In the last blog post, we talked about the birth of Korean movie. In this blog post, we will continue with the development of K-movie in the 1950’s and 1960’s which could be considered as the Golden Age for K-movie.
Post-liberation Period (1945-1950)
During the the post-liberation period from 1945 (liberation of Korea from Japanese occupation) to 1950 (outbreak of Korean War), “liberation films” expressing the joy of liberation and national pride became popular, e.g., Viva Freedom! (자유만세) (1946). On the other hand, as the Korean peninsula was divided between the Republic of Korea in the South and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the North along the 38th parallel, films depicting anti-communist ideology also appeared, e.g., The Reality of the North Korea (북한의 실정)(1949), A Fellow Soldier (전우)(1949), etc.
During this period, film-makers experimented with the technical changes to produce new genres, e.g., A Diary of Woman (여성일기)(1949) which was the first 16mm colour film in Korea, a musical film called The Blue Hill (푸른 언덕)(1948), an aerial film called Pilot An Chang-nam (안창남 비행사)(1949), etc.
With the growing influence of the U.S. due to military presence in South Korea, American films dominated the Korean market with more than 100 American films screened annually in Korean theatres and claiming a market share of more than 50% in South Korea. On the other hand, there were newsreels sponsored by the U.S. army introducing the U.S., and depicting the horrors of war and its legacy and the democratic activities in South Korea.
During the Korean War (1950-1953), the country was devastated but there were still some film-making activities with the centre of the industry temporarily moved to Busan. For example, film-makers shot historic war footage. The army sponsored combat documentaries and newsreels, e.g., An Assault of Justice (정의의 진격) volumes 1 (1951) and 2 (1952). There were also feature films like A Bouquet of Three Thousand People (삼천만의 꽃다발)(1951).
After the Korean War, foreign aid programs provided South Korea with film technology and equipment. On the other hand, the Korean society underwent a period of Americanization and modernization which brought about fundamental changes in social structure and customs, rapid urbanization, booming pop culture, and mass media. Although there were still anti-communist propaganda films, most films made in the 1950’s were for mass entertainment. The government also promoted the film industry, e.g., providing tax incentives and awards for producing quality films.
Following the great success of Chun-hyang Story (춘향전)(1955) and Madame Freedom (자유부인)(1956), there was a boom in the Korean film industry called the “Chungmuro era”. There were over 70 film companies in the Chungmuro area of Seoul. The number of films produced annually also jumped from no more than 20 before 1956 to 180 in 1959. The film-makers experimented with different genres like melodramas, comedies, thrillers, gangster films, and horror films. Foreign film-makers also visited the country for co-productions and awards were won at international film festivals.
Technological advances were also noted during this period. For example, 35mm films replaced 16mm black-and-white films as the standard. Korea’s first Cinemascope film, Life (생명)(1958), was made. In 1966, television broadcasting went nationwide (except for a few areas) and in 1969, more than 96% of films were made in colour with multi-coloured props to compete with the television.
In the 1960’s, industrial revival brought new technologies like colour and wide screen. Moreover, cinema became the main public entertainment form with 5 to 6 admissions per head of population annually. The Korean film industry continued to boom during this period. For example, 233 films were produced and 178 million tickets were sold in 1969.
During this period, there were new genres of films reflecting the modern life amid rapid urbanization. For example, films like Homebound (귀로)(1967) and The General’s Mustache (장군의 수염)(1968) expressed doubts and frustrations about modernization. Youth films, literary films and action thrillers were also introduced. Other important movies during this period included The Housemaid (하녀)(1960) which was a domestic thriller about a housemaid seducing her master and Aimless Bullet (오발탄)(1961) which was a drama about an accountant struggling to support his family and finding his place in the changing society.
Nevertheless, there were hidden threats behind the booming film industry. In 1962, the military dictatorship of Park Chung-hee introduced the restrictive Motion Picture Law which strengthened government control over the film industry, including government censorship, limitation of the number of domestic production companies (which reduced drastically from 71 to 16 within a year), and quotas on production and import of films. These restrictions paved the way for the decline of the Korean film industry in the 1970’s.
We will continue with the depression of Korean film industry in the 1970’s and its transformation in the 1980’s in the next post.
Reminder: The next blog post will be published on 9 June 2015. Watch this space!
Related Blog Posts
“K-Movie Series – The Birth of Korean Movie” dated 2 June 2015
“K-Movie Series – 1970’s and 1980’s” dated 9 June 2015
“K-Movie Series – 1990’s to 2011” dated 11 June 2015
“K-Movie Series – 2012 to Present” dated 16 June 2015
Jennifer Rousse-Marquet, “The unique story of the South Korean film industry“, ina global, 2013-10-07
Darcy Paquet, “A short history of Korean film“, Koreanfilm.org, 2007-03-01
Kim Mee-hyun (ed.), Korean Cinema: from origins to renaissance, Korean Film Council, 2006