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Progressivism in domestic cinema

Posted June. 03, 2011 00:02,   


Yu In-chon, the first culture minister of the incumbent Lee Myung-bak administration, urged a drastic personnel reshuffle in the culture circle shortly after taking office. He said, “Heads of government organizations who were appointed under the previous government are advised to resign as they`ll have difficulty working under a different ideology and philosophy.” Yu effectively pressed left-leaning figures who assumed important posts in the culture circle to leave office. This invited criticism by them against Yu for judging culture and art based on ideology. They also refused to resign by citing their remaining terms of office. When a court found that the dismissal of Kim Jung-hun as head of Arts Council Korea was illegal, Yu stepped back by saying, “That’s not what I meant.”

Inha University professor Cho Hee-moon, who used to head the Korean Film Council, claimed that left-leaning figures have dominated the domestic film industry. Cho resigned as council leader in November last year because of his illegal intervention in the screening process for financial support of independent filmmakers. In an article in the latest edition of “The Spirit of the Age,” Cho said the domestic film sector is a representative area under the control of leftist forces. Many popular directors, actors and actresses, screenwriters, music directors, producers and planners have shown leftist inclinations, with some of them flaunting their affiliation with the progressive Democratic Labor Party. Cho also said public opinion is formed according to a cycle from the movie industry, civic groups and the media to the political circle and again to the media and the movie industry.

Leftist activity in the domestic film industry began with the socialist movement in the 1920s, thrived in the 1950s, and continued to maintain influence through the movement to screen North Korean films in the 1980s. Cho said the decade under the progressive Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations played a critical role in expanding leftist influence. Over that period, the country`s cultural landscape tilted toward the left. The Kim Dae-jung administration created a totally different environment by turning the law on movies into the film promotion law; the Film Promotion Agency into the Korean Film Council; and the performance ethics committee into the film rating committee. The Korea Film Directors` Society even said, “For five years under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, those joining forces with powerful politicians took control of the Korean Film Council and spent 300 billion won (278 million U.S. dollars) in budget unilaterally.”

Famed Korean film directors Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook are members of the Democratic Labor Party but said, “Film and political inclinations are two different things.” Nevertheless, Cho’s comment deserves attention in that leftists in the culture circle are forces that deny the Republic of Korea’s identity as a free democracy. Yet the country has no counterbalance that can keep them in check and respond to them.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)