New Emissary

‘Mother’ of Movies

Korea’s movies to go the way of Hollywood blockbusters and 3-D gimmickry?

South Korea’s film industry made a mark at the fourth annual Asian Film Awards held last week when director Bong Joon-ho’s film, Mother, won six awards including best film.

With Mother’s win, there’s been an expected spike in worldwide media coverage of Bong Joon-ho and Korean cinema in general. But there’s already been a noteworthy amount of talk surrounding the nation’s industry so far this year. For example, earlier this month, Hollywood’s Variety ran a piece, ‘Korean Biz Alters Ego,’ which cited the economic downturn as a current reason for worrying about the future of Korea’s domestic film business. It noted that Korean filmmakers and producers, aware that ‘they must go global, via international co-production and films aimed at the international market,’ are looking to branch out into trends like 3-D features.

But meanwhile, an interview piece that ran this month on New America Media, featured differing thoughts on the Korean movie industry by Chi-hui Yang, director of The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival and Festival Director at the Center for Asian American Media, who actually called Korea the new Hong Kong in terms of being in the cinematic spotlight in Asia right now. Yang reminded us that Korea has for the past decade had ‘a great commercial film industry; more so than any other country in Asia,’ and that so successful and influential is the country’s film industry, it has not only been able to co-produce international films but has also sent many of its recognizable talents to star in Chinese, Japanese and Thai films.

His assertion might be well-received by those such as my favourite American film critic Roger Ebert, who seems to have a particular affinity for contemporary Korean film. In a review of Hong Jin-na’s 2009 thriller Chugyeogja (The Chaser) earlier this year, he pointed out that not only should the US remake the thriller, ‘Hollywood should study it.’ And the veteran critic also shared similar thoughts in his review of Mother last week, when he concluded that it’s a shame ‘many Americans have never seen a South Korean film and never will,’ because such ‘indie’ or ‘alternative’ foreign films should be not a viewing choice, but a ‘necessity.’

Ebert even went as far as to call most Hollywood films suitable for the minds of 10-year-old children and stated that the industry, by choosing to make more 3-D ‘event movies,’ is throwing away stories about ‘plausible human beings.’