At the just-concluded Cannes Film Festival, Korean filmmakers gained a lot. Park Chan-wook won the Best Director Award for “Resolve to Break Up”, becoming the second director in South Korea to win this honor; in terms of actors, Song Kang-ho won the Best Actor Award for his outstanding performance in “The Broker”, becoming one of the top three in Europe. The first Korean actor in the film festival.
The news cheered the Koreans up. On May 29, South Korean President Yin Xiyue issued a congratulatory message, saying that the awards of Park and Song were “great consolation for the people who were discouraged by the epidemic.”
Since the millennium, Korean films have entered the world with a fierce attitude: in 2002, the godfather of Korean films, Lim Kwon-taek, won the Best Director Award at Cannes for the first time with “Drunken Painting Fairy”, which made a good start for Korean films to go international; In September of the same year, Li Cangdong’s “Oasis” won the Best Director Award at the Venice Film Festival; in 2003, “Old Boy” and “Memories of Murder”, two films that were hailed as “divine works” by later generations, were born. Feng Junhao, the two representatives of the Korean film industry in the future, first appeared.
In 2022, Park Chan-wook won the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival for “Resolve to Break Up”
In 2020, Feng Junhao won the Best Director Award at the 92nd Academy Awards for “Parasite”
In 2004, South Korean films simultaneously won the three major European film festivals. In 2006, “The Monster of the Han River” entered Hollywood. Since then, Korean films have been full of surprises, including Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” in 2020, which won 4 awards at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and became the first foreign-language film in the latter’s history to win the best picture.
The Korean movie started not too early, but its development speed is staggering. In addition to the above-mentioned filmmakers, Kim Ki-duk, who has won two awards in Venice, Hong Sang-soo, who has been nominated for three major European film festivals, Jeon Do-yeon, actress in Cannes, and Kim Min-hee, actress in Berlin, these names declare that Korean films are shining brightly. time.
Coexisting with the vigorous development of Korean films is a large number of old and accumulated defects in the country. Political turmoil, the impact of the economic crisis, the excessive power of the chaebol, and the solidification of social classes… These have provided countless creative soils for Korean filmmakers.
In such a big environment, Korean filmmakers have embarked on a film path from learning genre film routines to adhering to a bottom-level perspective and exposing cruel social contradictions. Park Chan-wook and Song Kang-ho’s success in Cannes is not only due to their individual talents, but also the tragic result of the collision between the Korean national spirit and the cold reality.
Type first, then reverse type
Korean movies have gone through the whole process from imitation to innovation.
In the popular Korean drama “Reply 1988”, there are a lot of Hong Kong and Taiwan elements. On the TV screens of Korean families, classic Hong Kong movies such as “The True Color of Heroes”, “A Chinese Ghost Story” and “Police Story” have been broadcast. The posters of Chow Yun-fat and Maggie Cheung were posted in the rooms of Korean children. microcosm.
In 1984 and 1986, South Korea successively revised the “Film Law”, lowering the entry threshold for the film industry. Korean films are no longer monopolized by a handful of film production companies, and the door to imported films has been opened. The influx of foreign masterpieces has enhanced the aesthetics of Korean audiences, and the strong cultural shock has also gradually awakened some Korean filmmakers, determined to make good films belonging to Korea.
Bong Joon-ho, who won the Academy Award of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, grew up against this background. Born in 1969, he considered himself a “Hollywood child”, and the films of Hollywood masters such as Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Quentin filled his youth. At the award ceremony, Feng Junhao did not forget to pay tribute to his idol Martin Scorsese.
The golden scale is not a thing in the pool, it will turn into a dragon when it meets the wind and cloud. South Korea’s “cultural nation-building” strategy, which began in 1997, gave filmmakers like Bong Joon-ho enough room to play. Film grading, tax reduction and support are multi-pronged, and a large amount of capital has entered the film industry crazily.
It was Jiang Di-kyu and his “Life and Death” who started the first shot on the rise of Korean movies. The film, released in 1999, set a box office record for Korean films at the time: a single film had over 6 million viewers, accounting for about 30% of the total Korean viewers that year, making the world-famous “Titanic” popular in South Korea. The market “hit the iceberg”.
Korean filmmakers are better at portraying the fluttering fate of little people.
In terms of film technique, “Life and Death” almost copied Hollywood’s narrative routine. The male protagonist’s favorite woman is the setting of a hidden agent, which was not new at the time, but there are all kinds of commercial elements such as gunfights, fights, and love in the film, and the elements of north-south confrontation that make Koreans excited.
This Hollywood type + Korean element setting was later carried forward by Feng Junhao. In 2003, “Memories of Murder” used the classic Hollywood suspense film routine. However, Bong Joon-ho restored the social conditions of South Korea during the economic downturn in the 1980s with an unsolved murder case through the dark and cold lens language. The night in the countryside, where the hands are almost invisible, is also a true reproduction of the 1980s when the lights in cities, industrial and mining areas, and traffic lines were turned off in order to prevent enemy attacks.
Later, the popular “Monster of the Han River” was the same. Under the shell of the monster, it was based on the experiences of three generations of Koreans, old, middle and young, to criticize the Korean government.
”I want to use real life as an element to make a movie that is more interesting and entertaining than genre movies.” Feng Junhao’s vision was implemented under the mature film industry system in South Korea. He switches between various genres with ease, and then expresses his thoughts in genre movies.
”Parasite,” which won the Academy Award for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is the result of this kind of thinking. Mixing horror, thriller and dark humor, “Parasite” is difficult to be classified into a single genre, but the core is still a ruthless mockery of the severe division between rich and poor in Korean society.
The legacy of “big things”
The ancient Korean peninsula was barren and poor, and in order to survive, the idea of ”majorism” was born, that is, surrender to a more powerful regime in diplomacy.
This kind of thinking of big things also affects the creation of Korean films today-because of “big things”, Koreans always unconsciously put themselves in the perspective of the weak. It is also because of this that Korean filmmakers are better at portraying the fluttering fate of little people, and are more accustomed to witnessing historical changes from a bottom-level perspective.
Song Kanghao, who was crowned Best Actor at Cannes this time, is especially good at interpreting the fate of such a small person.
Taking “The Barber of Xiaozidong”, which is known as the “Korean version of “Forrest Gump”, as an example, Song Hanmo played by Song Kanghao is an ordinary barber. With the help of Song Hanmo’s life, the director quietly implants history and irony into it.
In the face of his girlfriend who was 5 months pregnant but didn’t want a child, Song Hanmo, who had a low education level, used the word “rounding up” he just knew, saying that the 5-month-old child was already a complete life and should stay, and persuaded his girlfriend in one fell swoop. .
The tragic side behind “The Miracle of the Han River” gives Korean filmmakers enough room to play.
In fact, rounding was an “invention” of then-South Korean President Syngman Rhee. According to the regulations, Syngman Rhee needs 2/3 of the votes, that is, 135.2 votes, in order to continue to be elected, but he only got 135 votes, but he claimed that he had obtained enough votes on the grounds of “rounding up”.
Because Song Hanmo’s home is not far from the Blue House, the presidential palace of South Korea, he was also introduced as the president’s hairdresser by chance. But such an identity did not allow him to gain fame and fortune, but instead gave birth to the feeling of being with the king like a tiger. A few years later, Song Hanmo’s son was arrested and imprisoned as a spy accomplice, and his legs were disabled under torture. Faced with such bad news, Song Hanmo was helpless, he could only raise his scissors in the direction of the Blue House, cut his own hair in the street, and shouted “I am the president’s hairdresser!
” The only “resistance” and catharsis in the film—but even this extremely weak catharsis doesn’t last long, and Song’s collapse comes to an abrupt end as a car whistle passes by. As an individual, in the face of stronger forces, he can only give way.
Coincidentally, Xue Jingqiu, who is also known as the “troika of Korean acting actors” together with Song Kanghao and Cui Minzhi, also played a large number of small characters influenced by history.
Many chaebols who invest in Korean movies are themselves criticized in the movies.
Stills of the movie “The Monster of the Han River”
The film “Mints” directed by Li Cangdong uses a flashback technique. Soon after the film started, Yonghao, played by Xue Jingqiu, walked to the railroad tracks and tried to commit suicide against the train. As time goes back, the audience sees Yonghao’s tragic life in the past 1979-1999. Students, soldiers, policemen, rich people, and the unemployed, with the unfolding of historical events, Yonghao’s identity changed again and again, and the wealth he finally accumulated was also wiped out in South Korea’s financial crisis.
In 1999, when he had nothing, he was moved by the singing of his friends, and the memory of his heart was moved, and the guilt of killing finally overwhelmed him. When the wheel of the times rolled over, Yonghao’s fate, like the mint that was crushed by the superior, was smashed to the ground but no one cared.
The creative soil for deformed development The
Korean film’s attention to the bottom is inseparable from its special national conditions. Zhang Qingxie, a professor at the Department of Sociology at Seoul National University, believes that the development of South Korea is a kind of “compressed modernity”, that is, Korean society has intentionally and compressed in half a century to complete the industrialization experienced by Western society in two or three hundred years. and economic growth, while also experiencing various risk social syndromes in Western society in advance.
The country is unfortunate and the poet is lucky. The tragic side behind the “Miracle on the Han River” has given Korean filmmakers enough room to play, while “compression” has caused a deep sense of crisis to the Korean people and made them more willing to pay for movies with social themes.
Take “The Broker,” which premiered at Cannes, a Korean story despite being directed by a Japanese director (Hirokazu Koreeda). The “infant temporary storage box” and the adoption of stolen infants shown in the film reflect the gloomy baby trading industry in South Korea.
As early as 2012, the South Korean film “Barbie” told the dark story of an American family trying to sell organs through a loophole in the “international adoption” system. According to an investigation by the Associated Press, there are welfare agencies in South Korea that have been selling children to overseas regions such as the United States since the 1970s.
Just around the topic of child protection, Korean films have frequently produced excellent works. In September 2011, the film “The Furnace” was released. This film was adapted from real events. It tells the story of a new school teacher who uncovers the deaf school principal and some staff who sexually abused and abused students. A light sentence story.
Thirty-seven days after the film was released, the Korean National Assembly overwhelmingly passed the “Sexual Assault Prevention Amendment” with 207 votes and 1 abstention. This amendment is also known as the “melting pot law” by the Korean people.
Success is also Xiao He, failure is also Xiao He, South Korea’s compressed development has given domestic filmmakers enough “stage”, but most of the criticisms nurtured by this deformed development can only be expressed in emotions and expressions – in the world of light and shadow, South Korea Filmmakers can criticize all kinds of social phenomena at will, but there are only a handful of cases that can really promote social change; the “melting pot” is indeed touching, but it is rather an accidental miracle.
Many chaebols who invest in Korean movies are themselves criticized in movies, but they still cannot stop their investment in movies. After all, for such a group, if the public likes realistic themes enough, it means that the box office will sell well and make a lot of money, so what is the point of being ridiculed without naming names? And this may be the most incompatible phenomenon in Korean society.