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[9th Piff] - Korean Films: A Year of Art and Commerce

2004/10/06 | 149 views | Permalink | Source

By Joon Soh
Staff Reporter

In terms of both commercial success and artistic recognition, 2004 has been year of highs for the Korean film industry.

The big news throughout the first third of the year was the record-breaking success of two films. Though their takes on the subject was quite different, "Silmido" and "Taegukgi" struck a chord with audiences with stories dealing with Korea's military past.

The Cold War film "Silmido" vividly dealt with the true story of a suicide commando unit secretly created by the South Korean government to assassinate Kim Il-sung in the late 1960s. "Taegukgi" went back even further in time to deal with the Korean War. Through a fictional account of two brothers forced to become soldiers, the film presented a mixture of gritty battle scenes and sentimental drama.

No one, however, expected these two films to do quite as well as they did, shattering the previous box office record set by Friend and going on to eventually reaching the 11-million-viewer mark. "Taegukgi" ended up inching just ahead of "Silmido" for the official crown of top box office film ever.

Due to the two film's massive success, Korean films took a record-breaking share of nearly 62 percent of the overall film market in the first half of the year, and an amazing 82 percent of the market in February.

With the exception of the summer months of June through August, when Hollywood blockbusters traditionally dominate, mainstream Korean films have maintained their strong presence in theaters. These film were able to take well-established genres and bring to them an original twist

Directed by Ryu Seung-won, "Arahan", was perhaps the Korean answer to Hollywood superhero movies, mixing Taoism and a healthy sense of humor with the comic book format. "The Big Swindle" followed in the tradition of heists-gone-wrong films like "The Usual Suspects", but won over audiences with its clever storyline and a great ensemble cast.

Even romances got into the act of going against the grain. "My Mother, the Mermaid", helped by a strong performance by Jeon Do-yeon, took a unique approach to time travel while telling of a love story between an island diver and a postal worker on Cheju Island, while "Someone Special" was a hilarious take on the romantic comedy genre that bordered on satire.

Korean films also showed their strength abroad by taking major awards in the three big European film festivals _ Berlin, Cannes and Venice. Ironically, it was the films of a director who has consistently lacked commercial appeal who became most representative of Korean cinema in the international realm. Fresh off the critical success garnered for "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring" last year, the prolific Kim Ki-duk received the director's prize at both Berlin and Venice for two separate films, "Samaritan Girl" and "3 Iron".

And at Cannes, Park Chan-wook received the Grand Jury Prize for his broody tale of revenge and retribution, "Old Boy".

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