Coming only three years after the Palme d’Or for ‘Parasite’, the two Cannes prizes for Park Chan-wook as best director and for Song Kang-ho as best actor are further proof of the strength of Korean cinema’s originality, its elevated skills and its resilience, reports ‘Variety’.
Korean movies have been temporarily overshadowed by K-pop and Korean TV dramas — think BTS and ‘Squid Game’ — both of which flourished during the Covid era, while Korean film was struck down by the pandemic.
Closed cinemas and disrupted release schedules meant that the film sector was not fully able to capitalise on the 2019 Cannes and multiple Oscar successes of ‘Parasite’ and ‘Minari’. Korean film producers’ revenues crumbled between 2020 and early this year, and talent shifted across to the more vibrant streaming sector.
In an insightful report on the creative forces at work behind the efflorescence of Korean cinema, ‘Variety’ notes that the Cannes prize for Park’s ‘Decision to Leave’ is particularly satisfying for a core group of filmmakers that also includes ‘Parasite’ director, and Park’s younger brother, Bong Joon Ho, “who have engaged with streaming platforms, but see themselves as filmmakers first”. This particularly tight cluster of leading names consists of a group who are friends rather than rivals.
Saturday’s Cannes wins, according to ‘Variety’, are also a vindication for Korean entertainment giant CJ ENM, which was partly responsible for Korean culture’s modern incarnation, and which has been in the Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon Ho business for more than 20 years.
CJ ENM was a founder investor in Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks SKG in 1995 and then found itself doubling down in the sector as a pioneer distributor in Korea and builder of the country’s first multiplex cinemas.
“Having created the distribution capacity and exhibition infrastructure, the company found itself increasingly pulled into production and production finance, needing to keep the feature films flowing, meet the government’s content quotas and industrialize a business that barely existed a decade earlier,” writes ‘Variety’,
CJ Entertainment was a producer of Park’s 2000 breakout film ‘Joint Security Area’, and financier of his astonishing 2003 picture ‘Oldboy’, which won Cannes’ second prize, the Grand Prix. CJ was also aboard Bong’s second title ‘Barking Dogs Never Bite’ in 2000 and his ‘Memories of Murder’ in 2003, ‘Variety’ adds.