In this blog post, we will continue with the K-Movie Series and talk about the situation in the 1970’s and 1980’s. After the Golden Age in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Korean film industry underwent a depression in the 1970’s with the tightened control by the authoritarian government. Fortunately, the control loosened in the 1980’s which contributed to a transformation of industry.
In the last blog post, I mentioned that the authoritarian government introduced the restrictive Motion Picture Law in 1962 which included government censorship, limitation of the number of domestic production companies and quotas on production and import of films. The quota system which aimed at promoting the Korean film industry backfired and hurt it instead.
At that time, distributors wishing to import one foreign film were required to produce three domestic films. What the distributors did was to make the cheapest films in the quickest possible time, leading to deteriorating quality of the Korean films which could not compete with the imported big-budget American blockbuster. Together with the appearance of television and other forms of entertainment, the Korean film industry was badly hit in the 1970’s.
In the 1970’s, the Korean film industry went into a depression with the number of theatres dropping from 659 in 1969 to 541 in 1976, audiences dropping from 178 million in the 1960’s to about 70 million in 1976, and annual admissions dropping from 5 to 6 per capita in the 1960’s to 1.8 in the 1970’s.
Despite such difficult period, new talented directors appeared and some of them were successful in attracting the attention of the audiences, especially the young ones, for example, Lee Jang-ho’s Heavenly Homecoming to Stars (별들의 고향)(1974) which was an adaptation of a popular newspaper serial novel, Kim Ho-seon’s Yeong-ja’s Heydays (영자의 전성시대)(1975), and Ha Kil-jong’s The March of Fools (바보들의 행진)(1975). The most notable one was Kim Ho-seon’s Winter Woman (겨울여자)(1977) which attracted more than 580,000 people and set a record among Korean films, with this record being broken only in 1990.
On the other hand, there were a large number of “hostess” films which were melodramas featuring hostesses or prostitutes as main characters, for example, Byung Jang-ho’s Miss O’s Apartment Series (O양의 아파트)(1978, 1979). There were also high-teen films like Moon Yeo-song’s hit film, Never Never Forget Me (진짜 진짜 잊지마)(1976), and Our High School Days (우리들의 고교시대)(1978) co-directed by three high-teem film directors, Kim Eung-chun, Moon Yeo-song, and Suk Rae-myung.
The 1980’s was a period of transformation of the Korean film industry which paved the way to growth in the 1990’s. During this period, the government changed its policy from absolute control to non-interference. In the mid-1980’s, in order to delay U.S. pressure to open up the Korean manufacturing market, the government totally opened up the Korean film market to imports of foreign films and allowed direct distribution by foreign film companies. Although there was challenges from the foreign film companies, the Korean film industry enjoyed freedom to establish film production companies and independent film production was activated.
On the other hand, the demand for democracy and the belief in reform as represented by the Gwangju Uprising of 1980 and the People’s Struggle of June 1987 (which eventually led to the dismantling of the authoritarian government) gave rise to social issues films addressing real social problems which were regarded as models for Korean New Wave films. For example, a group of independent film-makers called Jangsangotmae created films like Oh, Dream Nation (1988) which depicted the pains of young people who witnessed the Gwangju Massacre and Night before the Strike (파업전야)(1990) which depicted working people’s struggle against capitalism. These films were also screened in alternative distribution network which was temporary screens in universities and workplaces. Moreover, Kim Dong-won’s Sanggye-dong Olympic (상계동 올림픽)(1988) was a record of events related to the struggle against demolition in the Sanggye-dong area of Seoul, which was the flip side of the coin of the successful opening of the 1988 Olympics and it inspired the growth of documentaries.
On the other hand, the chaebols (large conglomerates) like Samsung and Daewoo which produced the video cassette recorder began to invest in the film industry to produce films to secure the video software. Moreover, the chaebols tried to expand the market by adopting the theatre-video-cable television order of distribution and exhibition and to expand the distribution network by establishing theatres in major cities like Seoul and Busan. The support from the chaebols helped revitalized the Korean film industry, which at that time was running out of funds.
Furthermore, there was an increasing recognition of the Korean film industry from the international film community. For example, Kang Su-yeon won the Best Actress award at the 1987 Venice Film Festival for her role in Surrogate Mother (씨받이).
In the next post, we will continue with the renaissance of the Korean film industry in the 1990’s and 2000’s.
Reminder: The next blog post will be published on 11 June 2015. Watch this space!
Related Blog Posts
“K-Movie Series – The Birth of Korean Movie” dated 2 June 2015
“K-Movie Series – Golden Age in the 1950’s and 1960’s” dated 4 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
Daniel Tudor, Korea: The impossible country, Tokyo; Rutland, Vermont; Singapore: Tuttle Publishing, 2012, pp. 229-239
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