A Quick Guide to South Korean Cinema

Korea is currently at the height of its Cinematic output. Although many films of recent years have been stylistically dubious, such as Snowpiercer (2013), Flu (2013), and Commitment (2013), for the select few that seek to expand their cultural knowledge there exists a constant throughout nearly all Korean Cinema, linking the poor films (Reptile 2001; 1999) to the spectacular (Oldeuboi; 2003).

This constant, whether conscious or unconscious, is the dynamic interplay between social, cultural, and national phenomena in and through its ‘mise en scène.’ What makes Korean Cinema so fascinating is that beyond the infancy of its cinematic technique exists a multiplicity of phenomena placed incisively throughout each picture.

I will list some cultural sensations which one should keep a keen eye for when viewing Korean films. I have listed a piece of Korean media alongside a few of the bullet points in order to illustrate my explanations. Keep in mind the length of this post, and the fact that no eight-point list can be wholly encompassing of an entire culture.

1.      The Fantastic, Shared, and Accessible food experience (Let’s Eat; 2013): Living in Korea the food experience is unrivaled. Pop up restaurants as far as the eye can see, chicken and beer a national staple (Chimaek/치맥), and experimentation accepted as standard (Strawberry, shrimp, and bologna pizza anyone?)

2.      Plastic Surgery (Shi gan; 2006): is so common in Korea that they have entire areas, or neighborhoods, in Seoul dedicated to the practice. When traveling to the famous street, Garosu-gil, I was told by my native friend to get off at the Plastic Surgery Station.

3.      Sogaeting (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZOuKn1u0VQ): matchmaking has long become taboo in the Western sphere, with a few isolated exceptions, but is quite common in South Korea. Among the many people I met there only one or two said they’d never been on a blind date.

4.      National pride (71: Into the Fire; 2010): is so fervent in Korea it almost forces you to feel the same pride vicariously through your peers. For simply wearing the South Korean colors, I was interviewed by SeoulTV, put on a Starcraft promo spot, and requested to take pictures by an armada of locals.

5.      [Insert]-bang (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2sAPfqgvXw); https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k70xBg8en-4): Bang means room in Korean, and if you can name the activity they have a bang for it. PC-bang, Wii-bang, DVD-bang, Xbox-bang, Jjimjilbang (bathouse), etc.

6.      Social boozing (My Sassy Girl; 2001): Koreans go hard when it comes to drinking. Soju (the national liquor of Korea) is the most consumed alcohol in the world, and Korea has a population of only 50 million. With the world’s largest per-capita alcohol consumption South Korea’s spirirts market is 97% Soju.

7.      Work ethics: Koreans not only party hard, but also work hard. 98% of Koreans finish secondary school, 65% attend College/University, on average work 45 hours per week, and sleep an average of just under six hours a day.

8.      Connectivity: Their Internet penetration is higher than 80%, rivaling the United States. With a near 100% smartphone penetration among teens and young adults. It is no surprise that the government considers the Internet a national resource providing equal and affordable accessibility to the entire country, even going as far as subsidizing private networks in order to support a collective public connectivity.

All of these things can be found imbued within Korea’s cinema. Many films go as far as to shape their stylistic and narrative goals around these values. Although there are many resources at your fingertips I highly suggest anyone interested in Korean Cinema go take advantage of Yonge and Dundas Cineplex’s selection. They screen all the latest Korean films.

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