Film and Television

Since the success of the Korean film Shiri in 1999, Korean film has become much more popular, both in South Korea and abroad. Today South Korea is one of the few countries where Hollywood productions do not enjoy a dominant share of the domestic market. This fact, however, is partly due to the existence of screen quotas requiring cinemas to show Korean films at least 73 days a year.

Shiri was a film about a North Korean spy preparing a coup in Seoul. The film was the first in Korean history to sell more than two million tickets in Seoul alone. This helped Shiri to surpass box office hits such as The Matrix and Star Wars. The success of Shiri motivated other Korean films with larger budgets.

In 2000 the film Joint Security Area was a huge success and even surpassed the benchmark set by Shiri. One year later, the film Friend managed the same. In South Korea the romantic comedy My Sassy Girl outsold The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter which ran at the same time. The director of Joint Security Area has gone on to direct many popular films in Korea and abroad especially the cult film of 2003, Oldboy. Kim Ki-Duk is also a well respected filmmaker and is known for using minimal dialogue between characters to create an emotional response from the audience. He is known especially for 3-Iron and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring. As of 2004, new films continue to break records, and many Korean productions are more popular than Hollywood films. Both Silmido and Taegukgi (The Brotherhood) were watched by over 10 million people, which is almost a quarter of the Korean population. Silmido is a film based on a true story about a secret special force. The other is a blockbuster movie about the Korean War directed by the director of Shiri. The Host (2006) part monster movie, part social satire broke Korean box office records and has become fairly popular in the United States as well.

This success attracted the attention of Hollywood. Films such as Shiri are now distributed in the United States. In 2001, Miramax even bought the rights to an Americanized remake of the successful Korean action comedy movie, My Wife is a Gangster.

Many Korean films reflect the unique circumstances of the division of Korea. Many of the critically acclaimed films focus on subtle emotions, inviting comparison to French films, but with the recent international successes and growing budgets, the Korean film industry has also been criticized for mimicking Hollywood blockbusters.


Korean television and especially the short form dramatic mini-series colloquially called “dramas” by Koreans have become extremely popular outside of Korea. Dramas were foremost among cultural exports driving the Korean Wave trend in Asia and elsewhere. The trend has driven Korean stars to fame and has done much to boost the image and prestige of Korean popular culture.

Dramas showcase a wide range of stories, but the most prominent among the export dramas have been romance (Autumn Fairy Tale, Winter Sonata, Goong, You’re Beautiful, My Name is Kim Sam Soon, All About Eve, “Boys Before Flowers”, “My Fair Lady”, Full House,You’re Beautiful, Stairway to Heaven, Iljimae, Shining Inheritance) and historical fantasy dramas (Dae Jang Geum, Jumong, Emperor of the Sea). Korea has also aired their first blockbuster spy drama, IRIS.

Korean animation

While The Simpsons is the best known back-room product of Korea, many other popular animation series (Futurama, King of the Hill, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Family Guy from the USA, and also many anime from Japan) have had the basic animation, in-betweening, and coloring done in Korea. This work is usually generic and professional, but not necessarily Korean in tone or manner.

The animation studios have increasingly been given new contract work for Korean series. The most famous has been the animation of Korean folklore by KBS in a 150 part series. This series uses 2-D animation, suggestions for scripts and stories by local crew, and was produced “with the object to create a new “Korean Wave animation” that is distinct from Disneymation”.


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