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Early Korean Cinema

The dynamic cinematic culture of Korea in the 1990s is evident in the recent hosting of various events: the Pusan International Film Festival, the Women's Film Festival in Seoul, the Puch'non Fantastic Film Festival, Indie Film Festival. These events, not to mention the impressive presence of film goers at art house cinemas, is the result of the Korean people's active engagement with the film industry since the turn of the century.

The period when the cinema was invented and circulated globally was also the heyday of imperialism and industrial capitalism. At the beginning of the 20th century, Korea was forced to open its ports to various foreign countries-Japan, Russia, Germany, and America. As a progeny of modernity, the film industry was at first conceived as a medium of enlightenment to Korean intellectuals who were learning about the modernizing forces that were penetrating all of East Asia at that time.

Burton Holmes, an American world traveler who wrote voluminous travelogues, visited Korea in 1889 with his staff members. He brought a little motion picture machine and the portable projector to Korea, and attracted the people in the city of Seoul. This film stands as the first cinematic documentary of Korea. The royal family, taking a great interest in this Holmes' camera, invited his group to the palace and enjoyed the film show. Following this incident, Koreans also had the opportunity to view early films from America, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan, including the commodity promotion events for the American Tobacco Company and the English-American Electric Company.

Korean cinema developed during the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945). During the 1920s, local film makers mixed traditional modes of representation with foreign modes. Kinedrama, a characteristic type of this kind of cinema, emerged around 1919 with the film Euirijok poksu (Righteous Revenge). Kinedrama played a crucial role in making the transition from a traditional live performance-based drama to one played on the screen. Soon thereafter, the first "modern" film made its debut. Kukkyong (The State Border, 1923) gradually replaced the kinedrama form and the landscape of cinematic culture was changed forever.

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Information provided by the Korean Embassy


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