Having been immersed in the Korean film industry for 6 months through a film training program in Seoul in 2008, I should say that the Koreans’ love for cinema is quite impressive. Having attended the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF), Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (PIFAN), and Jecheon International Music Film Festival (JIFF), I was able to get a sense of the country’s passion for cinema.
Based from my observation, the demographics of local festival audiences is more on the younger generation. And 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 enter 2 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 has actually increased the regional and international presence of Korean films. In fact, 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 is a good means to look into how film industries outside the U. S. can somehow break way from Hollywood’s tail. 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. And more than just the patriotic characteristic of the Korean culture, many Korean films reflect much passion and emotion to what they experienced in their history: how much the Korean people long for possible reunification from the division of the peninsula and have peace of mind of not being in war or even being in a mere ceasefire. All these touché the core of the people. As a whole, the Koreans protect their own film industry in their own ways.
The operation of Korean Film Council (KOFIC) also 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, 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. And so, this really becomes a mutually beneficial endeavor creating a more 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? Government support is the driving force to get things started, have things done, and keep things going.