South Korea Literature and Cinema

South Korea Literature and Cinema


After the Second World War, two literary currents were formed. The first was formed by authors from the North, such as Im Hwa (1908-1953), who remained faithful to the motifs of the proletarian literature of the early twentieth century. The other instead tends to safeguard the traditional values ​​of Korean culture, according to a concept of “pure literature” free from political alignments. After the civil war of 1950-53, Korean poets and writers also found themselves divided between North and South, some by ideological choice, others by necessity. In South Korea it certainly presented more varied aspects. In the fifties, in full reconstruction, the national tragedy was naturally the favorite theme of poets and writers, who now returned to gather around literary circles, including that of the “Green Deer” founded by Pak Tujin (1916-1998) with Cho Chihun (1920-1968) and Pak Mogwol (1916-1978). Regarding the prose, Hüngnam ch’ŏ isu (The Retreat from Hüngnam) by Kim Tongni, is one of the most significant novels; but also writers such as Yi Pǒmsǒn (1920-1982), Sun Ch’angsŏp (b.1922), Pak Kyŏngni (b.1927) and Hwang Sunwon (1915-2000) deserve to be mentioned as among the busiest in this period. In particular, the latter achieved notoriety with the novel K’ain-ui huye (Descendants of Cain). In the 1960s, a literary genre based on psychological introspection and inner reflection emerged. Kim Suyŏng (1921-1968), Kim Ch’unsu (b.1941) and Kim Namjo were certainly among the most active poets in those years.

In the following two decades, Ko Ǔn (b.1933), Hwang Tonggyu (b.1938), Kim Chiha (b.1941), Hwang Chiu (b.1952), Ch’oe Sŭngho (b.1954). Among the novelists, Yi Mungu (b. 1941), Kim Wonil (b. 1942), Cho Sehüi (b. 1942) and Hwang Sŏgyŏng (b. 1943); new names such as the writer O Chŏn ghŭi (b.1947) and, above all, Yi Munyol, were then brought to the attention of critics (no. 1948). After decades of intense political passions and painful moments of repression, the last decade of the twentieth century saw the affirmation of greater cultural freedom and an opening towards North Korea. With the authors almost eager to allow themselves a pause for reflection aimed at a serene and critical examination of the whirling historical-political events experienced since the post-war period, South Korean literature appeared rich in retrospective works and analyzes of sociological, political and cultural events of previous years. While waiting for a decisive generational change, it was the most successful poets and writers who occupied the first places in the charts of the titles sold. Cho Chongnae and Pyon’gyong (Changes) by the aforementioned Yi Munyol. Even the fascination of the everyday found those who knew how to illustrate it admirably, and this was the case of Yi Kyunyong (1951-1996) and his Noja-wa Changja-ui nara (The Country of Laozi and Zhuangzi), while political-existential reminiscences characterized the works by other authors, such as Ch’oe Yun (b. 1953). Centered on science and Korean nationalism are the works of Bok Geo-il. A very important strand within Korean literature is fantasy, with works such as Lee Yeongdo’s Dragon Raja, Jeon Min-Hee’s The Rune Children, and Lee Woo-hyouk’s The Soul of the Guardians. As for poetry, there was a revival by no longer young authors, whose works, juxtaposed with those of the younger generation, helped to enhance that climate of reflection on the past typical of the period. Since the end of the twentieth century, according to itypeauto, Korean literature has enjoyed a certain response from the international public (there are specialized series in Korean literature from French, German and Italian publishers), on the one hand thanks to the new translations of the classics, such as Hŏ Kyun (1569-1618), and of the great writers of the post-war generation, such as the autobiographical novel Mr. Han by the aforementioned Hwang Sŏgyŏng or The Shaman of Chatsil by Kim Tong-ni, who tackles the crucial theme of the meeting of the most atavistic indigenous tradition with the new Western spirituality. On the other hand, Korean literature returned to international attention in 2005 when South Korea was the host country of the Frankfurt Book Fair; narrators such as EUN Heekyung (b.1959) and JO Kyung Ran (b.1969), and, among poets, Hwang Ji-U (b.1952), whose multifaceted interests they also turn to theater and sculpture.


The first decades of the twentieth century saw the beginnings of Korean film art under Japanese domination, which greatly influenced productions and artists. Government conditioning was a widespread practice, which, under another sign remained, and still is present, in the art and culture of North Korea. The division of the country into two areas was consequently followed by the formation of two distinct cinemas. South Korea, which suffered strong US penetration, was experiencing a period of considerable development and expansion in the decade between the 1960s, with an annual production of over 200 films; among the names of some ambitions of the time, we remember Kim Song Min, Ri Hwa Sam, An Jong Hwa, Kim Tae Soo (Patate, 1969),, 1965). Over all, however, dominated Shin Sang Ok, the most important director of the Sixties, known as “the Korean Kurosawa” for his mastery in period films as well as in contemporary films (The guest and my mother, 1961, considered his masterpiece; The dream, 1967; Eunuch, 1968, to name just a few titles by an author who was also active in the following decades). South Korean cinema declined in the seventies and eighties, to then experience the start of a great recovery thanks above all to the work of Jang Sun Woo (The age of success, 1988; The lovers of Woomuk-Baemi, 1991; Un petalo, 1996) and Park Kwang Su, which debuted in 1988 with Chil-Su and Man-su. In the following years, directors such as Park Ki-Yong (Motel Cactus, 1997; Camel (s), 2001), Lee Chang-dong (Green Fish, 1997; Peppermint Candy, 2000; Oasis, presented at the Venice International Film Festival, established themselves in the following years. of 2002). Among the directors who emerged in the 1990s, Kim Ki-Duk (b.1960) (Birdcage Inn, 1998; Bad Guy, 2001; Samaritan Girl, 2004; Time, 2006) deserves a particular mention. dissemination and international recognition of South Korean cinema. A determining role was played by Hong Sang-soo (b. 1961), director of Turning Gate (2002), Woman Is the Future of Man (2004) and Woman on the Beach (2006), winner of international awards and formed thanks to important experiences abroad (USA). The new millennium has also seen the rebirth of an important line of independent productions, a natural counterpoint to national works that have been too seduced by Western canons. A note that testifies to the importance of the South Korean film movement is the Pusan ​​International Film Festival, which reached its twelfth edition in 2007 with 271 works and more than 198,000 spectators, which undoubtedly attest to the very first places among film festivals in Asia. In 2020 the South Korean film Parasite by director Bong Joonho, was awarded the Oscar for Best Picture. Parasite was the first non-English language film to win this award in Academy Award history. The film also won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, a Golden Globe (2020) for best foreign film, and four other Oscars (2020) for best international film, best director and best original screenplay.

South Korea Literature

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