The world is still recovering from the surprise it has brought the victory at the Oscars of Parasites, the South Korean film directed by Bong Joon-ho. Winner of the last Cannes Film Festival of La Palma de Oro, the film has risen to the highest in world cinema without renouncing the ingredients of which the director's cinema has always been composed: social denunciation, uncomfortable humor (a sometimes even bordering on the unpleasant), powerful interpretations. The truth is that, although today the Internet is full of searches with its name, a whole generation of South Korean directors has expanded the country's cinema in the last two decades.
“Korea has always been a closed and hidden kingdom, hidden under the influence of Japan first and then by China,” explains Enrique Garcelán, coordinator of CineAsia, magazine and company that has been presenting Asian cinema in Spain for 15 years. “To the west, the first cinema that comes to us is Japanese, and then Chinese. They eclipsed Korean cinema. When these two powers leave Korea alone, then its own war breaks out between north and south, and after this war, the south had totalitarian regimes until the 1980s. ” Garcelán considers that the Seoul Olympics in 1988 functioned as a democratic hinge: "They were the opening to the world, and the opening to democracy in the country." From there the multiples multiplied, the cinema was chosen as a means of narrating what was happening in the country and a generation of filmmakers was cooking that began to be known outside of Korea at the beginning of the millennium. "It's a magma that erupts in the late nineties," Garcelán explains. 1999 is a key date: since then, there is no year that passes without a South Korean film getting more than 10 million viewers (in Spain, with the same population as South Korea, it is a milestone that a Spanish film passes the five million viewers). For Garcelán, the most prominent names in this new batch of South Korean directors are these:
Kim Ki-duk (1960)
"It was the first one that was taken so seriously outside of South Korea," Garcelán explains. With a production pace worthy of Ignmar Bergman or Woody Allen (rolls a movie a year), the name of Kim Ki-duk began to play in world movie circles at the beginning of the millennium: in the year 2000 with The island, but, above all, as of 2003, with Spring, summer, autumn, winter ... and spring and with Iron 3 (with which he won the Golden Lion for best director at the Venice Festival).
Bong Joon-ho (1969)
"It must be said that it was the San Sebastian Festival who discovered it," says Garcelán about the owner of four Oscars. “It was the first festival that opted for its debut opera, Barking Dogs Never Bite" Garcelán remembers that for the director the cinema is like a bus with tinted windows, where he takes the spectators through the different genres, never knowing what the final destination is. Films like drama with monster The Host (2006), Snowpiercer (2013) u Okja (2017) they were not afraid of being imaginative until the last consequences, mixing genres and taking their director's obsessions to the limit. "His cinema is always about the same thing: he faces social differences through a formal game with the different film genres," Garcelán details.
Chan-Wook Park (1963)
56-year-old Chan-Wook Park is, along with Kim Ki-duk, the first Korean director whose work crossed the borders of the world this millennium. And he did it with his well-known trilogy of revenge, composed by Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003) and Lady vengeance (2005). “The backing of Cannes to Oldboy was defining,” recalls Garcelán. Director of several films after the success of his trilogy, made the leap to Hollywood in 2012 with Stoker. And in 2018 he directed for the BBC The drum girl, a miniseries based on the spy novel by John le Carré.
Lee Chang-dong (1954)
"It is the reminder that South Korea also has a more thoughtful and author cinema," says Garcelán. In Spain, two of his films have been released: Poetry (2010) and Burning (2018), based on a story by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. In addition, Garcelán highlights his role as Minister of Culture of South Korea (2003 to 2008). "The impulse he gave to the cinema during his tenure was tremendous."
Kim Jee-woon (1964)
Another of South Korea's own voices, the head of films such as Two sisters (2003) or the gangster drama To Bittersweet Life (2005) achieves, according to Garcelán, "a very interesting mix of genres." A good example of that is The good, the bad and the weird (2008), also premiered at the Cannes Festival.
Na Hong Jin (1974)
With only three films, this director has managed to make a name among the most outstanding filmmakers in the country. "He is younger, yes," recalls Garcelán, "what in a society like Korea generates suspicion." Debuted in 2008 with The chaser, a police film that he directed with 23 years. The curiosity that the director awoke at that time was endorsed with The yellow sea (2010), a thriller set in Yanji, a no man's land located right on the physical border of North Korea with China and Russia. Finally, with The stranger (2016)Hong Jin has a supernatural fable about exorcisms and confrontations between spirits, where the viewer can also know the enormous Christian influence in the country (one third of the country professes that faith).