South Korean Film Since 1986: The Domestic and Regional Formulation of East Asia’s Most Recent Commercial Entertainment Cinema

Author: James Brown

Brown, James, 2006 South Korean Film Since 1986: The Domestic and Regional Formulation of East Asia’s Most Recent Commercial Entertainment Cinema, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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This thesis investigates the historically composed political and economic contexts that contributed to the late 1990s commercial renaissance of Korean national cinema and that have sustained the popularity of Korean films among local and regional audiences ever since. Unlike existing approaches to the topic, which emphasise the textual characteristics of national film production, this thesis considers relations between film production, distribution, exhibition, and ancillary markets, as well as Korean cinema’s engagement with international cinemas such as Hollywood, Hong Kong, China and Japan. I argue that following the relaxation of restrictive film policy towards the importation and distribution of foreign films between 1986 and 1988, the subsequent failure of the domestic film industry to compete against international competition precipitated a remarkable shift in consensus regarding the industry’s structure and functions. Due to the loss of distribution rights to foreign films and the rapid decline in ticket sales for Korean films, the continued economic viability of local film companies was under enormous threat by the early 1990s. The government reacted by permitting conglomerates to seize control of the industry and pursue vertical and horizontal integration. During the rest of the decade, Korean cinema was transformed from an art cinema to a commercial entertainment cinema. The 1997/98 economic crisis led to the exit of conglomerate finance, but streamlined film companies were able to withstand the monetary meltdown, continue the domestic revitalisation, and, since the late 1990s, build media empires based on the expansion of Korean cinema throughout the Asian region.

Keywords: motion picture,history,korea,south korea,film production,film distribution,film exhibition,screen quota,korean new wave,new korean cinema,multiplex,CJ Entertainment,Cinema Service,Mediaplex,Lotte Cinema,regionalisation,venture capital,home video,cable television,pay television,chaebol,vertical integration,economic crisis

Subject: Screen Studies thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2006
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Dr Mike Walsh