Art and Experience/Elahe Goudarzi-Arezu Ghorbanpour: South Korea’s cinema was more successful in these recent two decades than the past and with the appearance of capable directors, it is adding to its local and international success. This year, South Korean films were under the spotlight at Fajr Film Festival and seven films were shown in “Retrospective of Korean Cinema” in the 35th fajr international film festival. Due to this fact we arranged an interview with “Kim Seung-Ho” the ambassador of South Korean Embassy to know more about this cinema industry. The ambassador of South Korean Embassy has M.A. in International Relations from USA University, started from Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1986 and continued with being counselor in the Korean Embassies of Iran, Belgium and European. You can read his exclusive interview below:

Please talk a little about the situation of cinema in South Korea, we have heard that South Korean people have a kind of prejudice over their country’s cinema and they are loyal audience of Korean films.

Well, our movie industry is one of the biggest markets in the world. Every year the movie goers and people who go to watch the movies are 4 times more than our total population. We are 50 million so 4 times would be 200 million people at least go to the theater. Per person will go to the theater 4 times a year so it’s a quite huge market. The turnover is around 2 billion US dollar and Korean movie export to foreign countries is one hundred million US dollar. Three hundred movies a year are being made. Not only our government sees as a cultural activity but also the government thinks about it as a major part of our total industry.

According to the welcoming audience of cinema, how are the film sales in your country?

As I said the turnover is around 2 billion US dollar annually. Movie market grows around 7 to 9 percent annually.

In South Korea’s cinemas, what is the share of Hollywood and European films and how much people go for watching them?

Our film market is divided half and half. Half Korean movies another half mostly US films and also European movies and Chinese films take some shares.

So the European films are less than Hollywood films?

Definitely, yes.

Bussan festival is one of the most important cinematic festivals in Asia. How much people care about holding this festival and the presence of cinematic people from other countries and how much it had effected the growth of the cinema of your country?

I think the Bussan festival has 20 years old now and then one of the biggest and the most successful film festivals organized by the Korea. So the Bussan film festival is not only a film festival for film industry but also the Korean cultural ministry supports it financially and also the local city government of Bussan support it as a major film festival that hold in Bussan. Bussan festival is well known to normal Koreans and especially to young film goers; they are eagerly participate the film festival.

What’s the reason behind its success in your opinion?

I think this festival is successful because of their desire to succeed to make it a good festival.  They get full support from the local government and central government and also the Bussan film festival; it is coinciding with development of our film industry. Korea’s film industry in 90s was not so big. As I told you nowadays Korea’s film market is dividing by half and half between local films and foreign films but in 90s the Korea’s film share was only 15 or 20 percent. More than 70 percent was dominated by the foreign films but in the middle 90s when we start Bussan film festival, the Korea’s film industry starts. So there were some successes in Korea’s film industry’s development.

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In the resent decade a new wave shaped in South Korea’s cinema by young and creative directors which they have well received too. What are the reasons behind shaping this cinema?

Because the film industry in Korea is quite big industry and there are many opportunities to make money, so it’s a natural debt that many people work in film industry. Nowadays there are so many youngsters who are going to be a film director or an star or the staffs so the first reason for the success of these young film director is that there are so many candidate and also the major film companies, they have to raise some permanent and capable and big film directors otherwise they cannot make more movies and then they cannot make money. These big film companies are quite eager to find young promising directors or support the young film directors. Also because the Korea’s film industry is quite big enough, the competition is quite strong. Many of the promising young film directors compete to each other in order to succeed. That’s why we continually have young film directors. The government affords the young film directors and supports them to make movies either with supporting them financially or sometimes renting the equipment they need.

How are the supports of government and state organizations for independent cinema in South Korea?  And in film producing, screening and providing the financial source, how the independent cinema and filmmakers is being supported?

In ministry of culture, we have the Korea film council. It is a state supported private institute dedicated to the support of film industry. I think usually annually the budget of Korea film council is around 100 million US Dollar. They distribute this money to various film encouragement film activities. The film directors or the young film staffs or those who are related to film activities can apply for getting the support. The Korea film council will review their application and if they find that product is good enough to support then they give the financial support.

Do they mostly give the supports to the commercial films or there is no difference for them between commercial and independent films?

They give it to both. This support has many categories.  For example the financial support for filmmaking, the financial support for teaching and educating young film related people, the financial support for circulation and theaters and schools.

What is the reaction of South Korea’s audience to these independent films and how much they have been well received?

It depends on the film. Sometimes we have a very good independent film which is good in quality and also they are good in commercial performance but some years we don’t have any. Relatively if I want to have an evaluation it’s that around 100 independent films are being made annually out of which 15 or 20 films will generally succeed to get at least 100,000 spectators. Also it depends on each individual’s attitude, their appetite for the films. Some people see big commercial movies and some stick to artistic and independent movies but any how our independent movies are our great reserved army. We can select the good film director, film star and film staffs so that they can be succeed in the large commercial films.

How Iran and South Korea can have plans for coproduction according to the cultural similarities in near future? And what are the outcomes?

First of all I think we have to exchange our movies, Korean movies here and Iranian movies in Korea. Then the second step is the exchange of people. Your film stars, directors and generally your cinematic people can go to Korea and then Korea people can come here to discuss about how to make cooperation and how to indulge our each respective in the film industry.

So, that’s a part of what Art and Experience is trying to do with movie weeks of different countries. We have these workshops which we can invite your country’s directors and cinema people in here to discuss about their views and the possibility of cooperation.   

And the final step is if the film people are cooperative very much then why not? You can put this to use and come to Korea from Iran for making film. Iranian films directed by Korean directors and Korean films directed by Iranian filmmakers and each film stars can make their way to each other’s countries movies.

So, Iran and Korea didn’t have any coproduction history before, is that true?

Yes. It has never happened before. Never.

How do you see holding movie week between the two countries? Do you think it will help the people of the two countries to know each other more and become closer?

As I said the first step is to exchange movies, Korean movies here and Iranian movies in Korea. Each year this Embassy holds Korean movie week which holds in Milad cinema and it is our annually rent. If there is a necessity to enlarge, we are ready for Art and Experience movie week and also this year, it’s our 55th anniversary between the two countries the diplomatic relations and this year was declared as the cultural exchange between two countries so that kind of activities are welcomed by South Korea.

Successful presence of directors like Kim Ki Duk, Park Chan Wook, Kim Chi Woo, Bong Joon Ho in the international festivals leads to more fame for Korean cinema in the world. What’s the outcome of this presence for your people and your country? What kind of support the government gives to these filmmakers?

First of all we are very much of proud of them and the second, yes they have been supported by Korean film council. Even when they are not so successful, before they selected or invited to movie festival, from the beginning when they were students and unknown film directors, even that time Korean government support them financially and also if they gain international fame, then there are so many Korean filmmaking companies which compete to each other to have these more promising internationally known directors and to make them next star in the movie of that company. And also one reason of their success is liberalization of deregulation of Korea film industry and until 1990’s our film industry was under government intervention, government sometimes censored and sometime monitored and only allowed company can make movies or at least when if a director made a movie, it had to be approved by the relevant ministries but in early 1990’s we lift all these government interventions so there were no government obstacles and so these young film directors can make what they want to make. This kind of liberalization is a part of the path of their way to success.

How much people of South Korea know about Iranian cinema?

Very much. There are some Iranian movies which have succeed and commercialized in South Korea. “Where is the friend’s house” by Abbas Kiarostami is quite famous, “Children of Heaven” by Majid Majidi is so well received by Korean people and the “Separation” of Asghar Farhadi was successful in Korea.

It looks like they know Abbas Kiarostami, Majid Majidi and Asghar Farhadi’s works more than others? Which aspect of Iranian cinema is more interesting for your people in your opinion?

If I compare Hollywood type movies with Iranian movies, Hollywood movies are the rock concert with full orchestra while the Iranian movies are like the solo performance of a guitar. In skill wise it is very humble and small but it is very successful and effective to touch the people’s mind. After seeing Hollywood movies while it is interesting and easy to see, when we get out of the theater we forget but Iranian movies, they are like a wave under the lake and the resonance stay for a long time so I think this is the reason for Iranian movie’s success in South Korea.

How much do you watch Iranian films? Did any film or filmmaker caught your attention?

Iranian movies are very good to understand Iranian society and Iranian people.  The name of the resent film I have seen was “Circle” which was about women. There were two women who were released from prison.

For the last question, how do you see the future of South Korea’s independent cinema?

It is very bright, because without these independent films, we cannot make and mobilize good stars and directors to make big commercial movies. In order to succeed in big commercial movies, movie companies and government and movie schools have to educate these independent movies. These independent movies are the school of commercial movies. So, these are not separated, these are related.

Photo: Yasaman Zohortalab