Film primer has compound problemsNo one can argue the fantastic commercial and critical success that Korean movies have enjoyed over the past five years. Since attendance hit its low point in 1997, the number of people going to Korean films has doubled. In fact, more people bought tickets to Korean films last year than in nearly three decades.
Along with this revival has come considerable international acclaim. Korean cinema has won kudos at film festivals worldwide. Web sites abound with praise and information about Korean film.
Now one of those fan sites has made it into print. Alas, “Korean Cinema: The New Hong Kong” (further subtitled “A Guidebook for the Latest Korean New Wave”) reads like a printout of ramblings from a die-hard fan.
“Korean Cinema” has all the enthusiasm and none of the judicious editing that one might expect from such a venture. The design is simple, the romanization of Korean words varies from page to page and its hyperbole knows no bounds. Much of the book consists of two-page reviews of dozens of recent Korean films, often referred to as “Korea New Wave” for little reason, other than being new. A great many films and stars are covered.
Perhaps most unfortunate is the author’s poor knowledge of Korean cinema history. Only one film before the 1990s is mentioned (despite the growing presence of older films on DVD). Even though “Korean Cinema” is about the “New Wave,” the absence of history is glaring, leaving 80 percent of the book to short, breathless movie reviews, full of opinion but little depth or insight.
It seems a pity to be too harsh toward “Korean Cinema,” which is so clearly a labor of love. But as Maurice Chevalier once said, “Many a man has fallen in love with a girl in a light so dim he would not have chosen a suit by it.” And it’s plenty dark in a movie theater.
by Mark Russell