[FOUNTAIN]Seoul's Darkness Fits the Screen

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[FOUNTAIN]Seoul's Darkness Fits the Screen

In the 1960s, "Come Drink With Me" and "The One-Armed Swordsman" opened the golden era of Hong Kong's martial arts action movies. While the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was sweeping mainland China, Hong Kong, the showcase of capitalism, unfolded the stories of heroes through the movie company Shaw Brothers. The fever for Hong Kong martial arts movies, which outdid proud Hollywood, also hit Seoul. "The One-Armed Swordsman," released in the late 1960s, was a big hit. We vividly remember that the movie triggered the production of copycats in Chungmu-ro, the hub of Korea's film industry.

When talking about Hong Kong movies, we cannot overlook "The Chinese Connection" and "The Big Boss," which were wildly liked by people who are now in their 30s and 40s. In the early 1970s, Hong Kong movies produced the superstar Bruce Lee, who grew to worldwide success. Then came "A Better Tomorrow," by the director John Woo, which gave birth to Hong Kong Noir. The French films about crime in the late 1950s are called Film Noir. The French word, noir, means dark or black. This word kissed Hong Kong, generating a new scene toward the end of the 20th century.

The scene was truly a hybrid. Amid exchanges of gunfire and the action sequences, the sentiment of the Orient and the emotions of the West mingled.

Gangster movies in Korea are following Hong Kong Noir, which has already seen its best days. The JoongAng Ilbo analyzes the march of Korean movies, such as "Friends," "Kick the Moon" and "My Wife Is a Gangster," in an article in its Oct. 9 issue.

The article says the golden age of gangster movies in Korea is about to unfold with the impending release of another of that type, "Let's Play Dharma."

Why have people become so thrilled to see the images of gangsters on the screen since the release of "The Rule of Game" in 1994? What is the sociological explanation of this phenomenon? Do gangster movies, which rapidly emerged as Korean films took a 40 percent share of the domestic market, satisfy Korean men as a substitute for their shrunken world? Or, should we read the success of gangster movies as an allegory of the reality of Korean society, where the powers of day and night get along behind closed doors?

We should give the gangster movies a title, "Seoul Noir." With this title, we identify all characteristics of our era with one phrase. Social turmoil and people's sense of nihilism are all in "Seoul Noir." Because gangster movies are a blend of action, melancholy, romance and comedy, contemporary Seoul qualifies to reflect this film genre.

The writer is an editor of the JoongAng Ilbo publications.

by Cho Woo-suk

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