From Old Boys to Quiet Dreams: Mapping Korean Art Cinema Today
Skip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Please contact email@example.com to use this work in a way not covered by the license. :
For more information, read Michigan Publishing's access and usage policy.
This essay theorizes Korean art cinema today through an analysis of domestic festivals (especially Busan, Jeonju, and Bucheon), major festivals abroad (particularly Cannes, Berlin, and Toronto), and various other institutions in order to provide a comprehensive mapping of how art cinema within Korea currently operates. Using sociological theories of taste pioneered by Pierre Bourdieu, the paper shows how the dominant name auteurs of Korea, particularly Park Chan-wook and Lee Chang-dong, were established through international festivals, beginning in the 1990s but exploding in the 2000s, at the same time as Korean films began to compete with and surpass Hollywood films at the local box office. These filmmakers were shaped by the changing ideas of art cinema globally, as theorized by scholars such as David Andrews, and the dominance of these figures thus helped shape the domestic festivals, with younger Korean directors often following within these traditions. The rise of the domestic box office helped create an independent cinema within the country, not unlike the emergence of indie cinema in the United States during the blockbuster era, which had the consequence of both increasing opportunities for young directors while often pigeon-holing them into narrow niches.
The 2016 Busan International Film Festival’s opening film, Zhang Lu’s Choon-mong (A Quiet Dream), appears as something of a light trifle, about a young woman who runs a small café and takes care of her father, all the while carrying on a friendship and flirtation with three misfit men who are to varying degrees infatuated with her. It would be odd for such a film to open one of the world’s biggest film festivals, if not for the various extra-textual aspects surrounding it, contexts that are understandable primarily to not just a general festival audience, but very specifically to a Korean festival audience. The director, Zhang Lu, is relatively unknown outside of Korea, as are the principal actors: Han Ye-ri, Park Jung-bum, Yang Ik-joon, and Yoon Jong-bin. But for fans of Korean film, much of the humour comes from the three male characters being played by Korean directors, as well as the lead, Han Ye-ri, being the star of many Korean independent films. In other words, this is a very self-aware film, one that has become possible because of the rise of Korean cinema over the past two decades. This development can be seen not just in the mainstream success of local films within the Korean market, but the whole field of art cinema that has emerged and continues to evolve. This essay will theorize Korean art cinema today through an analysis of both domestic festivals (especially Busan, Jeonju, and Bucheon) and major festivals abroad (particularly Cannes, Berlin, and Toronto), as well as the major auteurs to have emerged from this context, with a particular focus on filmmakers Park Chan-wook and Lee Chang-dong as contrasting and representative examples.
Before discussing Korea specifically, it is necessary to first look at international art cinema more broadly from a sociological perspective. In his recent book Theorizing Art Cinema, David Andrews puts forth a more flexible use of the art cinema label, arguing that it is not so much a closed historical category as it is something broader and more elastic, more similar to terms like “mainstream cinema” and “cult cinema” than with narrow genres like “westerns” or “neo-realism.”  While art cinema continues to connote ideas of cinematic quality and opposition to commercial concerns, it has in fact broadened beyond the traditional definition first established with the influx of mostly European films into America following World War II. But this is not to say that taste distinctions have disappeared and that the term “art cinema” no longer has any usefulness:
Throughout the academy, “art” no longer has the exclusionary resonance that it once had. But this is not to say that art has lost its privileged place in our culture. This is why the honorific sense of “art cinema” can be illogical yet retain its distinction in mainstream criticism, at film festivals, and in the art houses that continue to operate. 
The point here is that the idea of art cinema continues to shape the contemporary world cinema scene, even as films that previously would be unacceptable for inclusion under this umbrella are becoming recognized. Korea provides a particularly illuminating case study to analyze this process in action, as it is a country with both a mainstream cinema that is domestically competitive with (and even starting to dominate) Hollywood imports as well as having its own robust festival and cinephile culture. The question, then, is what makes a film qualify as “art cinema” today, and how does this distinction work when applied to Korean cinema? Andrews suggests three different ways in which a film can gain the art cinema designation: (1) being made within a legitimate sector devoted to traditional art movies; (2) secondary recognition from accredited audiences and institutions; and (3) evaluative contexts within their original areas of circulation, even if this area is an illegitimate sub-culture.  An examination of the Korean art cinema field shows both how this same process operates here as well as how some local specifics complicate these distinctions. There are, for example, films and filmmakers that would be obviously included in any definition of the term, while there are numerous others that have differing levels of legitimacy. The most obvious institutions in which to begin this analysis are film festivals, both foreign and especially domestic, for it is with festivals like Busan, Jeonju, and even Buchon that some of the uniqueness of the Korean art cinema can be illustrated. Indeed, it can be argued that it is only with the rise of these domestic festivals in the late 1990s that Korean art cinema begins to be established, leading to its explosion in international festivals like Cannes, Berlin and Toronto in the new millennium.
Four Quadrants of Korean Cinema
A mapping of aesthetic taste distinctions that can be applied usefully here is found in an example not from cinema studies, but rather the emerging field of comic scholarship: Bart Beaty and Benjamin Woo’s The Greatest Comic Book of All-Time: Symbolic Capital and the Field of American Comic Books. Beaty and Woo use the work of Pierre Bourdieu to analyze how the emerging field of comics works to legitimate itself and develop a group of canonical artists and texts. Particularly useful is their use of four quadrants to describe and place the various comic artists and their levels of prestige:
We begin by defining a space with two axes—economic capital (sales) on the horizontal and cultural capital (prestige) on the vertical. On the horizontal axis, one could arrange all of the comic books ever published. At the right would be the best-selling titles of all time, while on the left would be a collection of flops. Similarly, at the top of the vertical axis are the works that are the most widely reviewed and most widely taught, the award-winners that everyone is expected to have an opinion on. At the bottom of the vertical axis are those comics that disappear without notice, unreviewed, uncollected, unremembered. 
Divided this way, four quadrants can be seen: the first quadrant, on the upper right of the scale, features work both popular and prestigious. The second quadrant, on the upper left, would be prestigious works without such popular success. The third quadrant, on the bottom right, would be commercially successful works without cultural capital, while the bottom left quadrant represents work without any symbolic capital, lacking commercial viability and critical attention. Applied to the context of Korean cinema, we can see both the differences between the international versus domestic positioning of various auteurs as well as the evolution in these taste formations over the past few decades.
First of all, from a western perspective, almost all of Korean cinema prior to the 1990s was in the bottom left quadrant, completely invisible, with neither popularity nor prestige. And even as Korean cinema started to gain recognition, it was exclusively as “art cinema” and confined to the second quadrant, commercially limited but critically respected. The political upheaval of the 1980s led to democratic reforms and a greater openness for filmmakers to deal with political issues, resulting in a “Korean New Wave.”  However, while this movement begins the emergence of Korean art cinema, there is not a huge breakthrough internationally. There are actually fewer Korean films playing at the Toronto International Film Festival in the 1990s than the 1980s (13 compared to 17) and only 7 Korean films at Cannes, up only slightly from 2 in the 1980s. It is only in Berlin, with an increase of 27 films in the 1990s compared to 7 in the 1980s, that the signs of the coming explosion can be seen. But domestically within Korea itself, the situation has undergone an even greater upheaval. After decades of Hollywood domination at the box office, Korean cinema began to compete with its American counterparts and establish a popular domestic product. This begins with the huge success of the first “Korean blockbuster” Shiri in 1999 and continues moving forward through the next decade and a half, with Korean films equally and at times surpassing Hollywood at the domestic box office. In fact, since 2003, the top ten grossing films in Korea over this period are all domestic films, with the exception of James Cameron’s Avatar (2009).  Once this domestic mainstream becomes more dominant, the notion of a Korean art cinema starts to become more viable, and Korean cinema itself begins to explode internationally. Toronto goes from 13 Korean films in the 1990s to 51 in the 2000s; Cannes increases from 7 to 21, and Berlin from 27 to 48. The 2010s have continued this trend, with 31 Korean films thus far in Toronto, 19 in Cannes, and 36 in Berlin.  This has been supplemented with the rise of film festivals in Korea itself, most notably the Busan International Film Festival in 1997, as well as the Buchon International Fantastic Film Festival in 1997, the Jeonju International Film Festival in 2000, and various other smaller festivals throughout the country in the 2000s. All of this has led to the establishment of an art cinema institution within the country.
Back in 2007, Kim Mee-hyun attempted to describe the “aesthetic topography of Korean cinema,” dividing Korean filmmakers into four categories: (1) Film Buffs or the Supporters of Minor Genres (Park Chan-wook, Kim Jee-woon, Bong Joon-ho, as well as lesser known figures such as Lee Myung-se, Kim Sung-soo, Park Ki-hyung, Ryoo Seung-wan, and Jang Jeon-hwan); (2) Intimists (Hong Sang-soo, Kim Ki-duk, as well as less renowned directors like Bae Yong-kyun, Jeon Soo-il, and Song Il-gon); (3) Expanded Realists or National Realists (Im Kwon-taek, Jang Sun-woo, Lee Chang-dong, Park Kwang-su, Im Sang-soo, Hur Jin-ho, and Lee Kwang-mo); (4) Mainstream Currents (Kang Woo-suk, Kang Je-gyu, Kwak Kyung-taek, and Kim Sang-jin).  This breakdown is informative of a certain logic that remains within the categorization of cinema while also indicative of shifts in this field. The first three categories are all examples, in differing ways, of what we would describe as Korean art cinema today, while the fourth category is the popular, mainstream “other” which art cinema needs to define itself against. Thus, despite the enormous popularity of Park’s Oldboy (2003) and Bong’s Gwoe-mool (The Host) (2006), they are not included as “Mainstream Currents” but rather as “Film Buffs or Supporters of Minor Genres.” In other words, they are cinephile cult artists who have been legitimated internationally and critically in a way that the directors in the “Mainstream Currents” category have not. Already, as early as 2007, when Korean popular cinema, and thus by extension Korean art cinema, are just becoming established, there is this split between traditional art cinema filmmakers (the “intimists” and “realists”), the cult art directors, and the mainstream populists who need to be excluded. In the near decade since, these divisions have become even stronger, and the influences of Korean auteur “brand names” has begun to filter down through the domestic festivals and the independent domestic scene, both opening up spaces for younger directors while also imposing certain limits on the field. Of these brand name auteurs, Park Chan-wook and Lee Chang-dong are worth considering in greater detail, as they are representatives of two distinct branches of Korean art cinema. 
Park Chan-wook and the Emergence of the Korean Cult Cinephile Auteur
The biggest name is Korean cinema continues to be Park Chan-wook, and his success internationally has opened up Korean cinema for similar directors who make genre films aimed at both popular domestic and international festival crowds. Thus, although Bong Joon-ho and Kim Jee-woon are contemporaries of Park and began making films around the same time, it is fair to say that Park is the name that establishes the Korean cult director, and thus can be seen as influencing an entire generation. Rightly or wrongly, even directors with such sustained success and acclaim as Bong and Kim remain in Park’s shadow within the global field. Also, all three made a move into international filmmaking in the same year (2013), with Park’s Stoker, Bong’s Snowpiercer, and Kim’s The Last Stand, based upon their domestic box office success and art cinema reputations. Bong’s foray was the most acclaimed, and he has continued with an international production for Netflix in 2017 (Okja), while Park and Kim both returned to Korea and made acclaimed comebacks in 2016 with Agassi (The Handmaiden) and Mil-jeong (The Age of Shadows) respectively.  But Park’s work continues to be taken more seriously than either, especially outside of the country, as can be seen in the wide international acclaim for The Handmaiden. He also remains both a model for younger genre directors and a competitive obstacle. A good example of this would be Na Hong-jin, whose 2008 debut Choo-gyeok-ja (The Chaser) gathered a cult audience and whose most recent film Gok-seong (The Wailing) topped many domestic critics’ list of the best movies of 2016.  But outside of Korea, Na was not able to achieve nearly the same level of success, screening only Out of Competition at Cannes (as opposed to The Handmaiden’s Competition status) and failing to generate much buzz beyond cult audiences internationally, whereas The Handmaiden appeared on many international critics’ lists.  Other genre directors, such as Ryoo Seung-wan, remain very marginal figures internationally despite domestic success, closer to the mainstream designation than true auteur status, while a director like Lee Myung-se, who was not able to achieve sustained domestic box office success nor critical acclaim, has thus become a somewhat forgotten figure except for the occasional retrospective screenings at Korean festivals.
The fact that Park Chan-wook is the most recognizable name in Korean art cinema is indicative of Korea’s unique status within the global art cinema world. For despite his less respectable origins than other Asian filmmakers, Park has achieved a high level of crossover success. His association with the “Asia Extreme” branding provided a way for his work to break through to larger audiences even as it de-legitimatized him with many more traditional critics.  In other contexts, this could have de-railed his art cinema credentials completely, but this is no longer the case. I think there are many reasons for this, one being the simple fact that art cinema is generally becoming more accepting of cult tastes with the rise of various Fantastic film festivals around the world, most notably in Austin and, within Korea, in Buchon. More importantly I would argue is that Korean cinema has produced an increasing number of box office successes domestically over the past decade, becoming consistently competitive with Hollywood imports and creating a popular “other” that Park and other genre directors can distinguish themselves from. Without such a strong commercial domestic cinema, it is more difficult to create a diverse art cinema that allows for more non-traditional voices. In other national contexts, it would be easy to imagine another director emerging as the dominant voice, in the way that Japanese art cinema is represented by Kore-eda Hirokazu, Taiwan by Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Thailand by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
It is worth tracing Park’s background and the growth of his reputation in some detail, as his story both follows certain international trends while also being rather specific to his particular national background. Park began as a cinephile and film critic, and is often linked to Quentin Tarantino as a result. This is also due to the fact that Tarantino was the head of the 2004 Cannes jury that awarded Old Boy the Grand Prix, and Tarantino has continued to praise Park’s films in the following years.  But Park had a very different background, raised middle-class with a university professor father, and someone who did have an academic background, as opposed to the working class Tarantino, who lacked any academic training.  Park was aware not only of film directors, but also film theory, referencing essays such as Brian Henderson’s 1970 analysis of Godard in Film Quarterly, “Toward a Non-Bourgeois Camera Style,” while an undergraduate Philosophy student at Sogang University in Seoul.  Like Tarantino, he was born in 1963, and was the product of the rise of the video era. But while Tarantino worked as a video store clerk and never moved into formal criticism, Park began work as a professional critic, establishing his cinephile credentials by championing not only the respected art cinema classics but less respectable films and filmmakers, especially the work of Sam Peckinpah, citing Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) as a particular favorite. As Kim Young-jin argues, “(H)is standards of evaluation are clear. Instead of films that others could hold up as art films or call masterpieces in film textbooks, he found hidden films and explained why even their flaws were fascinating.”  He thus established himself early on as a cultist, and while, unlike Tarantino, he was unable to achieve a great deal of success with his early films of the 1990s, he did publish a collected work of film criticism, Videodrome: The Discreet Charm of Film-Watching (1996) that established him as an intellectual of the cult aesthetic. 
Within the national context, of particular importance was Park’s championing of the work of Kim Ki-young, who rose to prominence in the late 1990s and provided an important antecedent to Park’s eventual rise in the 2000s. Unlike the other major directors of Korea’s Golden Age of the 1960s, such as Shin Sang-ok, Lee Man-hee, and Yoo Hyeon-mok, who all focused on social dramas, Kim Ki-young was a filmmaker working in more disreputable genres, and thus an inspiration for the type of films Park Chan-wook wanted to make. Key to the forming of his reputation was a retrospective held at the 2nd Busan film festival in 1997, in which Kim was celebrated as a unique auteur (“Korea’s Master Stylist”) who was able to bring a distinctive vision to his low-brow material.  As a film critic, Park had written effusively about Kim’s films, and not only his more celebrated earlier work, such as Han-yo (The Housemaid) (1960). Park was particularly interested in Kim’s neglected and forgotten work of the 1970s, an era seen as a dark time in Korean cinema generally, in which directors had to work under adverse conditions with little time or money. This is despite Kim’s own dismissal of these movies, which he states were done in a “self-mocking mood” and which he did not take as seriously as his earlier work.  But for a cultist like Park, the very lack of critical support these films received was part of the appeal:
According to Park, there are two categories of film buffs. One is the kind who regards it as prerogative of the fan to memorize the lineage of film line by line and distinguish quotations taken from this or that film, and the other watches many films to arrive at the thought that any scene is possible and seeks to be free from the conventional. Of course, he feels that he is of the later group. 
Kim Ki-young being rediscovered and celebrated by both prestigious local festivals as Busan and by local critic/filmmakers like Park is part of a broader movement of Korean cinema as a whole to construct itself in the arenas of both national and world cinemas. As Chris Berry argued shortly after this initial recognition, Kim Ki-young was uniquely positioned within the art cinema economy in being anti-realist and anti-traditional, and thus capable of offering something new to international audiences, an dynamic that can be seen played out later with Park as well.  The retrospective at Busan opened up Kim’s work internationally, with a four-film retrospective at the Berlin film festival a few months later in 1998. The shaping of this space where cult cinema could negotiate between the popular and the art cinema would be crucial to Park moving forward.
In 2000, Park’s career took a very unusual turn: he directed a major commercial success domestically with the film J.S.A. (Joint Security Area), a thriller about South Korea-North Korea relations that followed on the previous year’s blockbuster Shiri, often the film cited as beginning the new era in which Korean films start to seriously and consistently compete with Hollywood, both by imitating its style while effusing the narratives with nationalistic sentiments. Because Park’s first two films, Dal-eun Hae-ga Kku-neun Kkun (The Moon is the Sun’s Dream) (1992) and Sam-in-jo (Trio) (1997) were both unsuccessful commercially, and because of his esoteric taste as a cinephile, J.S.A. was a shock to the local industry, a place in which one producer reportedly claimed he would eat his hat if a Park movie was profitable.  In hindsight, this comment seems absurd, of course, but even at the time, it showed the limitations of a nationalist way of thinking about the industry, given the global success of directors with cultish sensibilities in the 1990s, with Tarantino as the most obvious example. For Park, the success of the film opened up possibilities both nationally and, as a consequence, internationally as well. J.S.A would be invited to the competition section at Berlin in 2001, continuing a pattern that would culminate with the win for Old Boy at Cannes a few years later (another of the unusual aspects of Oldboy’s success was that it was not a festival premiere and in fact that already had a successful commercial run domestically). Without this commercial success, Park would have been unable to attract the capital necessary to make such difficult and challenging films as Bok-su-neun Na-ui Geot (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance), a financial failure domestically but whose critical praise and festival exposure (playing Berlin in 2003) continued making Park’s reputation, leading to the landmark of Old Boy, which achieved huge domestic box office, festival success, and a theatrical run in art cinemas in the United States. As Nikki J.Y. Lee argues in an essay on his transnational authorship, “Park begins to be accepted in South Korea as an auteur director able to cross over between commercially successful film-making and the expression of an artistic individual vision.”  At this point, Park had become the dominant Korean auteur, overtaking the previous art cinema favorite, Im Kwon-taek, who had first been the first Korean filmmaker to have regular festival screenings.  The other main competitor, Kim Ki-duk, was actually more successful at the box office internationally, with his 2003 film Bom, Yeo-reum, Ga-eul, Gye-ul, Geu-ri-go Bom (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ...and Spring) significantly out-grossing Old Boy in the United States.  However, Kim’s lack of domestic box office combined with his often combative relationship with the Korean critical community ultimately reduced his prominence. He was also much more politically incorrect than even someone with Park’s cult-horror tastes, constantly being accused of misogyny by feminist critics, ultimately leaving Park as the most recognized and marketable Korean auteur brand name both domestically and internationally. 
This recognition did not occur without some resistance, especially with regard to Park as a legitimate member of the global art cinema. If Kim Ki-duk had to deal with backlash due to his subject matter, his lack of popularity ironically gave him a certain legitimacy as an artist despite the extreme elements of his films that were marketed abroad.  Park, by contrast, was seen as a violent genre filmmaker by noted American critics, most prominently Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, who argued that the films were post-modern examples of aesthetic relativism with none of the depth of such directors as Sam Peckinpah and Pier Paolo Pasolini.  As Kyung Hyun Kim argues, this was rather ironic, given the controversy over a filmmaker like Peckinpah early in his career, where many of the same arguments were used. As Kim argues, “Peckinpah and Park Chan-wook are, for better or for worse, similar as filmmakers, not categorically different.”  Like Peckinpah before him, Park needed a changing national context in which his violent action films could be re-positioned as genuine artistic statements and not simply exercises in nihilism. For Peckinpah, this was both the increasingly violent Hollywood blockbusters that his films could be contrasted against, as well as the real world context of the Vietnam War, in which his movies could be read allegorically. For Park, his domestic popularity could be contrasted with local films that were similarly popular, such as Shiri, but without Park’s cult sensibility and aesthetic panache. The international success than turned Park into a “national talent” that could be used for promotional purposes.  Furthermore, there were critics and academics eager to read Park’s work as having deeper meaning than critics such as Dargis gave them credit.  Or, like Kyung Hyun Kim, even to see their apparent lack of meaning as Warholian statements:
(T)he emergence of Park Chan-wook in recent years is symptomatic of a Korean cinema that has been ushered into a definite kind of post-remembrance and post-political mode. The gap between the mode of representation and the mode of symbolization from which metaphors and allegories can be figured is reduced in Park’s film to the point where only the surface can be perceived. So we can also ask: Does anything exist beyond the surface of Park Chan-wook’s films? Or does something lurk behind this deliberately flattened space, something to which we must accede?
Thus, despite the differences between Park and the traditional high modernist auteur, the ascendancy of the cult, postmodern aesthetic, combined with the prominence of the Korean domestic cinema and its international discovery, afforded Park his critical ascendancy.
In recent years, Park’s authorship shifted yet again, bringing him more in line with traditional ideas while maintaining his brand name identity. But this has not been without difficulty, as the idea of the auteur is constantly being negotiated, as Nikki J.Y. Lee argues in connection with Park’s emergent status following the “Vengeance” trilogy:
(T)he transnational commerce of a popular auteur director is never fixed or static. Instead, it is a fluid process dependent upon various factors, including the diverse ways in which subsequent films are placed in relation to existing configurations of the film industry, public culture and audience response – whose expectations and needs may or may not then be satisfied.
In the years since Park’s initial celebrity, his status has ebbed and flowed, been threatened to be overtaken, and finally risen back to prominence. All of this can be seen through a transnational lens, but also through Park’s relationship to adaptation. Following his 2006 original screenplay Ssa-i-bo-geu-ji-man Gwaen-chan-ha (I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK), which was rather unsuccessful both commercially and critically, Park’s next three features were all transnational adaptations, albeit of a different nature than Oldboy and its origins in Japanese manga.  In 2008, Park makes the film Bak-jwi (Thirst), a vampire genre piece much in keeping with his violent reputation that is also a loose adaptation of Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin. It is received similarly to Oldboy, but without the fanfare of a Cannes award, and the adaptation aspect was heavily downplayed. In 2013, Park makes his first English language film, Stoker, with an original screenplay by Wentworth Miller. While not an adaptation of a previous source, it is the first film Park directs that he did not co-write. It is the least well-reviewed film of his career and is a box office failure in the United States while also failing to attract much attention from audiences in South Korea.  Park’s reputation was clearly on the decline, and in 2016, he makes the decision to return to South Korea, but with an adaptation of the critically acclaimed 2002 British novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, changing the setting to Japanese-occupied 1930s Korea from Victorian-era Britain. The Handmaiden is a complete success for Park, arguably more so than even Oldboy, in that it is hugely profitable (32.7 million domestically) as well as critically acclaimed both locally and abroad. While at times violent and very sexually explicit, it nevertheless had much more of a legitimate pedigree than his previous work. The connections to Waters’ novel were frequently cited and discussed, and while he received some criticism for his deviations and for the “male gaze” nature of the lesbian eroticism,  overall the film cemented and even added more respectability to Park’s status as Korean art cinema’s greatest auteur.
Lee Chang-dong and the Traditional Art Cinema Author
In contrast to Park, Lee Chang-dong has never lacked legitimacy, and has been celebrated critically to a greater extent than Park or any other Korean filmmaker. Unlike Park, who came from the world of cinephilia and film criticism, Lee comes from the world of literature. Born in 1954, he is almost a decade older than Park and many of the other auteurs of the New Korean Cinema (Kim Ki-duk and Hong Sang-soo were both born in 1960, Bong Joon-ho in 1969), yet he does not direct his first film until 1996, four years after Park’s debut and the same year as Kim Ki-duk and Hong Sang-soo. This is because Lee spends the decade of the 1980s working first in the theatre and then as an author, publishing two collections of short stories, including There’s A Lot of Shit in Nokcheon (1992), which won the 25th Hankook Ilbo Baek-sang Prize in South Korea. But like Park, Lee is still a product of the postmodern times, specifically the video era of the 1980s, which triggers a crisis in meaning for Lee as an artist and leads him into the visual medium:
We’re now in the age of post-meaning. Whether we like it or not, movies have become the dominant medium. Other mediums which deal with meaning have weakened, degenerated and lost their power over people. Maybe because I’m coming from the literary world, or I grew up that way, I tend to implant meaning into film. I suppose I’m trying to create as much meaning as possible and communicate with the audience through my films.
Lee enters filmmaking as a screenwriter, working with the Korean New Wave director Park Kwang-su on his films Geu Seo-mae Ga-go-sip-da (To the Starry Island) (1993) and A-reum-da-un Cheong-Yeon Jeon Tae-il (A Single Spark) (1995) before making his director debut with Cho-rok Mul-go-gi (Green Fish) in 1996. Park Kwang-su was a major art cinema filmmaker of the 1990s, receiving festival attention abroad and bringing a new realism and immediacy to South Korean film. But he, along with the other major figure of the 1990s, Jang Sang-woo, was unable to adapt to the changing conditions of Korean cinema in the 2000s, leaving Lee Chang-dong as the major realist director in the increasingly post-modern cinema landscape. As such, his reputation grew, as he became a symbol of cultural authenticity, a fact strengthened by his appointment in 2003 to the position of Minister of Culture and Tourism under the liberal government of Roh Moo-hyun.
In terms of the history of art cinema, Lee makes the types of films that are easily assimilated into previous modes, especially that of East Asia. In his mixture of melodrama and realism, Lee’s work recalls such Japanese masters as Kenji Mizoguchi, and it is no accident that one of the main canons of western art cinema, The Criterion Collection, selected Lee’s Mi-ryang (Secret Sunshine) as the first Korean film to enter the collection.  Overall, his work conveys an obsession with social issues that marks him as “serious” in a way that distinguishes him from his contemporaries, such as Japan’s Takeshi Kitano:
Takeshi’s films are fundamentally jokes in terms of the form, grammar and content. It’s his way of making a joke on society. He started out as a comedian. Formally speaking, unexpected material pops out which make people laugh. Jokes are similar in this way. He even employs brutality in his jokes. He throws jokes at the world, while I take everything seriously. But who likes a stiff who only talks about serious stuff?! 
Lee could also be talking about other post-modern directors such as Park Chan-wook, but what makes Lee more complicated is his desire to make films that connect with audiences. This is why he turns away from literature and towards this more popular medium, and why his films, as Kim Young-jin argues, “have a conventional melodramatic structure, but they tend towards realism in terms of style.”  And while not huge box office successes, Lee’s films were often financially successful, with Secret Sunshine earning 9.5 million domestically, although his most recent film, Shi (Poetry) (2010), failed to generate much audience interest (less than 2 million domestically) despite its numerous awards and near universal acclaim.  Lee has not made a film since, and this can be seen as a crisis in the ability to connect with audiences that turned him away from literature: “I’m pessimistic about the future of film. How can we stimulate audiences, and with what?”  It seems likely that this lack of activity has been responsible for Lee being surpassed by Park in overall recognition, despite his greater legitimacy and authenticity in the eyes of most critics.
In 1999, Lee Chang-dong’s Bak-ha-sa-tang (Peppermint Candy) made its world premiere, chosen as the Opening Film at the 4th Busan International Film Festival. It was the first Korean film to be so honored, and marked the rise of Korean cinema to come in the following decade. Today, a film by Lee Chang-dong, Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, Kim Ki-duk, Hong Sang-soo, or other internationally branded auteurs would never premiere and open a domestic festival, striving instead to premiere internationally and/or open widely across cinemas in the burgeoning local market (The Handmaiden premiered at Cannes and then opened wide in the local market less than three weeks later).  Thus, while a film like A Quiet Dream opening Busan in 2016 is still an achievement, it is also an indication of a lack of marketability on the festival circuit outside of the country and within the popular market inside of Korea. Every year, dozens of Korean films premiere at the major domestic festivals of Busan and Jeonju, and many of those films eventually get a small domestic release and/or a screening at one of the smaller festivals outside of the country (A Quiet Dream would play the Melbourne, Rotterdam, Munich, New York Asian and Toronto Korean festivals and make just over 100,000 dollars in local revenue). Taken collectively, many art cinema films are being seen in local theatres, but it has become increasingly difficult for individual filmmakers, who are often in the shadow of figures like Park Chan-wook and Lee Chang-dong and have become increasingly ignored by the larger Korean awards groups, who increasingly favor films with a higher box office and/or international festival pedigree.
Korean Art Cinema Today: Growth and Stasis
In 2013, Darcy Paquet founded the Wildflower Film Awards in order to give greater recognition to smaller domestic films that often were ignored by the dominance of bigger budget films by name brand auteurs. Paquet himself is a key figure in the rise of Korean cinema, having lived in Korea since the 1990s and being one of the first foreigners to actively promote Korean cinema to a global audience through his website, koreanfilm.org, which he launched in 1999, before the eventual explosion of the domestic cinema market. He has become a part of the industry as well, often subtitling Korean films as well as playing small roles in Korean film and television, most notably in Im Sang-soo’s Don-ui Mat (The Taste of Money). Paquet opened up a path for more foreign ex-pat critics to follow, giving Korean cinema more exposure abroad.  According to Paquet, the Wildflower Awards are an attempt to bring greater recognition to independent films which were multiplying due to increased government funding in 2009 and yet also being rather ignored by the domestic critical establishment.  For example, the two major Korean film awards, the Grand Bell Awards and the Blue Dragon Awards, consistently recognize larger budget, commercially successful work. In the past decade, the only winners that did not achieve substantial box office success were Kim Ki-duk’s Pieta (2012) and Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry (2010), both of which were by established auteurs and which had achieved success at international festivals (Pieta won the Golden Lion at Venice, Poetry Best Screenplay at Cannes).  The Wildflower Awards thus serve a similar purpose to the Independent Spirit Awards in America, which were founded in 1985 with a similar purpose: recognize smaller films ignored by the Academy Awards and the Hollywood mainstream, a need likewise created by the dominance of a small number of bigger budget spectacles. While the awards have recognized some more familiar names, such as Hong Sang-soo as Best Director in 2014 for Jayu-ui Eon-deok (Hill of Freedom), they have generally rewarded work that the Korean commercial industry and international festivals have underrepresented.
Korean art cinema now exists on an unprecedented level and scale, with many voices vying for attention. But it is also a field dominated by the older generation (almost exclusively male), with a select group of auteurs receiving most of the attention and skewing the direction of the younger filmmakers into imitations of their style. Even those with a distinct vision often get unfavorably compared and diminished by the shadow of the older figures, perhaps even more so in the case of female directors, who are still vastly under-represented in the field. For example, Lee Kyoung-mi has made two feature films to date, starting with her debut, Miss-eu Hong Dang-moo (Crush and Blush) (2008), which gained a fairly successful commercial run (3.3 million) as well as very positive critical notices, winning the Blue Dragon Award for Best Screenplay and Best New Director. However, it took Lee eight years to finally complete her second feature, Bi-mil-eun Eop-da (The Truth Beneath) (2016). Although more of a genre film, and with bigger stars and a bigger budget, it was a box office disappointment (1.8 million). The film did, however, receive positive critical notices, appearing on year-end lists and leading to international attention, opening the London Korean Film Festival and playing at Fantastic Fest in Austin. The Truth Beneath thus exists in the new space of art cinema, a commercial genre hybrid that, ironically, gains greater cultural prestige because of its domestic box office failure. But that failure makes it difficult for Lee to continue to make films, especially since she is branded as part of the “supporters of minor genres” group, and in particular seen as being influenced by Park Chan-wook, as she worked as an assistant for Park and collaborated with him on the script for both Crush and Blush and The Truth Beneath.  Lee thus faces a difficult position, failing to become a successful commercial director, and making her reputation for the type of cult cinema that is now more critically recognized but difficult to sustain without funding support. On a positive note, there are domestic and international institutions within art cinema (various Fantastic film festivals) that back these type of films, and even if the brand name of Park Chan-wook can minimize her own reputation, it also works as a marketing device. More pessimistically, if it took Lee nearly a decade to make her second feature, how long will it be to produce a third, given the commercial failure of The Truth Beneath? And even if opportunities arise, how difficult will it be to maintain a level of artistic freedom within this environment?
In conclusion, I would like to return to A Quiet Dream, and in particular to the most meta-textual sequence in the film, when the four leads decide to watch a movie at the Korean Film Archive, located in the Sang-am area of Seoul. It is clearly meant to invoke a pleasure of recognition for Seoul cinephiles, and to allude to the institutional structure that allows, in many ways, a movie like A Quiet Dream to not only exist, but to open a festival like Busan. This self-reflexive moment, and the meta quality of the entire film, shows the evolution of Zhang Lu himself and of Korean art cinema as a whole, moving from a realist style focused on an under-represented minority group (the ethnic Koreans in China’s Yanbian province) to a celebration of art cinema and cinephilia itself. This turn is indicative of an increased knowledge and sophistication of the local audience, but also, perhaps, of a certain decadence, an interest in art increasingly divorced from its very political roots. And as great as the work of its name brand auteurs like Park Chan-wook and Lee Chang-dong often is, one wonders if they have not become too dominant, pillars impossible to topple without some kind of acquiescence to their influence. Perhaps this is the mixed blessing of art cinema as an institution, as Andrews argues:
‘Is the anointing of certain films and filmmakers over others inevitable when the exhibition of film art becomes institutionalized?’ The answer to this question should go beyond just ‘yes.’ It should also include the fact that institutions cannot be blamed for practical realities. Programmers in these institutions must anoint one filmmaker over another; unlike the co-ops, they do not have the luxury of taking everyone. Indeed, programmers have had to choose among so many artists for such a limited number of screenings that they have quite naturally tied their programming choices to their own institutional priorities.
The question becomes what those institutional priorities will be. When looking at Korean art cinema, the institutions are multiple, both domestic and global, and both overlapping and contradictory. Korean institutions and filmmakers alike are influenced heavily from the outside, and cannot create an internal vacuum in which to exist, but yet there is no longer the international domination of the industry that existed in the past. This means that not only will this field continue to evolve (as is inevitable), but that the domestic institutions, both big and small, can have a significant influence on the direction of that evolution, something few national cinemas can claim.
The present research has been conducted by the Research Grant of Kwangwoon University in 2018.
Marc Raymond is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communications at Kwangwoon University in Seoul, South Korea. He is the author of the book Hollywood’s New Yorker: The Making of Martin Scorsese (SUNY Press, 2013), and has published articles in the journals Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Film Criticism, Film History, Jump Cut, New Review of Film and Television Studies, Senses of Cinema, and Style.
The complete list can be found at the Korean Film Council site: http://www.koreanfilm.or.kr/jsp/news/boxOffice_AllTime.jsp?mode=BOXOFFICE_ALLTIME
Certainly there are other possible candidates here, especially Hong Sang-soo, a long-time festival favorite who has recently gained greater recognition in the United States, with a retrospective at Lincoln Center in New York and a cover story for the journal Film Comment. His work in recent years has become more of a meta-cinema, with his stories constantly involving film directors and their romantic relationships, leading up to the 2015 release of Jigeumeun-matgo-geuttaeneun-tteulida (Right Now, Wrong Then), starring actress Kim Min-hee. This film became one of Hong’s most successful with international audiences, earning the Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival and gaining a modest international distribution. It also led to a controversy within the Korean media when it was revealed Hong and his much younger lead actress had begun an affair and that Hong had separated from his wife. Ironically, this scandal has made Hong more famous than any of his relatively unknown films, although it should be noted that even before this scandal, Korean nationalism and its pride in successful Koreans abroad made Hong far more famous than his art cinema equivalents in other countries. Because of this prestige, he has become very influential on local directors at the domestic festivals, spawning numerous imitators in recent years, most intriguingly Zhang Lu, who had earned a reputation as a social realist before turning to a style very reminiscent of Hong with his 2014 film Gyeongju. Hong’s cultural capital has increased to the point where local festivals and the local independent domestic box office have seen a growth in similar, meta-cinema narratives, such as Kkumboda Haemong (A Matter of Interpretation) (Lee Kwang-kuk, 2014), Choe-ag-ui Halu (Worst Woman) (Kim Jong-kwan, 2016), and many others. See Dan Sullivan, “The Genius of His System,” Film Comment 53, no. 6 (November-December 2017), 24-28.
Bong’s case is a particularly interesting one, and will remain even more so going forward, as he seems to be moving from the global art cinema/domestic populist position and towards a more global/American mainstream. Okja, for instance, has been compared to Steven Spielberg’s E.T. and is much more of a crowd-pleaser than his previous work, even more so than his domestic blockbuster The Host, which remained a very Korean-specific tale despite its monster movie borrowings. Also, although it played in competition at Cannes due to Bong’s auteur reputation, Okja caused a controversy over its lack of a theatrical run in France, causing the festival to announce it would no longer permit such films in competition. Locally, Okja was boycotted by the theatre chain CGV over its lack of delay between theatrical exhibition and streaming availability (Okja opened in theatres in Korea and was available on Netflix on the same day). Thus, Bong is challenging both international art cinema and domestic institutions in order to try to compete as a global populist, which is certainly a way in which he can distinguish himself from Park Chan-wook’s shadow. For one of numerous comparisons to E.T., see Dana Stevens, “Okja,” Slate (June 29, 2017) (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/movies/2017/06/okja_bong_joon_ho_s_new_netflix_movie_reviewed.html).
On the Canes controversy, see Nancy Tartaglione, “A Fest Divided: Netflix Controversy Clouds Cannes; Will France Embrace Change?” Deadline Hollywood (May 19, 2017) (http://deadline.com/2017/05/netflix-cannes-controversy-okja-meyerowitz-stories-france-1202098053/).
On the CGV boycott, see Sonia Kil, “South Korea’s Leading Exhibitor Poised to Boycott Netflix’s Okja,” Variety (June 2, 2017) (http://variety.com/2017/digital/asia/korea-cgv-may-boycott-netflix-okja-1202451714/).
Pierce Conran and Jason Bechervaise both had the film in their Top Ten lists, with Conran ranking The Wailing as the best of the year. See Pierce Conran, “Top 15 Korean Films of 2016,” Modern Korean Cinema (December 30, 2016) (http://www.modernkoreancinema.com/2016/12/top-15-korean-films-of-2016.html); Jason Bechervaise, “Top 10 Korean Films of 2016,” The Korea Times (December 29, 2016) (http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/culture/2017/01/141_221058.html). The film also received a number of prestigious Blue Dragon Awards, including Best Director.
For example, one of the most comprehensive of critics’ lists is conducted by the Village Voice. The Handmaiden finished 9th on the list, with The Wailing nowhere in the Top 50. See “Village Voice Poll: Top 50 Films of 2016,” (http://yearendlists.com/2016/12/village-voice-poll-top-50-films-of-2016/)
For a discussion of the Asia Extreme phenomenon, see Chi-Yun Shin, “Art of Branding: Tartan ‘Asia Extreme’ Films,” Jump Cut no. 50 (https://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc50.2008/TartanDist/)
For example, in a 2011 interview, Tarantino discussed his 20 favorite movies since his 1991 debut film, Reservoir Dogs, and named Park’s J.S.A. as one of his selections. This itself was a kind of cultish move by Tarantino, of wanting to go outside the expected selections. J.S.A. is Park’s most commercial film but also, ironically, one of his least known outside of Korea, where Park made his reputation with the “Vengeance” trilogy. See the full interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zv0WlHbBhdc
Kim Young-jin, Park Chan-wook: “I saw Jean-Luc Goard’s Contempt yesterday and I came to understand what anti-bourgeois camera style was. The camera was moving horizontally ...” (3). See also Brian Henderson, “Toward a Non-Bourgeois Camera Style,” Film Quarterly 24, no. 2 (Winter 1970-71), 2-14.
Kim Young-jin, Park Chan-wook, 134. The collection went out of print, but much of the material, as well as some other writings, were published in the collection Park Chan-wook’s Homage (2005) following his rise as an auteur.
“Kim Ki-young Retrospective,” 2nd Pusan International Film Festival Program (Pusan: Pusan International Film Festival, 1997), 118-122. The retrospective featured eight films, many of them from the period of 1975-1984, the era in which Park especially championed. For more on Busan and the use of retrospectives to promote a Korean national cinema, including a discussion of Kim Ki-young, see SooJeong Ahn, The Pusan International Film Festival, South Korean Cinema and Globalization (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2012), 77-95. Ahn argues that because of Kim’s cult classification and lack of critical recognition, the retrospective was a risk and debated up to two months before the festival date (87).
Chris Berry, “Introducing ‘Mr. Monster’: Kim Ki-young and the Critical Economy of the Globalized Art-House Cinema,” in Post-colonial Classics of Korean Cinema (edited by Chungmoo Choi) (Irvine: University of California, 1998), 39-47.
Nikki J.Y. Lee, “Salute to Mr. Vengeance!: The Making of a Transnational Auteur Park Chan-wook,” in East Asian Cinemas: Exploring Transnational Connections on Film (edited by Leon Hunt and Leung Wing-Fai) (London: I.B. Tauris, 2008), 208.
Im’s Chunhyang (2000) and Chi-hwa-seon (Painted Fire) (2002) were the first two Korean films to compete in competition at Cannes. Going back even further, his films An-gae Ma-eul (The Village of Mist) in 1984 and Gilsottdeum in 1986 were the first Korean films to play in competition at Berlin since Shin Sang-ok’s I Saeng-myeon Da-ha-do-rok (To the Last Day) in 1962. In addition, the first major acting prize for a Korean performer at a European festival went to Kang Soo-yeon in Im’s 1987 film Si-baj-i (The Surrogate Woman) at the 1987 Venice Film Festival.
For a comparison of the box office of the two films in America, see Kyung Hyun Kim, “’Tell the Kitchen That There’s Too Much Buchu in the Dumpling’: Reading Park Chan-wook’s ‘Unknowable’ Old Boy,” in Horror to the Extreme: Changing Boundaries in Asian Cinema (edited by Jin-hee Choi and Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano) (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2009), 245.
For a full discussion of Kim Ki-duk and the controversy over his work, see Hye Seung Chung, Kim Ki-duk (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012), especially the section “An Auteur is Born: Fishhooks, Critical Debates, and Transnational Canons,” 12-25.
Chung, in her defense of Kim, makes repeated mention of his outsider status, his working class roots, and his background as a painter living on the streets. See especially her introduction, “Beyond ‘Extreme’: The Cinema of Ressentiment,” 1-11. By comparison, Park Chan-wook, with his middle-class upbringing and pedigree, can be seen as much more of an insider, despite his similar “extreme” tendencies and more populist leanings.
For a few examples, see Joseph Jonghyun Jeon, “Residual Selves: Trauma and Forgetting in Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy,” positions 17, no. 3 (2009), 713-740, which links the film to the IMF crisis; Joseph Thompkins and Julie A. Wilson, “The Political Unconscious of Park Chan-wook: The Logic of Revenge and the Structures of Global Capitalism,” Post Script 27, no. 3 (Summer 2008), 69-81; and Kelly Y. Jeong, “Towards Humanity and Redemption: The World of Park Chan-wook’s Revenge Trilogy,” Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema 4, no. 2 (2012), 169-183.
For example, Thirst received roughly the same score (73) on the critical consensus website Metacritic as Oldboy (74). Very few of the reviews mentioned yet alone examined its connection to Zola’s original: http://www.metacritic.com/person/chan-wook-park?filter-options=movies
Stoker made slightly more in South Korea (2.6 million) than in the United States (1.7 million) due to Park’s celebrity status, but Stoker still vastly underperformed Park’s previous films, with Thirst earning 13.8 million in revenue and Chin-jeol-han Geum-ja-ssi (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) earning 19.1 million. Figures courtesy of the Korean Film Council (http://www.kobiz.or.kr/new/kor/main/main.jsp).
For example, see Laura Miller, “The Handmaiden,” Slate (October 20, 2016) http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/movies/2016/10/park_chan_wook_s_the_handmaiden_based_on_sarah_waters_fingersmith_reviewed.html Although Miller voices some objections, the fact that the film was reviewed by Miller, who covers literature, and not by Slate’s regular film reviewers added to the cultural prestige of the adaptation and to Park more generally.
The Criterion Collection, Spine #575. The only other Korean film currently in the collection (as of May 2018) is Kim Ki-young’s The Housemaid (Spine #690), included as part of a box set of Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project.
Poetry won Best Screenplay at Cannes in 2010, as well as the local Grand Bell Award for Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor. It received a limited theatrical run in America, grossing 350,000 and received many positive notices, most especially from Manohla Dargis, “Consider an Apple, Consider the World,” New York Times (February 10, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/11/movies/11poetry.html?ref=movies
Kim Young-jin, Lee Chang-dong, 79. It should be noted that Lee is finally in production on his sixth feature, an adaptation of the short story “Burning” by the acclaimed Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, scheduled to be released later in 2018.
While the brand name auteurs never premiere at local festivals, their films usually do play at Busan during their year of release, as part of the “Korean Cinema Today” program, which features a mixture of premieres, auteur films, and popular successes from the year to date. For example, Hong Sang-soo has never had a film premiere at Busan, yet through 2017, 17 of his 21 features have played the festival.
There are many examples in recent years of ex-pats running film blogs on Korean film. Among the more prominent and longest running would be Pierce Conran’s “Modern Korean Cinema” (http://www.modernkoreancinema.com/) and Simon McEnteggart’s “Hanguk Yeonghwa” (https://hangukyeonghwa.com/). Both write regularly about Korean cinema, especially the domestic festivals, as well as compiling yearly Top Ten lists. Another ex-pat example would be Jason Bechervaise, who contributes to local English language radio and television (Arirang TV, TBS eFM, KBS, and EBS radio) as well as Screen International while also recently completing a PhD on director Bong Joon-ho at Hanyang University in Seoul in 2017. Conran, like Paquet, has also become part of the industry, co-producing films for the prolific Lee Sang-woo and helping to get Lee’s films exposure abroad through Fantastic Fest in Austin.
The most recent Blue Dragon winners are: Nae-bu-ja-deul (Inside Men) (2016) (52.4 million in revenue); Am-sal (Assassination) (2015) (91.2 million); Byeon-ho-in (The Attorney) (2014) (91.2 million); So-won (Hope) (2013) (17.1 million); Pieta (2012) (4.0 million); Bu-dang-geo-rae (The Unjust) (2011) (19.5 million); Ui-hyeong-je (Secret Reunion) (2010) (37.2 million); Mother (2009) (18.5 million); and Woo-ri Saeng-ae Choe-go-ui Soon-gan (Forever the Moment) (2008) (24.2 million). The most recent Grand Bell winners are: Inside Men (2016) (52.4 million) Gook-je-si-jang (Ode to My Father) (2015) (102.8 million); Myeong-ryang (Roaring Currents) (2014) (125.8 million); Gwan-sang (The Face Reader) (2013) (61.1 million); Gwang-hae, Wang-i Doen Namja (Masquerade) (2012) (82.4 million); Go-ji-jeon (The Front Line) (2011) (20.4 million); Shi (Poetry) (2010) (1.4 million); Sin-gi-jeon (The Divine Weapon) (2009) (22.5 million); and The Chaser (2008) (31.5 million). This contrasts dramatically with the winners from the late 1990s/early 2000s, with only Park Chan-wook’s joint winner JSA being a box office success on the same level. All box office figures courtesy of the Korean Film Council.
In 2013, Best Film was awarded to Jiseul, directed by O Muel, about the 1948 Jeju Uprising. In 2014, the newly created Grand Prize was given to Han Gong-ju, the debut film of Lee Su-jin. In 2015, it was awarded to Park Jung-bum’s uncommercial Sanda (Alive), and in 2016, was given to Yoon Ga-eun’s feature debut Woo-ri-deul (The World of Us). All four films made less than 2 million at the box office. In addition, the awards recognize Best New Director in an attempt to further broaden the exposure of younger filmmakers.
For example, when The Truth Beneath played the New York Asian Film Festival at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in July 2017, it was promoted under Park’s name, not Lee’s: “Co-writer Park Chan-wook weaves a taut political thriller with The Truth Beneath,” (July 4, 2017) https://twitter.com/FilmLinc/status/881931812645228545