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Recently rediscovered as the eccentric master of Korean cinema
during the 1960s and 1970s', Kim Ki-young came to the fore during the second
Pusan International Film Festival in 1997. He is now widely recognized as one of
the leading postwar directors. His films show a wide spectrum of
experimentation, from genre films to highly unconventional ones. His most
notable films are psychological dramas that deal primarily with female
characters. A good example is his film entitled The Housemaid (Hanyo,
1960), whose main character is a femme fatale. The Housemaid is
often praised as one of Kim's most exemplary works. Kim directed 31 films until
his death in 1998.
Im Kwon-taek has been making a name for himself both in the
national and international scene. It has been frequently pointed out that Im
Kwon-taek came of age with the completion of his master piece, Mandala
(1980). Having made films since 1962, he was known primarily as one of those
directors who churned out genre quickies, often at the rate of eight per year.
From the watershed year of 1980, however, his works have enjoyed a privileged
status of art-house cinema, combined with top box office hits. His renewed
status also overlaps with a period known as "New Korean Cinema" or
"New Wave," terms that have started to gain currency recently. Along
with New Wave directors Park Kwang-su and Chang Son-woo,
Im has achieved international recognition. Although his work still shares many
of the cinematic features with 1960s Korean cinema, his work has a strong
following even among contemporary film enthusiasts.
One of the most controversial film-maker and producer, Shin
Sang-ok has produced a prolific and wide-ranging body of work since the 1950s.
Films such as the Yi Dynasty's Cruel History of Women (Yicho yoinui
chanhoksa) and The Houseguest and My Mother both take a critical look at
Confuci-anism. Shin Sang-ok remains as a major contributor to Korean cinema for
his mastery of the cinematic genre. His films contain brilliant mobilization of
the mise-en-scene, superb acting and innovative editing techniques.
The contribution of Yu Hyon-mok to
Korean film history is also crucial. He is often cited as the leading figure who
has inherited the legacy of the social commentary-type film so popular during
the colonial period. The Stray Bullet (1961) is one of his most exemplary
themes, and a turning to more optimistic stories.
Titles like The Road of Happiness (1956) and Love
the Future (1959) indicate that films were being used
to rally the country into rebuilding after the devastation
of the war.
IMDB lists only two films for North Korea for the
entire decade of the 1960s: A Spinner (1964) and Boidchi
annun dchonson (1965). One of the most highly-regarded
films in North Korea, Sea of Blood, was produced in
1969. The entrance hall to the Korean Feature Film Studio
contains a mural of current "Dear Leader", Kim
Jong-il supervising the production of this film. This is a
two-part, black and white film. The first part is 125
minutes in duration, and the second is 126 minutes.
Kim Il-sung made a famous call for juche art in
1966, saying, "Our art should develop in a
revolutionary way, reflecting the Socialist content with
the national form". In a 1973 treatise on film
entitled Theory of Cinematic Art, Kim Jong-il
further developed this idea of juche art into the
cinema, claiming that it is cinema's duty to help develop
the people into "true communists", and as a
means "to completely eradicate capitalist
elements". The ideology-heavy nature of North Korean
cinema during the 1970s can be seen in titles such as The
People Sing of the Fatherly Leader and The Rays of
Juche Spread All Over the World.
Part of this ideological usage of the arts was a
treating of the same subjects repeatedly through various
art forms. Consequently, the most prominent films of the
era took their stories and titles from pre-existing
novels, ballets or operas. The film Sea of Blood
was also an opera and a symphony, as well as the name of
an opera company. Future Minister of Culture, Choe
Ik-kyu's The Flower Girl (Korean: 꽃
파는 처녀; Kkotpaneun
Cheonyeo) (1972, 130 min.) later was remade as a
dance. This film won a special prize and special medal at
the 18th International Film Festival, and is one of the
more well-known North Korean films of the 1970s.
Unsung Heroes, a 20-part spy film about the
Korean War, was released between 1978 and 1981; it
achieved notice outside of North Korea two decades later
mainly because United States Forces Korea defector Charles
Robert Jenkins played a role as a villain and the husband
of one of the main characters.
With 14 listings, the 1980s is the best-represented
decade for North Korea at IMDB. A possible turning to less
didactic subjects is indicated with a 1986 production of
the popular stories like Chunhyang-jon (1980 - 155
min.) and Hong kil dong (Hangul: 홍길동)
(1986 - 115 min.).
Probably the most well-known North Korean film
internationally is the science-fiction giant-monster epic,
Pulgasari (Hangul: 불가사리)
(1985), directed by kidnapped South-Korean director Shin
Sang-ok. Multi-part films promoting the Juche ideology,
including Star of Korea and The Sun of the
Nation were also produced in the 1980s. North Korean
animation produced for domestic consumption is reportedly
less politically dogmatic during this period, resulting in
a large adult audience.At least one international
co-production has been filmed in North Korea, Ten Zan -
Ultimate Mission, directed by Italian director
Ferdinando Baldi and starring American Frank Zagarino.
IMDB lists only four North Korean films made in the
1990s. The Nation and Destiny (Korean: 민족과
운명; Minjokgwa ummyeong) is
a 56-part series of movies produced from 1992–1999, on
Korean subjects and people like General Choi Duk Shin
(parts 1-4) and composer Yun I-sang (parts 5, 14-16).
The 2000s appear to be reasonably productive for North
Korean cinema, having five listings so far. In a sign of
thawing relations, the animated film, Empress Chung
(2005), is a co-production of South and North Korea. This
film is said to be the first released simultaneously in
both countries. Another recent North/South co-production
is the 3-D animated television series Lazy Cat Dinga.
box office records
The numbers indicate amount of tickets sold, not
financial gross (as of January 23, 2011). Data from Korean
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