Two years ago, the black comedy/thriller film Parasite took the academy awards by storm, taking out the awards for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film, and became the first non-English speaking film to receive the award for Best Picture. What’s interesting about this film receiving so much acclaim and commendation internationally isn’t just the film itself, but the fact that it comes from a country that just over 25 years prior barely had its own films shown in cinema. Today we’re going to look at South Korea’s massive cultural boom, Hallyu, and the integral role the government played in supporting the Korean creative industry.
Coming from years of dictatorship, the Korean film industry was at a low in the early 1990’s when the country regained democracy. In 1993, a mere 16% of box office films shown in Korea were native productions. Yet a mere 20 years later this figure had jumped to 50%, with 9 out of the 10 top films at the Korean box office being Korean. So how did this wave of support for culture industries cultivate?
Soft power is a term used to denote a persuasive approach to international relations, as opposed to using military or economic force. It is often administered through cultural means, through things such as film, TV, and music. Coming out of a prolonged authoritative and censored period for Korean arts, the government saw a need to support their industry in order for it to make a return, and ideally prove useful as a soft power tool for fostering healthier international relations. They did this through tax benefits, workforce training, and increased investment in their cultural industries. There was also the introduction of legislation that called for Korean films to be screened in cinemas for 146 days a year, which led to an exorbitant increase in the films being made. Slowly the products of Korean culture began saturating the market, and into the markets of its Chinese and Japanese neighbours. Hallyu was beginning to sweep the world.
In the book “New Korean Wave : Transnational Cultural Power in the Age of Social Media”, Dal Yong Jin examines how Hallyu can be sustained. Jin concludes the first chapter by enforcing the government’s success in pushing Hallyu through support of cultural industries, though noting that “.. the Korean government has taken a major role because the cultural industries need active governmental intervention to grow as commodities, not as part of the national arts” (2016). This major role within a sector that normally sees smaller government involvement can provide positives and negatives for the creative industry: on one hand, the industry is able to sustain growth and continue to be an international cultural superpower; on the other hand it encourages promotion of the country with less focus on the actual cultural act of creativity.
Regardless of the effect, the role the Korean government plays in supporting it’s creative industry proves integral to its continued development, not just economically, but culturally as well. For a country that less than 30 years ago had both these industries on a tight reign of censorship, I’d say that’s a pretty important step forward.
Jin, Dal. New Korean Wave : Transnational Cultural Power in the Age of Social Media, University of Illinois Press, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uow/detail.action?docID=4443546.