Christmas Eve, 1996, when Mr. Kim was a presidential candidate. I was among six journalists who carefully analyzed each presidential candidate. A reporter asked Mr. Kim about his opinions on culture-related policy.
"In the 21st century, culture means the power of a nation. Culture does not only promote quality of life but also has become an industry that creates enormous value," Mr. Kim said.
Then Mr. Kim gave an example, the film "Jurassic Park," produced and directed by Steven Spielberg. The film earned $850 million, which is equivalent to the earnings from the export of 1.5 million vehicles by Korea's automakers. This line is now often used when the significance of culture is discussed. Described as "the well-prepared candidate," Mr. Kim gave the "right answer" to every question. Above all, Mr. Kim's perception of culture was far ahead of that of the other candidates.
Of course, Korea's film industry has not yet produced a movie as successful as "Jurassic Park," but Korea's film industry has made remarkable progress. The so-called blockbuster films, for example, "Swiri" in 1999 and "Friends" in 2001, well describe the extraordinary advance of the domestic film industry. Even though there has been criticism on the quality of Korean films and the focus on gangsters and comedy, the success is still astonishing. Domestic films captured nearly half of the Korean market last year, and the domestic film industry earned $10 million from exporting films.
Korea is one of the few countries whose film industry puts up a good fight with Hollywood, a Goliath in terms of capital and technology. India is a special exception. France is still holding on with its pride in being a nation of culture.
Korea's film industry has succeeded in attracting viewers because of the efforts of the nation's filmmakers. But we cannot underestimate the contribution of the screen quota system, which sets aside at least 106 days for domestic films in Korean movie theaters.
Seoul plans to reduce the quota drastically, saying the move is necessary to sign a Korea-U.S. investment agreement. Of course, the film industry opposes the plan.
Although President Kim has emphasized the importance of culture since he was a candidate, he could lose the label "president of culture." The president might not want to be remembered as the person who disrupted the long-awaited boom for Korea's film industry.
The writer is the Berlin correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yoo Jae-sik