[OUTLOOK]Hail the powerful gangster flicks

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[OUTLOOK]Hail the powerful gangster flicks

The hanbok is our traditional dress, and it is beautiful. But our domestic market is dominated by famous Western designer clothes, causing great harm to our national interests and our cultural sovereignty. Therefore, from now on, all the stores selling fashion-related products must sell hanbok for 146 days a year. Foreign breweries have stolen the domestic market from traditional alcohol such as cheungju, soju and makkeoli, bringing severe damage to our national interest. We cannot uphold our cultural sovereignty with Western spirits flowing in the veins of our people. All the restaurants, stores and nightclubs must sell only traditional alcohol for 146 days a year.
What would happen if we implemented such policies? The screen quota system requires all theaters to show Korean movies for 146 days a year. There isn’t a single industry without cultural significance in Korea or a single foreign industry that is not a threat to Korean culture, and yet only the movie industry received the privilege of being protected this way. But the movie industry people claim that this isn’t for their own interest, but that the screen quota system is a matter of national interest and a mechanism to protect our cultural sovereignty.
Let’s briefly look at the logic behind the screen quota system. First, it was set up to raise the competitiveness of the frail Korean movie industry. In the past, when the National Assembly was about to pass a resolution on the future of the screen quota system based on a campaign promise by President Kim Dae-jung, the movie industry agreed that it would keep the system only until it had 40 percent of the market. Korean movies now have nearly 50 percent of the market, one of the highest percentages of domestic movies in the world. Yet the movie industry claims that the percentage could go down any day and that it was too dangerous to relax the quota. Is there a business in the world which doesn’t need to worry about failing? What the screen quota system provides is a shelter without any competition. But it is an age-old truth that true competitiveness is only bred through competition. If the Korean movie industry really wanted the kind of international competitiveness that could take on Hollywood movies, it should break out of its protective shelter and meet the challenge straight in the eye. We will never see the day when our industry will leave behind the danger of being dominated by foreign movies if it keeps on being obsessed with the screen quota system.
Second, supporters of the screen quota system claim that it is the last bulwark protecting Korean culture. Who on earth bestowed the sacred duty of protecting the culture of Korea to the movie industry? Culture is the form of life that every one of us takes part in creating. It is found in our mountains and streams, our cities, our history, culture, art and crafts. This writer finds it hard to believe that the Korean culture has become more refined because a few domestic gangster movies outdid foreign movies at the box office. No European believes that Europe has become a cultural colony of the United States just because there is a flood of American movies in Europe. Today, the country that implements the strictest form of screen quota system is China. Movie theaters in China are required to show domestic movies during two-thirds of their showing days. China is a one-party country that does not allow diversity of ideology. Other countries practicing screen quota systems are Brazil (49 days,) Pakistan (55 to 310 days) and Mexico (30 percent of the showing days.) I do not know if these countries have now become cultural powers.
Another reason the movie industry cites for its case is the fact that the French movie industry has expressed its support for Korea’s screen quota system. France is a country that couldn’t keep its own screen quota system in the past of 112 to 140 days. It is hard to understand just what kind of help we get from the self-righteous and exclusivist advice of the French on the screen quota system, especially when they don’t have such a system themselves.
Third, the movie industry claims that signing a bilateral investment treaty with the United States, the reason that the debate over the screen quota system has flared up recently, is useless. We don’t know the profits and losses that a bilateral investment treaty with the United States would bring, because we’ve never had one before. But this treaty provides regulations on the position of foreign companies in domestic markets and on dispute settlement procedures. Such a treaty would be a prerequisite for attracting foreign investors in countries with unstable labor-management relations such as Korea. What is all the more ridiculous is the movie industry’s opposition to the bilateral investment treaty, claiming that the only countries that have signed such a treaty with the United States are third-world countries such as Bangladesh, Mongolia and Sri Lanka, or former socialist countries in Eastern Europe. The United States has signed free trade agreements with Latin and North American countries which automatically included investment treaties. It has already signed bilateral investment treaties with Singapore, Australia and Chile and is in the process of expanding these treaties into free trade agreements. Yet Korea is stuck in the first stage of such a process because of the screen quota system. The movie industry is doing well compared to other sectors in these hard times. How could a country that tolerates such selfishness by its film industry expect to get rid of social conflict?

* The writer is a professor of economics at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Young-bong
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