[OUTLOOK]Korean film in the spotlightLast Sunday morning, I rushed to the computer as soon as I woke up to find the results of the Cannes Film Festival. The news that “Old Boy” had won the Grand Prix popped up as soon as I logged on. I was momentarily awestruck. It was as if I’d opened the door to find a welcome guest standing at my doorstep. It was a different joy than what I felt when I heard that “Chihwaseon” and “Oasis” had won the best director prizes in the 2002 Cannes Festival and 2003 Berlin Film Festival respectively.
When I heard that Im Kwon-taek, a master and craftsman extraordinaire of Korean movies, finally had entered the competition for the Cannes Film Festival with “Chunhyang” after making more than 90 movies, the word “finally” came into my mind. It seems only yesterday that I’d felt an ambiguous resentment and emotion for the Western movie industry and their grand festivals. Now, a young director named Park Chan-wook with five movies to his name brings wonderful news.
It was unbelievable that a Korean movie had won the Grand Prix, the second-highest prize at the Cannes Film Festival, one of the three major film festivals in the world. What made the news even more interesting was that “Old Boy” is a suspense thriller, a “general” movie genre, not a movie with a Korean theme defined by Asian emotions. In some ways, the movie’s Grand Prix is concrete testimony of the amazing progress of the Korean movie industry.
Its entry into foreign markets and rising export sales first started by “Swiri.” The achievements of directors such as Im Kwon-taek, Lee Chang-dong and Kim Ki-duk in foreign film festivals and the new commercial competitiveness that let Korean movies take over half of the domestic market are some of the welcome aspects of our movie industry today.
The first Korean movie to be presented at the Cannes Film Festival was the director Lee Doo-yong’s movie “Moulleya, Moulleya” which was invited as a non-competition movie in 1984. But the achievements of Korean movies at foreign film festivals that started with Lee Doo-young and Lee Jang-ho and resulted in a Best Actress Award in the Venice Film Festival for “The Surrogate Women” felt strange to the insiders of the Korean movie industry, who were disillusioned by the oppressive movie laws and policies under the military regimes. Without a clear sense of identity or self-confidence, the news from abroad was something unfamiliar and alien.
Now the Korean movie industry has reached a stage where it is sure of itself. In the past, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Iran were the darlings of the international film festivals among Asian moviemakers. Now, it is Korea’s turn. I, for one, believe that we are ready to meet this challenge with even more quality and quantity than those countries were.
I attended the Berlin Film Festival in 2001 as one of the production staff when “Joint Security Area” was invited to compete in the festival. The first day in Berlin, after we arrived at our hotel and unpacked, I went over the pamphlet given me by the festival organizers. Some of the directors of the 20 movies competing in the festival had impressive filmographies that covered pages. The director Park Chan-wook only had two movies to his name. Three years later, the young generation of Korean movies represented by Park Chan-wook has not only proved the commercial vitality of Korean movies but gained aesthetic appreciation from international film festivals.
It was indeed a wonderful weekend for any insider of the movie industry to see a Korean movie acknowledged by the world film community.
* The writer is the representative director of Myung Films. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Shim Jae-myung