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Learning from the Success of the Korean Film Industry

A Filipino Filmmaker’s Insight of the Korean Film Industry

Having been initially immersed in the Korean film industry for six months through a film training program in Seoul in 2008 (which was eventually extended through another film training program), I should say that the Koreans’ love for cinema is quite inspiring. Having attended the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF), Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (PIFAN), and Jecheon International Music Film Festival (JIFF) during my stay in Korea, I was able to get a sense of the country’s passion for cinema. Interestingly, after a few years as I updated this post, Pusan officially turned into Busan, along with the other similar places starting with the same letter including Bucheon following suit — with the major festivals’ names evolving accordingly — Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) and Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN).

Based on my observation, a huge chunk of local festival attendees is the younger generation. Their questions and inquiries during Q & A’s are quite consistent, which in particular ways, show how much value they put in the films they see.

Noticeably, most Korean films, whether on the action and epic genres, or melodrama and comedy genres, have a certain kind of violence in them. Perhaps, as with my discussions with a number of Korean and non-Korean film professionals, this can be traced from the many facets of the country’s history, the conflicts and wars fought, the continuing tension between the north and the south, and the requirement of every Korean man (which is also open to interested Korean women), to strictly enter two years of military service.

So far, the film industry generally copes up with the concerns on free trade and a lower screen quota (implementing a policy on how many Korean films and how many foreign films/Hollywood films should be shown by Korean theaters in a given period). The competition actually increased the regional and international presence of Korean films. In fact, through the years, there has been an exponential growth in export sales of Korean films through it. Just like with the growth of the Asian film industries in India, Hong Kong, Japan, and China, the reflections on the Korean film industry, especially from the 1990’s up to the present, offer a good perspective on how film industries outside the United States break way from Hollywood’s trail. The advancement of Korean films in regional and global markets provides an alternative way to understand the global cultural flows, which other country’s film industries (like the Philippines) could study, and even adapt accordingly.

After a few years of having a lower screen quota, the fear of cultural invasion, often made self-evident with the global dominance of Hollywood, is not anymore something that shakes the Korean film industry big time. It is interesting to note that after 40 years of high screen quota, the recent changes has proven that the Koreans already have a taste for their own films. More than just the patriotic characteristic of Korean culture, a number of Korean films clearly reflect that much passion and emotion, as what Koreans collectively experienced in their history: how much people long for possible reunification from the division of the peninsula and have peace of mind of not being at war or even being in a mere ceasefire. All these has an impact in people’s core values. As a whole, the Koreans protect their own film industry in their own ways.

The operation of the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) plays a significant role on the further development of the Korean film industry. Being an established council stabilized by leaders and artists, including the chairman, the commissioners, and various officials implementing film policies and various projects for the industry, KOFIC plays a vital part in making executive and administrative decisions, providing grants and funding, maintaining film researches, and promoting and supporting Korean films and filmmakers in the local and international circuit. Being a quasi-organization (partly governmental and partly private), it becomes a more effective, balanced, and credible venue for the further development of the Korean film industry.

It is also interesting to note that 3% of film ticket sales in the country goes to KOFIC, along with a part of the budget coming from the government, which then adds to a rewarding workflow that if the film industry is doing good, KOFIC as the major force in helping the industry will also gain more budget for its many projects: acquiring data and statistics and conducting researches; sponsoring and organizing film festivals; providing film grants; calling out credible juries and film professionals for international film selections, programming, and various film projects; allotting film funding for significant local and international collaborations/partnerships/co-productions; creating promotional materials and activities to extend the scope of Korean cinema to the world; making developmental projects and trainings for film professionals; implementing better access to film materials including the free access to local and international films for anyone through the KOFIC Library and the Korean Film Archive (KOFA); among other things. Indeed, considering all these and how KOFIC and the Korean film industry work together, the mutually beneficial endeavor coming from this partnership creates a harmonious relationship between KOFIC and the film workers.

How can the Philippines learn from this neighboring country whose film industry now thrives in a global scale? It is clearly quite a complicated matter and the solution requires long-term cultural and legislative changes. But in a nutshell, government support should be the key driving force to get things started, have things done, and keep things going.

Rianne Hill Soriano
Rianne is a director, writer, educator, and consultant in film and commercial productions. From mainstream essentials to independent flair, she knows the drill in making entertaining and well-meaning productions. She can lead a pack passionate about extreme action and technological edge; she can breathe an endearing and sentimental style for a team with a sweet disposition.

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