Though several notable films were made during the liberation period (1945–1950), cinema became a mature industry only after the Korean War (1950–1953) had ended. Known as the "Golden Age," cinema was easily the most popular entertainment form during the two decades that followed the Korean War. It had posed some serious competition for Hollywood, not only locally but also in other parts of Asia, including Hong Kong. Throughout the 1960s and the early 1970s, Ch'ungmuro, a district in Seoul, was home to one of the most profitable and active industries in the world, producing at its peak (1968–1971) over two hundred films a year. Nearly half of the 170 million tickets (the entire population was just over 30 million) in 1972, for instance, were sold for the screening of local films.

Among the films that still receive critical attention, most of them were produced around 1960. The creative vacuum that the intellectual community had suffered during the Korean War—through deaths, psychic injuries, and mass defections to the North—had begun to change by the late 1950s and the early 1960s. The trauma of war—along with a rapid pace of modernization, changing roles of gender, and postwar recovery—was a source of dramatic inspiration for many young filmmakers. The films that best represent this unique era, Hanyŏ ( The Housemaid , Kim Ki-young, 1960), Sarangbang sonnim kwa ŏmŏni ( The Houseguest and My Mother , Shin Sang-ok, 1961), Obalt'an ( The Stray Bullet , Yu Hyun-mok, 1961), and Mabu ( The Coachman , Kang Tae-jin, 1961) were all released within a two-year period.

Though every genre of films imaginable—horror, comedy, action thrillers, martial arts, and even musicals—were made and viewed during this period, it was melodrama that was by far the most powerful and successful genre. Caught between the modern ideals of freedom and the traditional mores of chastity and virtuous motherhood, women were often the protagonists whose personal dilemmas punctuated the film's central theme. In Shin Sang-ok's (1926–2006) The Houseguest and My Mother , for example, a widow still clothed in traditional hanbok has a love affair with a schoolteacher who is a boarder at her house. The film's narrative naturalizes the modern-day desire that drives the mother and the house-guest together, challenging the orthodox moral codes that require widows to remain in mourning their entire lives.

Im Kwon-Taek's romantic epic Chunhyang (2000), with Hyo-Jeong Lee and Cho Seung Woo.
This vibrant cinematic period came to a screeching halt in 1973 when the military government radically restructured and censored the film industry. For the next twenty years, all surviving production companies had to meet strict government guidelines, which required them to devote themselves, at least partially, to the moral revamping of the nation. As it turned out, these requirements forced the film industry to churn out, on one hand, government propaganda films and "quality films" (awards given to the best adaptations of major literary works), which almost always lost money, and on the other, B-grade erotic movies, which served to make up for this loss.

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