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[Opinion] “Persevere, Korean Cinema!”

Posted October. 13, 2008 07:58,   


The 13th Pusan International Film Festival that ended last week attracted a record 198,000 visitors. The event was blessed with a clear sky, which also brought more people to the seaside festival. Unfortunately, it lost part of the steam it had on previous editions. The shocking suicide of top actress Choi Jin-sil on opening day dampened the festival’s mood. Worse, the event posted a deficit of 500 million won (381,970 U.S. dollars) due to lackluster corporate sponsorship. The darkest cloud over Korea’s premiere film festival, however, was the prolonged slowdown of the domestic movie industry.

The slogan of this year’s festival was “Persevere, Korean cinema!” Starting off as an adventurous film festival in its early years, the event has seen surprising success and contributed to an unprecedented boom in the Korean film industry. Unfortunately, many in the industry worry that the heyday of Korean cinema will soon end. One of them is Korean Film Council Chairman Kang Han-seop, who has described the situation as “the Great Depression” of the Korean film industry. Investment capital is leaving the nation and the number of movies produced has plunged. Critics blasted Kang’s comment as a self-fulfilling prophecy that could worsen the already-pessimistic mood, but those in the industry should heed the warning of the industry’s collapse if business does not pick up within two years.

Multiple factors are behind the slump. First, people have a wider range of entertainment choices thanks to the emergence of new media. Second, many affluent customers now prefer musicals and other live performances that are more dynamic than movies. Third, a power struggle within the industry might have prevented it from taking full advantage of the previous boom. Above all, lack of imagination is mostly to blame for the lackluster situation. The sector has failed to introduce exciting storylines and visuals exceeding previous successes at a time when customers are inundated with entertainment and content other than films.

Nonetheless it is too early to lose hope. In a news conference, Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai said, “Whenever I come to Korea, I realize how young Korean fans truly love movies. They keep the Korean movie industry going.” As long as the Korean movie industry has these true aficionados, there is hope. There is one condition, however. The industry must get rid of ideological pursuits that have kept many away from theaters over the past several years. Ideology is poisonous to art. No wonder that true art is virtually non-existent in a socialist nation. If the film industry wants imagination, it should keep ideology at bay.

Editorial Writer Hong Chan-sik (chansik@donga.com)