Man-Sung Son, head of SMS Productions, was one of the speakers at a recent event in Chicago on the Korean Wave or Hallyu (the recent surge of Korean culture, especially film and TV, throughout Asia).
Film was “once thought of as an undignified field,” by Korean parents, who were more likely to encourage their children to become doctors, engineers, or lawyers. "Currently in Korea, it is more difficult to get into film school than medical or law school”. Sung added that many young Koreans come to the US to study film, returning to Korea to direct or pursue cinematography.
Noting that Korea has been attacked from outside 931 times, Sung addressed the concept of Han, "a gross wound to one’s soul," a longing for unfulfilled desires. According to Sung, repressed emotions of many generations are now pouring out in Korean drama. "Oppression breeds artistic talent," Sung explained.
As a film producer, Sung feels that Korean cinema has vastly inproved, but lighting and sound still have a way to go, with low wages impacting quality.
On Hallyu's economic impact, Sung pointed out several examples:
- Yong-Jun Bae, star of internationally viewed Korean TV drama Winter Sonata is worth about $2 billion, and replicas of the sunglasses he wears on the show sell for over $200.
- Restaurants in China suddenly serving Korean food is similar to the expansion of Japances cuisine in America after the 1980 US miniseries Shogun.
- Incidents of women seeking expensive plastic surgery to look more like the star of a Korean TV show.
- Some Asian women are looking for Korean husbands, seeking "strong men who express emotion."
On what is next for Korean film:
- Some Korean dramas will be produced in US, in English, within two years.
- There are many Korean-Americans in Hollywood, as actors, directors, distributors, producers and animators.
- There will be more US adaptations of Korean films.
- In Japan, Korean TV episodes are being turned into theatrically released films.
According to Sung, "excellent storytelling, romance, strong yet emotional characters, and most importantly, old fashioned moral values are worked into Korean drama."
The Hallyu event featured other speakers including Robert Cagle, who contributed some fascinating analysis to Cult Film Confidential via a recent interview. Full audio of the event is available thank to Chicago Public Radio's Chicago Amplified series.