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Analysis of the Korean Film Industry

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Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UK Essays.

Published: Mon, 26 Feb 2018

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION

This dissertation consists of six chapters. The first chapter gives a detailed background of the Korean Film Industry, its origin and development and how it has led to the so-called ‘Korean wave’ or ‘Korean fever”. It also explains this term in order to give a better understanding of the title. The next chapter consists of literature review, which will form the basis of the findings and the conclusion. The third chapter is a case study, I which the top films of Korea will be discussed and compared with some top Chinese films. The fourth chapter will go on to explain the methodology that will be used in this dissertation to facilitate the findings and arrive at the conclusion. It will explain the methods used in the research and the research questions around which the dissertation revolves. The third and fourth chapters will form the crux of this dissertation. The next chapter provides the findings and analysis of the study based on mostly on the literature review and the research method used. This chapter will deal with the analysis and evaluation of the Korean film industry with respect to the Chinese market and provide the answers to the research questions posed in the previous chapter. The last chapter, that is chapter six, will provide a conclusion, that is, a result of the findings and will be followed by recommendations to ensure that the Korean film industry continues to grow.

1.1 Background

A country’s film industry represents the culture, and lifestyles of the people living in that country. The “Korean fever” or “Korea wave” is normally regarded as the substantially enhanced popularity of South Korean culture all over the world. Besides, it is regarded as Hallyu (Hangul: Hanja: RR: Hallyu), from the Korean pronunciation. In this connection, this term was coined in China in the middle of 1999 by journalists in Beijing, China, surprised by the rapid increase in the popularity of contemporary South Korean culture as well as entertainment business in mainland China.

The Korean film industry represents the film industries of North Korea and South Korea. While both these countries have relatively strong film industries, only the South Korean Industry has been able to achieve international acclaim and recognition. The North Korean film industry still revolves around topics like communism and revolutionary ideas.

As is the case with all other industries and aspect of life in Korea, its film industry has also had to endure the heavy influence of political incidents. Be it the Joseon Dynasty or the Korean War, the governmental influence is evident in the Korean cinema. Since the beginning, the Korean film industry revolved around such scenarios as politics, wars, and even the activities of the government. A number of variables, such as the impact of the strategies undertaken by the most successful Hollywood film producers, the availability of a large budget, and the quality of the films produced in Korea, itself had a profound influence on the film industry of Korea.

1.2 Development of the Korean Film Industry

The first movie theatre of Korea was established in 1903. Before the existence of this movie theatre, the European and American films kept the Korean film screens occupied. Not only this, but in the period 1926-1930, it was the Japanese who owned, and operated the Korean cinemas. It was during this time that a series of films were launched, that provided the beginning of quality films in China. Despite the fact that the film industry of Korea was at its peak in the 1950’s, yet in the 1970s and 1980s with the country’s rapid economic growth, the Korean government was under pressure to liberalize is import policies and financial markets for all industries. The film industry had depended upon the quota system to gain screen time for its product and to make sure a certain amount of revenue.

The production of the Hollywood blockbuster films, itself, was a continuous threat to the film industry of Korea, not only in terms of its decreasing market share, but also down to the question of its survival. The market share was witnessing a downward trend because the Korean films were produced with a low budget and low quality in the face of the blockbuster films produced by Hollywood. As a result, the market share had dropped to as low as 15% in the late 1980’s. However, soon after that, the transformation of Korean film industry had started, and Korean cinema earned recognition as a commercial cinema outside the country after the success of the blockbusters, such as the film “Shiri”. The movie was produced in 1999, and captured an audience of approximately 5 million people, making it to the top of the South Korean films. The film was so successful that it broke the records for the all time favourite, “Titanic”, and welcomed the entry of the many film producers who were keen to produce internationally repudiated films for Korea. In the process, the market share of the Korean films rose to 39.7%.

A number of Korean films followed the league of “Shiri”, and the fact that the government had introduced a new legislation, allowing a two day weekend for the Koreans, gave rise to the success of the Korean cinemas. In the process, the film industry of Korea was reported to grow by approximately 18% each year, and according to a variety of sources, in a period of nine years only, the market share of the Korean films had grown from 15% to 45.2%. This was taken as a good omen by many of the most successful moviemakers of Hollywood who immediately stepped in the film industry of Korea, in order to obtain licenses so as to reproduce those Korean films that had been the most successful on the box office.

In these connections, the relations between national cinema and history is refraction, fluid rather than reflection, and what is intriguing about contemporary Korean cinema is how the shared political history of the 1980s has become a commercial lure for the audience.

Recently, the popularity of the Korean films, Korean music, and even Korean dramas has been increasing in Asia, with the Chinese being the major viewers of such Korean television programs. With such immense success and popularity of the Korean TV programs in countries such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, along with other parts of Asia, it is not unusual to find the influence of the Korean culture and traditions, as portrayed on the Korean screens, on the Asians.  Due to this rapid spread of the Korean lifestyle, and culture in most of the Asian countries especially china, the Chinese used the word “Hallyu” to refer to the influence of Korean culture in other countries primarily through the media. This had been initiated by the broadcasting of “Daejanggeum”, a Korean drama, which made China the greatest victim of the Korean influence in 2005.

Soon after, a number of articles on the new Korean wave began to be featured in journals, magazines, news papers, etc. It was even believed that the major reason for the Korean influence lies in the fact that the Korean government took advantage of the Korean screens to step out of the financial crisis, thus taking major steps to promote their film industry, and export their films. The fact that China and Korea share some similarities, not only in terms of their culture, but also down to civilizations and philosophies, explains such a deep impact of the Korean films on the Chinese.

Today, both North Korea and South Korea have extremely flourished film industries. However, when it comes to global acclaim, it is undoubtedly film industry of South Korea which seems to capture the international market. The movies of North Korea focus more on rebellious, radical and insurgent themes.

1.3 Structure

The aim of this research is to evaluate and analyze the relative success of the Korean film industry, and the influence of the Korean cultures in many of the Asian countries, especially China. The focus of this thesis is attempting to summarize and analyze whether and how this “Korean wave” is shaped in China mainland market and how it has impacted to Chinese audiences by critically commenting the latest top five Korean movies compared with the latest top five Chinese movies, reviewing the previous research findings and performing box-office performance analysis in the captured period. This will give information as to how the Korean film industry has impacted the population of China.

It also aims to analyze the factors that have led to the Korean fever, and to what extent have the Chinese been influenced as the Korean traditions become prevalent in China, and other parts of Asia.

The area of the research will mainly focus on the Korean film industry, as well as the film industry of China, since the top movies produced by both the countries will be compared. The area of the research will also include the other Asian countries, and the Korean cinema influence on their activities.

The research objectives involve analyzing the performance of the Korean movies and the impact that they have had on Asian markets, in particular, China.

The research methodology

The data in this thesis is analyzed using a variety of sources. First of all, the box office performance is analyzed over the recent period, the data obtained from the Korean Film Council. The data captured from this source helped assess the market performance of the Korean films. The data is further broken down into sub-periods in order to evaluate the dynamics of the Korean films’ market performance. Finally, appropriate statistical techniques are used to assist our analysis.

CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW

2.1 The Korean Wave

The  “Korean Wave” or  hallyu ( 한류) refers to the time period of 1990’s, when Korean culture was internationally visible, not only in East Asia but even countries like United States saw a rapid surge of Korean values. Television serials, pop music, feature films and other musical forms are all part of the wave phenomenon. As the Korean wave is associated with the spread of Korean culture, it is referred as both national and a trans-national phenomenon.

A great number of researched have been conducted to evaluate why and how pop culture of Korea was famous in other countries. These two regarding the success of Korean wave are distinct but not so related to each other. When government use sales figures of other countries to measure the success of Korean wave, overseas consumers are considered the arbiters of Korean culture. This signifies the ironic impact of the success of Korean culture; not only people in Korea but non Korean consumers are also being entertained by the Korean media. Infact, it was a Chinese journalist who coined the term ‘Korean wave’ or (hanliu 韩 æµ?) to describe the surprising effect of the rapid increase in popularity of contemporary South Korean culture as well as entertainment business in mainland China.

Researchers believe that Korean wave is the interaction of many fields. The variable of pop culture existing in phenomenon of Korean wave has allowed it to be studied in cultural study’s field (Chua and Iwabuchi 2008; Howard 2006). It is also studied along the dimensions of marketing and business, as government, promoters and corporate agents were selling the Korean culture as a commodity in the international arena.  (Cho and Kang 2005; Han and Lee 2008; Kim and others 2008; Lee, Scott, and Kim 2008). It was also evaluated as being an important concept in the political arena. The Korean government undertook measures like subsidizing the cost of reediting for the international market. Such policies and regulations by government ensured that the Korean film industry expanded successfully in other countries. (Chua and Iwabuchi 2008, 28). Suddenly, Korean government started using pop star figures to attract tourists.  (Yu-Shan Lin and Hwang 2008).

2.2 Growth of the Korean Culture

In 2003, when a Korean drama serial ‘ Winter Sonata’ was broadcasted by Japaneses stations, it quickly became popular. Suddenly, yhe Korean mass culture gained popularity in Asian countries ( HAN, 2004:124-125) along with the word Hallyu. The word Hallyu was then associated not only with the rapid spread of Korean culture but also with the economc boom in Korea.

According to G, a researcher at SAMSUNG Economic Research Institutute,  Korean wave or Hallyu was developed through four stages. In the first stage, Korean culture became popular with the increased production of films, and dramas. Second stage signified the increasing demand of products associated with the famous pop idols. In the third stage, people moved on to buy Korean goods and services like electronic products which were not directly related to pop stars. People perceived a desirable impression of Korea in the fourth stage of Hallyus developmental; cycle.

2.3 Changes in Korean Domestic Market

Okon Hwang and Hillary Finchum-Sung are two researchers who were concerned with the

effects of Korean Wave on the local market. Essay written by Okon Hwang title ‘No ‘Korean Wave’ Here: Western Classical Music and the Changing Value System in South Korea’ attempts to evaluate and analyze the positive impact of changing the flow of information on the successful expansion of a country’s culture.

According to statistics, there has been a rapid increase in the Korean TV programs exported since 1988. This growth rate of export was more evident during the spread of Korean wave and with a sudden decrease in the foreign TV program in Korea. Since the launch of broadcasting industry in Koreas, majority of the shows broadcasted were American programs. Factors like lack of technical skills, experience and technological equipments hindered the production and the broadcast of local TV shows. The national broadcasting station of Korea was established in 1961, and since then it was dependent on foreign TV programs to fulfill the entertainment needs of the population. It was America that introduced TV sets, radio, transmitters and colored became possible when international firms gained a consensus to stop the manufacturing of monochrome TV sets. (JOUNG AND JANG, 2000:142)

An audience rating survey in 1996 reflected that American programs were most popular among the Korean population. The time allotted to the broadcast of these shows increased till mid 1970’s, after which more local TV programs were broadcasted. Although American TV shows like wonder women, six million dollar man, bionic woman were very popular during 1970’s, but at the same time local shows increased in quality and the audience rating for them surged rapidly. A fall in the import of American TV programs was not only due to the improvement in production and broadcasting technology, but government regulations contributed significantly to reduce imports.  An order of military government to broadcast limited number of shows resulted in a competitive race between the broadcasting stations where each and every station was striving hard to increase the ratings of domestic shows. The audience rating thereby, compelled broadcasting stations to improve the quality of local shows, develop a better infrastructure and acquire superior equipments. Moreover, Asian games and Olympics held in Seoul contributed a lot in increasing the audience rating of the local programs.

While Korean TV shows gained popularity in 1980’s, the market share of Korean films did not increase till 1990’s. From the 200 movies that were produced during 1970’s, only a few of them were able to break the records. Contrasting to the broadcasting industry, film industry produced movies since 1960’s and was exposed to the stringent control and regulations by government. The government not only controlled the production and distribution facilities of films, but the censor department limited the freedom expression by controlling the content of movies. The establishment of the ‘law of cinema’ reduced the number of production firms from 70 to less than 20 and import restriction made it difficult to acquire imports without the permission of government. The year 1984 proved to be a turning point for the Korean film industry. It was during this year that censorship standards and import regulations were revised. Moviemakers were able to release movies simply after filling a permission form and foreign films gained an entry in the Korean market escalating the competition level.

2.4 Changes in Broadcasting Regulations and Policies

The following section has categorized the growth of Korean broadcasting industry into five stages and explains the policies of government during those stages.

In the pre-takeoff stage, the TV broadcasting was not considered very important. A small number of studios existed and number of TV viewers was also limited. Authoritarian regimes existed in Korea during this pre-takeoff stage and throughout this time local media was used according to government objectives and mission. Only those dramas and movies were broadcasted which were I n line with the aims of the government. The interests of state were valued more than the interests of public (KWAK 2009). The government controlled the entry, the content and the distribution channels as well. The laws such as ‘practice outline’, ‘administrative advice’ and ‘purification of the broadcast’ ensured that government controlled each and every stage of broadcasting from production to distribution of movies and dramas. In 1945, the Japanese movies, music and dramas were banned in Korea which compelled local broadcasting stations to improve the local dramas.

During the transition from pre-take off to take off 1 stage, the broadcasting stations expanded rapidly, and government started imposing rules and regulations. The government control was also backed up by the military control of the government. In the takeoff stage 2, all stations were unified into two networks. In the maturity stage, the democratization of politics greatly affected the cultural industry.  Commercial broadcaster entered the industry and government viewed this industry as a potential one in terms of supporting the economy. There was a shift in paradigm and government undertook several policies in 1990 to support the industry. These included:

  • Ownership for commercial broadcasting
  • Outsourcing production programs was allowed
  • Human resource training of broadcasting professional
  • Participation in trade fairs was encouraged
  • A broadcast video industry promotion plan was introduced

All these policies supported the broadcasting industry to move from the maturity to the expansion stage.

2.4.1 Effects of These Policies

The control of foreign flow of information and the supporting policies contributed immensely to the growth of the cultural industry. Allowing the outsourcing of production programs meant that there an  increase in the independent production companies which created a competitive environment causing different station to find ways to increase the quality and standard of services if they were to remain in the industry. The infrastructure facilities supported the growth of small firms which handled operation for the independent companies. The ban of Japanese programs proved as an incentive for the local producers.

However, some other government policies like increasing the participation in trade fairs was not effective as many negotiations were done outside the fair. The direct financial supported did not have any significant impact on the export of domestic programs as large proportion of it was given to the documentary programs.

2.5 Changes in the Film Industry

This section has grouped the development of film industry in four stages. The film industry existed for many years unlike the broadcasting industry. Expanding the domestic market size of film industry proved to be difficult because of the different economic environment of the film industry. The advertisements were the most important source of revenue for the broadcasting industry; thereby it was related to economic development of country. However, the source of revenue for the film industry was sales in box office and for that it was necessary to produce some block buster movies.

In the pre- takeoff stage, government introduce ‘law of cinema’ to support the industry. It believed that it was important to increase the size of production companies and for that it restricted the entry in film industry. It became essential for companies to have a certain amount of production facilities and equipments before they could enter. Moreover the policies related to censorship made it difficult to export film in foreign countries.

In the take off stage, theatre entrance fees was increased, which contributed to the expansion of market size. Although the strict policies of censor existed as well as other government’s controls, still the market was seen to expand with just the increase in entrance fees. In 1984, when restrictions were removed, the film industry moved to the maturity stage with number of film companies increasing, talented people were attracted and it appealed the electronic companies as well. Foreign distribution companies entered the local market, increasing the standard of competition. In the expansion stage, the quality of Korean movies increased significantly and various Korean movies won international awards.

2.5.1 Effects of these changes

The introduction of screen quota system ensured that a certain budget and screening time was allocated to movies.  The educational support by Korean Academy of Film Arts supported the industry by providing talented actors. Indirect financial system such as loans proved to be an incentive for moviemakers. The foreign distribution policies such as supporting filmmakers to participate in international festivals helped in making global networks.

2.6 Positive Effects of the Korean Wave

As mentioned above, Korean government contributed a lot towards the development of the Korean wave. The government aided the media industries, broadcasting stations and networks to expand and promote the Korean pop culture internationally. The main aim behind this action was to boost up the Korean economy and develop a positive national image. The government was successful in achieving both of the aims.

Korean pop stars attracted attention of viewers all over the world. Korean government took advantage of their increasing popularity and used them to gain attention for other commercial sectors such as the tourism sector of Korea. The success of TV drams like “Winter Sonata” attracted tourist from around the world who visited Korea especially to see places where this drama was filmed. Businesses like travel agents were also taking advantage of the situation by customizing the themes of group tours according to the themes of different dramas for e.g. a tour was titled “Best of Korean drama trailer deluxe tour”.

Pop idols or drama stars revolutionized the consumer culture of Korea. Food and fashion trends (including make-up, clothing) were changing and consumers all over Korea were suddenly following their favorite drama stars. Theses consumers called themselves the members of ‘Korean tribe’. Consumers not only imitated the fashion style of their idols but went ahead to look like their idols with the help of plastic surgery. The posters and pictures of Korean stars were seen everywhere, from backpacks to notebooks and the wall.

For example, Inlingua School in Singapore reported a 60% increase in the number of students willing to learn Korean in 2003 as compared to 2001 because of the attention generated by Korean movies and dramas.

Almost every organization in the Korean economy benefitted from Korean wave. Pop stars were used to sell different goods and service. Celebrity endorsements were used extensively to promote superior brand image. Pop idols took advantage of their gaining popularity through several means. According to news, Actor Kwon Sang Woo charged $200 for some seats at a fan meeting in Tokyo. Tickets were also auctioned online for as much as $500. Moreover, according to a match making service, the role of pop stars as being romantic lovers led to the perception Korean men were generally like that in real life as well. It was due to this fact that more than 6400 female required match making services to find suitable Korean lover for them.

The impact of the Korean wave was not only limited to the Korean economy, but it affected the lives of pop idols themselves. After Korean wave, Korean male celebrities like Bae Yong Joon were one of the highest paid actors in the worldwide film industry. 

There are some positive impacts associated with the consideration of Korean wave as a transnational phenomenon. Apart from earning foreign currency for the local economy, it helped in improving the foreign relations of Korea. Korea had a long history of diplomatic frictions with the neighboring countries. Korean soldiers fought against the Liberation Army of Vietnam and it established ties with Beijing in 1992 at the cost of its relations with Taipei.

2.7 Negative Effects of the Korean Wave

Korean wave has been criticized due to several reasons. It isbelieved that it was introduction of foreign films in Korean cinemas that threatened the Korean culture. According to a Chinese news magazine, government of South Korea was representing its culture as the essence of Asian culture.  Before the Korean wave, classical music has been a part of cultural accomplishments and was a source of pride for the Korean population. But after the Korean wave, classical music and culture was suddenly replaced by the pop culture. Increasing Demand for the pop culture was no longer considered a problem and government exported it to foreign countries. There was an overall change in the conceptual framework as the Ministry of Sports and tourism promoted venues and advertising campaigns by incorporating classical and pop culture.  Finchum-Sung explained how the dynamics of these new measures resulted in the formation of new form of cultural production.

The neighbouring countries of Korea undertook several measures to protect their own entertainment industry. Chinese media limited the amount of time for the broadcast of Korean dramas. The government of Vietnam also threatened to ban Korean shows if the number of Vietnamese shows on Korean television was not increased. Taiwan also considered limiting the foreign shows played on national television. All these examples prove that countries were retaliating against the success of Korean wave.

2.8 The Korean Wave in China and Japan

The development of the Korean wave phenomenon was most evident in China and Japan because of several reasons. The culture of Korea, China and Japan are very similar to each other. the Korean wave initially began in China, which is the most attractive and profitable market for the Korean products. Japan also happens to be the biggest consumer market of Asia.

According to Jung, Japanese TV dramas were creatively transformed for the production of Korean dramas which contributed immensely to the increasing popularity of Korean dramas among young people all over Asia, including Japan and China (Iwabuchi 2008, 153). In fact the concept of Korean wave has generated a new dimension in the one way flow of globalization and researchers have been forced to revise it (Kim Sujeong 2009; Jeon and Yoon 2005).

Korean wave is an appropriate example of mutual circulation of cultural values between the non-western countries. It questions the existing theories relating to the belief that information flows from western to non-western countries. According to the imperialism theory, capitalist societies of west have threatened the growth of non-western cultures and have homogenized them. (Schiller, 1976, 1991; Hamelink, 1983; Mattelart, 1984). Even during 1970’s the unilateral structure of information flow was based on dependency theory suggesting that information was sent by First World countries and received by Third World countries. In 1980’s, some new approaches developed with the growth of media in Korea. These new approaches extended the application of imperialism domination to the field of communication technology.

However, this was also criticized by researchers, (Tomlinson, 1989 ; Friedman, Pieterse

Hall) according to whom the information was not exchanged unilaterally.  The imperialism theory was then replaced by globalization, which promoted a greater understanding of diverse cultures. (Friedman, 267. Pieterse also argues that the impact of non-western culture on west should not be ignored (Pieterse, 307~9). The growth of global television in 1990’s contributed significantly to flow of information from Asian economies to western economies. (Barker, 1999). As the media in Asian markets grew, western TV programs were imported to these nations while at the same time TV programs of these nations were exported to western countries. Therefore Chan (2000) addressed that China could be a centre of this unique mass cultural expansion in Asian regions.

2.9 Factors Supporting the Korean Wave in China

There are many contextual and textual factors that are thought by researchers to have facilitated the rapid expansion of the Korean wave in China. Contextual factors are all those which consist of the wider aspect of Sino-Korean relationship as well as the various changes in China which helped in the diffusion of Korean culture in China. These factors include the relationship between China and Korea, the cultural exchange in Asia, the reforms in the Chinese culture “industry” and the Chinese audience. On the other hand, the textual aspect has more to do with the strength of the Korean drama and includes factors like the similarity between the cultures of the two countries (resulting in an emotional involvement) and the fact that the Chinese audience see the Korean cinema as a mixture of traditional values with modern style, which adds to its appeal.

2.9.1 Contextual Factors

Contextual factors consist of wide aspect of Sino-Korean relationship as well as varied changes in China, which supported the diffusion of Korean culture in china.

Sino-Korean relations and cultural exchange within Asia

There have been historical and geographical connections between China and

Korea. The relations between both the countries have been strained since the communist regime. However in 1992, diplomatic relations improved leading to superior economic and cultural ties. Due to its open policy, china has always permitted the expansion of foreign culture in its region. Many cultures like Japanese, and Taiwan were imported to China. By 1990’s, Korean culture also started spreading rapidly in China. China has been a hub of Confucianism for many years.

Socialist culture was not a source of satisfaction for Chinese people.

Western culture was also not popular among Chinese people. They did not accept Japanese culture as well, and the roots of these sentiments were embedded in historical Japanese invasion of china. It is believed that Chinese people were looking for their identities when Korean culture was introduced in China. Chinese people had anti-Japan and anti-war sentiments but no anti- Korea sentiments existed. In fact Korean culture was perceived as a favourable culture, with a lot of talented people.

Chinese cultural industry

The cultural market of China has always been highlighted due to its open policies. These


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