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Korean Films’ and Cinemas Transformations Term Paper

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Updated: May 11th, 2020


Over the recent past, Korean films and cinemas have evolved and experienced several transformations. The films examine a number of issues that affect the daily livelihoods of Korean communities. Some of the issues that are evident in the films relate to politics, economy, and oppression. In the 1960s, the cinema industry in Korea underwent tremendous and profound transformations that characterized a movement from past conventional and less influential films to the introduction of modern and more influential cinemas. The transformation was an outcome of the period called ‘Korean New Wave’, which individuals deemed by the Korean society championed as the new generation of the 1960s-1980s. As a result, the film industry in Korea started attracting attention and purchases from both the domestic and the international markets. Therefore, the paper explains the similarities and differences of the New Wave and postmodern Korean cinemas and emphasizes the grotesque body and bodily experience as a source of truth and knowledge in the films.


The Korean film industry is among the leading in the world. The demand for the films comprises the domestic and international markets. Evidently, the new development and increased demand owe its emergence to the transformations and movements in the 1980s-1990s (Min 36). The film experts and individuals in Korea contributed to the transformations and movements during the period of the New Wave. Politics, economy, and oppression are some of the main issues that the New Wave and postmodern films address. Imperatively, the films employ authenticity and innovation to ensure that they successfully emphasize on the concept of grotesque body and bodily experience and form the basis of truth and knowledge. Some of the similarities that the New Wave and postmodern Korean films embody include politics, economy, and oppression, whereas the differences encompass the style of presentation or mode of approach. Through effectual application of the concept, filmmakers reach out successfully to their target audience in Korea and globally.



Since the new generation deemed as the baby boomers of Korea experienced a diversity of challenges that incorporate political oppression and exploitation, the issue of politics is an issue that is central in Korean films. Therefore, the New Wave films such as Minjung, Chilsu, and Mansu clearly demonstrate the significance of liberation and freedom from political oppression exercised by leaders of the time. During the 1960s-1980s, several people from the intellectual and film industry of Korea started a movement towards political liberation and democracy (Moon 43). The events witnessed by the new generation were a major driving force that led to the coining of politics as a main element in the films. For instance, Minjung film derives its name from ‘the people’ and reflects a political movement in Korea.

The issue of politics is also evident in the film The Memory of Murder though from a different approach used by the filmmakers. The film uses an investigative documentary that encompasses a series of rape and murders in a small village. In the film, the detectives believe that they know the suspects and see things that are correct and right. Conversely, the detectives eventually realize that there are oblivious of the suspects, and thus, become confused and disillusioned. The elements of know-it-all, oblivion, and confusion in the encounters of the detectives in the film are practical elements that occurred in Korea during the 1990s period (Corrigan 8). During the period, the Korean political system and governance experienced several challenges that led to insecurity, massacres, and economic crises. Therefore, although the film explains elements using a different approach it still emphasizes the true grotesque body and political experiences in Korea.


The economy is an issue that features in several parts of the new generation and the postmodern Korean films. The fact that Koreas economy went through economic crisis during the period of 1960-1980 implies that filmmakers cannot downplay its significance in presenting the truth and grotesque picture initiated by the crisis. In new generation movies, also known as, the New Wave films, the crisis associated with Korean economy is evident in oppression and exploitation that leaders during the period of 1960-1980 executed. The themes of crime, violence, and murder are in several new generation films serve to substantiate the issue of the economy and its effects on the Korean citizens. Li explains that crimes and the Korean economic crisis, which took place in the late part of the 20th century, have close relationship (30). Films such as Chilsu and Mansu are outcomes of political and economic effects that were apparent during the growth and training of the individuals involved in the film making process.

Consequently, postmodern Korean films also express several issues that relate to the economy. Just like the new generation films, the issue of the economy in several postmodern films in Korea presents the economic issues using themes such as crime, sex, and murder. For instance, in the film, The Memory of Murder, the filmmakers use the symbolic detectives to depict the characters and behaviors of various Korean leaders of the time. According to Moon, the detectives, who initially believe in their actions and later encounter the reality, symbolizes Korean leaders (43). Initially, Korean leaders believed that they were doing the right thing, but they realized later that what they thought was right was indeed what plunged the country into an economic crisis. The realization state of the Korean leaders is what the film likens to the detectives, who realized that they were indeed the ones under observation. Soon after the realization, the Korean film industry as well as its economy started improving, and thus, the boom in the film industry and the country’s economy.


The New Wave filmmakers use the films to explain the effect that oppression had on the citizens of Korea. In addition, the films bring to the fore, the truth of the grotesque events that people need to understand so that they can avoid any recurrence. The new generation films such as Minjung, Chilsu, and Mansu are full of instances where the rich and leaders oppress and exploit the underprivileged in the society. In films such as Minjung, social movements that championed for liberation and freedom are evident. The evidence of the movements implies that oppression existed, and thus, the citizens wanted to free themselves from the oppression and its effects. It is significant to understand that various filmmakers base their films on events and issues that took place during their lifetimes because they have an extensive understanding of the events (Corrigan 8). Therefore, since most of the individuals involved in new generation films grew up and schooled in the 20th century, they have an exceptional understanding of the issue of the oppression.

Similarly, postmodern Korean films explain the truth about the oppression and instill knowledge to the contemporary citizens using different approaches. Various postmodern films explain the importance of doing the right things for humanity and filmmakers use them as means of highlighting the existence of oppression and minimizing its impacts. For example, in The Memories of Murder, the film employs the gaze as a symbol to explain the character of some individuals, who do things and believe that they are right (Li 22). In the film, the gaze of the detectives eventually becomes functionless as they realize that their gaze is not the only one since other people are observing them. However, the film concludes with an expression of light and hope that is practical with the advent of democracy, which is present in various aspects in modern society.



The issues elaborated in the New Wave and postmodern Korean films comprise similar issues such as politics, economy, and oppression. Although the films present the truth about the state of issues in Korea, the mode of presentation in New Wave and postmodern films is different. The difference is dependent on the periods of production when the filmmakers designed the films. The mode of presentation in several New Wave films employs grand narratives in their attempt to explain their themes. As a result, the emphasis on the grotesque body and bodily experience as a source of truth and knowledge in the films is very elaborate. Min explains that the ability to convey the truth and instill knowledge in New Wave films owes its existence to the movements that occurred in the Korean film industry in the 1980s and 1990s (37). The ability to present the truth and empower people with knowledge that Korean films have is one of the major factors that distinguish Korean cinemas from Japanese films.

Postmodern Korean films usually help address issues in politics, economy, and oppression using different modes of presentation. From the movement and transformations that commenced in the late 20th century, there are several developments evident in postmodern Korean films. Innovation and creativity are some of the elements that a number of filmmakers employ in the production of postmodern Korean films. Understanding the target audience of the film is a factor that filmmakers need to use so that they can increase their sales and reach out to their target audience effectively (Corrigan 8). Therefore, the use of grand narratives changed, and thus, a variety of postmodern films in Korea use small creative stories that captivate the audience in conveying the intended message and emphasizing the significance of experiences and lessons of the events that occasioned during the 1960s-1980s.


Korean films have transformed significantly from the mid to late 20th century. The transformation saw the film industry in Korea change from a low-income industry to one of the highest and leading income earners in the country. The transformation is an era that the Korean community calls the New Wave. As a result, several films in the aftermath of the New Wave effectively conveyed the message to the audience. Some of the major issues that the films present include politics, economy, and oppression. Through the transformation, the objective and goal of emphasizing the grotesque body and bodily experience as a source of truth and knowledge in postmodern new Korean films becomes achievable. Some of the similarities that the New Wave and postmodern films have in Korea include presentation of issues in politics, economy, and oppression, whereas the differences include the mode of approach or presentation.

Works Cited

Corrigan, Timothy. A Short Guide to Writing about a Film. Boston: Pearson Publishers, 2012. Print.

Li, Jinying. “Clowns, crimes, and capital: popular crime-comedies in post-crisis Korea. ” Film International 7.2 (2003): 20-35. Print.

Min, Hyunjun. Kim Ki-duk and the Cinema of Sensations. Michigan: ProQuest, 2008. Print.

Moon, Jae-Cheol. “The Meaning of Newness in Korean Cinema: Korean New Wave and After.” Korean Journal 46.1 (2006): 36-60. Print.

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