|Actor Song Kang-ho, third from left, waves as he arrived at Incheon International Airport, Wednesday. He, along with some other members of the "Parasite" team, returned to Seoul after wrapping up their U.S. trip to Los Angeles for the 92nd Academy Awards. / Yonhap|
'Parasite' likened to 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'
By Kang Hyun-kyung, Park Ji-won
Can the Korean cinema boom last? If so, for how long?
While watching the broadcast on Monday of director Bong Joon-ho winning awards at the Oscars for the critically acclaimed film "Parasite", some were wondering if Korean cinema is capable of producing masterpieces like it again in the future.
Among others, "Parasite" has been lauded for its rare combination of artistry and commercial success.
Experts are divided but in general they were not so positive about the prospect for further homegrown movies that can rock the global movie market like Parasite has.
Cho Jun-hyoung, a senior researcher at the Korean Film Archive in Seoul, said there are few filmmakers who are as talented as Bong Joon-ho or Park Chan-wook, another film-making sensation.
"Korean cinema is currently dominated by filmmakers in their 50s, better known as the '586' Generation, and post-Bong Joon-ho filmmakers appear to be hard pressed," he said. "As the generation dominates in other fields, so it is in the film industry."
Cho said Bong and a few other talented filmmakers triggered the Korean cinema boom, which began from the late 1990s through to 2011. But he said there are no other subsequent filmmakers who truly standout as Bong and Park have created movies that can meet the tough conditions of artistry and commercial success.
"What's worse is that the two greats appear to have passed their peak," he said. "But I think Korean cinema can be a subject of interest in North America in the next couple of years due to the stunning success of 'Parasite.' But whether it can be sustainable or not is a different story."
Korea's cinema boom was rekindled in the 1990s with the arrival on the scene of some talented filmmakers. Cho said deregulation and the lifting of censorship during the Kim Dae-jung government in the late 1990s also helped Korean cinema enter a new era. "There was a market for movies and moviegoers flocked to theaters," he said.
Some film critics likened "Parasite"'s epic win at the 92nd Academy Awards to the surprising rise of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" at the 73rd Oscars. The Chinese wuxia film, directed by Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee and featuring several Chinese actors, nabbed four awards ― best foreign language, best art direction, best original score and best cinematography. Although it created a buzz back then, Chinese films haven't seen any other epic wins at the Oscars since.
"Pasite"s stunning success has caused some to speculate on whether South Korean cinema will follow the Chinese precedent or be a long-lived phenomenon.
Christina Klein, a professor at Boston College in the United States, said the Chinese film failed to cause an explosion of interest in world cinema.
"When 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' won four Oscars in 2001, many people predicted it would open the floodgates to Asian cinema. That didn't quite happen, but Ang Lee's career flourished and he did win best director at the Oscars for 'Brokeback Mountain' in 2006," she said in a previous interview with The Korea Times.
Culture critic Ha Jae-geun was cautiously optimistic about the future of Korean cinema, saying he would not rule out the possibility that more movies like "Parasite" can be released as the infrastructure is in place.
"Although I am positive about the prospects of Korean cinema, this doesn't necessarily mean that Korean movies will win more Oscars or Cannes International Film Festival awards because winning these overseas is a different story," he said. "What I am saying is Korean cinema has the potential to produce another 'Parasite,' though."
Ha said "Parasite" cannot be compared to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," noting the Chinese film was made with investment from Hollywood.
The success of Bong's film in Hollywood has coincided with the rise of BTS in the North American mainstream music industry.
Culture critic Jung Duk-hyun said growing interest in Korean films and pop music in North America seems to be associated with the millennial generation.
"People are talking about millennials as the reason behind the rise of Korean culture in the United States," he said. "These younger consumers are different from their older cohorts in that they like the artists regardless of their nationality or race if they strike a chord with them. This is something new and a quality harder to find among the older generation of consumers who are more conservative. We, in the older generation, find it harder to open our minds to foreign culture."
For Korean cinema, Jung said globalization is not an option.
"South Korean filmmakers are in a situation to look outward and seek out foreign markets because, unlike China or Japan, we don't have a big domestic market," he said.
Experts say achieving diversity in Korean cinema is an urgent task to ensure it continues to succeed in overseas markets.
Ha said theaters and even the government need to work on ways to secure theaters for indie films to be screened. "This is what the government is supposed to do to encourage indie filmmakers to continue to produce creative work," he said.