Tradition vs. Globalisation:
The Relationships between South Korean Film Music and Its Ease of Consumption and Distribution.
The Effect Of Globalisation Pressure On South Korean Cinema.
“The core problem is no doubt that most of us in the West know little or nothing of Korea’s modern history. It’s impossible to understand Korea’s artists without knowing the context in which they worked…” (Rayns, 2012, p.40).
When focussing on a specific aspect of culture in order to analyse its process of artistic production, consumption and distribution, it may at first seem a larger than usual task to summarise an art form on a national level. The danger of looking at a general movement or a specific form on this national level is the risk of generalising too broadly by making sweeping judgements based on a handful of in depth case studies. However, for the cinema and film scores of South Korea, the relationships between the two and the factors that affect them, whether cultural, economic or political, can be seen as all encompassing and similar even if currently in a state of evolution.
Out of all of the cinema in Asia, South Korea is one the most interesting, especially in the context of its creative choices and the effect these aesthetic decisions have on the consumption of the work outside of its domestic audience. Unlike that of Japan that has had relative ease of access into the West since the 1950s, South Korean cinema is still in the process of gaining this relationship of balanced transnationalism; “It is interesting that the new – or, rather, renewed – globalization of cinema production, coupled with the deployment of complex mediatic networks, has in some ways favoured a return to prominence of the ‘transnational’ term in its older guise.” (Dudrah, Nagib and Perriam, 2012 p. XXV).
This essay intends to look at why this is in specific cultural contexts by looking at the relationship between how inward looking and culturally Korean a film and its score is and how this affects its ease of distribution and global consumption. The Korean film in general is an interesting one, tied down heavily by its political past and affairs which have no doubt had a lasting influence on all of the directors and composers mentioned within. Rayns suggests that:
“Liberties and rights were restored, censorship was greatly relaxed – and cinema unexpectedly lead the way in an ultra-rapid modernisation. The domestic film industry was deregulated almost overnight and all but a few of the old government-crony film companies closed down. World cinema, most of it previously blocked, suddenly arrived on Korean screens and was avidly consumed as both a window on foreign countries and a measure of what Korean film needed to match.” (Rayns, 2012, p.40)
This rapid modernisation will be a point consistently returned to throughout the essay and the cultural and historic factors addressed within the traditional aspects will be shown to evolve into a more outwardly looking, Westernised output in the modern age.
The analysis is split into two segments, one looking at the how the use of traditional music and themes within narrative has affected the ease of global consumption for worse. This will be addressed through looking at the work of Im Kwon-Taek; perhaps one of the first directors to truly focus on what it essentially means to be Korean. His film Seopyeonje (1993) and its score by Soo-Chul Kim will be analysed and then contextualised into the Western canon of Korean cinema in order to understand where it sits within its cultural distribution and question why this is.
The second segment will address the more popular end of South Korean cinema, looking at the rise of the “Asia Extreme” label within the West and how this can be tied in to its use of music and Westernised aesthetics. Park Chan-Wook will be used as the main exponent of the sub-genre with discussion of his popular and successful 2003 film Oldboy but some analysis of a modern score by Soo-Chul Kim in the 2010 film Blades of Blood, will also focus the argument on the inevitable evolution and reconfiguration needed in South Korean cinema for a global, transnational age and context. Shin states that:
“Equally remarkable is the fast-growing popularity of, and interest in, Korean cinema around the globe. With numerous successes at major overseas film festivals and growing international distribution and consumption, recent years have seen a notable rise in Korean cinema’s visibility in the international film world.” (Shin, 2005, p.51).
This essay aims to not only track the relationships that led to this but the positive and negative potential outcomes for the future of the national cinema of Korea. Tradition as a basis for music and narrative is at the heart of our first example, Seopyeonje, and so some contextualisation of its director Im Kwon-Taek is a good starting point for analysing this most Korean of film directors.