10 Korean products I would export to the U.S. (if I had an export business.) #3, Korean Movies

Megabox is a movie theatre chain in Korea. I want to export the movies, not the theatres, but this is as good a picture as any to represent the topic.

I am an avid moviegoer, and I am generally more forgiving to most Hollywood movies than most critics are.  That said, sometimes it’s good to watch some movies that aren’t made in Hollywood.  And sure, probably the most imported movies are those from other English speaking countries, such as the United Kingdom, though movies from other countries are also imported fairly regularly, though for some reason the movie going public doesn’t like reading subtitles, so these good movies from other countries are often dubbed, sometimes well, sometimes horribly.

That’s something I can forgive.  Afterall, who wants to go watch a movie only to have to sit and read subtitles?  Well, actually practically every Hollywood movie I have ever seen in Korea or Japan or any other non-English speaking country has subtitles, so it appears that only Americans don’t like reading at the movies.  Even so, dubbed versions, while in my opinion… are inferior, are an acceptable export.

But why is it that so FEW movies from Asia make their way to the U.S.?  The one notable exception is probably Hong Kong Kung Fu movies, which people like for the action, and for the hilarity of the dubbing.  Rarely ever do we see an Asian movie in the U.S. that has nothing to do with martial arts.

I think the U.S. audience is really missing out on some great movies by ignoring the Korean film industry  Here’s why!One major problem for  American audiences is that they generally only like happy endings.  You know, the kind where the guy and the girl get each other, or get back together, and live happily ever after.  Or evil is defeated by good, and everyone lives happily ever after.  Or at least, the hero accomplishes his goal.  Sometimes American movie makers will ignore history just to get their happy ending.  (The movie Inglorious Basterds comes to mind.  Entertaining movie, but that’s not what happened in real history!!!!!)  And there are certainly many Korean movies that don’t have happy endings, or that have endings that are pyrrhic, whereupon the hero accomplished the goal, but lost a lot in the process.)  This trend is changing recently, but for the most part, it still exists.   Almost every action movie or romantic comedy made by Hollywood ends this way.

Another problem may be that American moviegoers can only relate to an American setting.  That is, that they don’t have the cultural understanding to fully comprehend the setting of a movie set in Korea, where characters are bound to follow Korean social rules.  I think this idea is really hogwash however, as there are plenty of American movies that suck, and any good story is a good story regardless of where it is set.

Get to the point!  What do Korean movies have to offer to American audiences?

Well, that in itself depends on the movie.  I guess I’ll have to introduce some of the Korean movies that I have seen, which I like very much.  I think though that because I have an interest in Korea itself, some of my choices may not carry over to the majority of American viewers.

Comedy:  Attack the Gas Station

Simply Awesome!

This movie, made in 1999, is about four hoodlums who decide to rob a gas station to get money every month.  This time, however, the owner hid all the money he has collected because he’s been getting robbed so much.  The hoodlums then decide that instead of moving on to rob a different business, they will hold the staff and owner hostage and work in the gas station for a few hours, to collect enough money.  Along the way, you learn about each of the hoodlums’ past and how their dreams were crushed, which was the driving factor that lead them to crime.   They also have run ins with the police and the Korean mafia.

The whole premise of the movie is downright hilarious, and even though it is a comedy, it shows that even the bad guys aren’t really so bad, and the victims aren’t really so good.

This movie has been exported to several markets on DVD, but I think it would even have done well with a theatrical release.  The story drives the movie, and it’s funny, yet serious at the same time.

If anything it’s social commentary on capitalism.

Drama- JSA

Might need to know a bit about recent Korean history, but another powerful story

This movie is about two South Korean soldiers at the Joint Security Area (the town at the North/South Korea border where opposing soldiers face each other) who somehow befriend two North Korean soldiers.  For a while they merely send secret notes to each other, but eventually the South Korean soldiers go north to meet their new friends face to face in private.  They become very close, and after doing this for a few months, they are discovered by a North Korean officer.  A shootout occurs which ends in the deaths of one of the North Korean soldiers and the officer.  The three friends hastily fashion an version of events that will hide their friendship, as that would be an act of treason.  The southern soldiers run back south as a skirmish between the North and South Korean armies erupts.

Because of this sensitive situation, a Swiss intelligence officer is called upon to investigate the matter, but all three soldiers have conflicting stories of what happened.

Just as she is about to solve the case, the Swiss officer is pulled from the investigation on a technicality, because the establishment of both countries want to cover up the friendship to preserve the status quo, and wants an investigator to present a status-quo friendly version of events.

It’s suggesting that the enemy of the Korean people is not each other, but both governments on the peninsula.  Very thought provoking.

I think that movies like these would do well with American audiences, but often media distribution people like the films, but don’t think they deserve much attention in the U.S. market.

Haven’t there been some cases where Hollywood has taken a Korean story and remade the film?  Isn’t that good enough?

NO THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH!  In fact, it’s my opinion that this is kind of racist.  They take a film with a perfectly good story and cast of characters, and totally whitewash the thing.  They say, “Hmm, this is a great story, but Americans can’t relate to Asian actors, so why don’t we remake the movie and put it in an American setting!”

This process had been done before with Japanese movies in the 1960’s, as Kurosawa’s “the Seven Samurai” was remade into “The Magnificent Seven.”  In this case, I think the change of setting was not a bad idea, as American audiences in the 1960’s probably weren’t too familiar with feudal Japan, but were familiar with the American old west.  Neither of the settings are modern, so it’s taking the story from a setting long ago, and putting it in another setting, long ago.  Kurosawa himself borrowed Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and made “Ran” out of it in the 1990’s, by changing the setting to feudal Japan.

But, when the story is a modern one, there’s absolutely NO NEED to change the setting.  To tell you the truth, modern Korea isn’t so drastically different from modern America that the story can’t be understood.

Here’s an example.

In the early part of the last decade (2000-2010, we still don’t know what to call this decade) a Korean romantic comedy called “My Sassy Girl” was made.  It was vastly popular. Some people don’t like it very much and I can’t say I blame them.  I however liked it.  Maybe I am too much of a hopeless romantic to realize that the girl was treating the guy like crap the whole time.  Anyway that’s not important.  The point is, the movie was vastly popular, and someone decided to co-opt the story and remake it in New York with white actors.  The result is that by changing the movie’s setting and characters, they made a stupid movie that doesn’t make sense.

Here’s the Original Korean scene.

Okay I couldn’t find a clip of the scene I wanted, but I will describe it.
The guy and the girl are riding the subway and there’s a crack on the floor. They decide to play a game where if someone steps over the line with the right foot, the girl can slap the guy. If someone steps over the line with their left foot, then the guy can slap the girl. They do this for a while, then suddenly some soldiers in formation enter the section of the train. The guy measures the distance in his head and is happy because he realizes that since the soldiers are marching in formation, all of them will step over the line with their left feet. The girl looks very dismayed, when suddenly at the last second, the officer in charge orders the marching troops to change their step, and they change, and all of them step over the line with their right foot.

I don’t know if my description did justice to the scene.

Anyway here’s the ridiculous American adaptation:

As you can see, they changed the setting to New York, and we don’t usually see uniformed soldiers on the New York subway like we do in Seoul. So instead they added the EVEN MORE UNLIKELY MARCHING BAND MARCHING IN FORMATION! YEAH, WHEN DOES THAT HAPPEN IN NEW YORK?

I guess what I am trying to say is that if you want to import the movie, then import the movie. You don’t need to change the setting for cultural reasons. You don’t see people changing Hollywood movies to local actors because they feel that the locals can’t relate to American actors. Why should they do the same for American audiences?


13 Responses to “10 Korean products I would export to the U.S. (if I had an export business.) #3, Korean Movies”

  1. there are few non-English speaking movies that is successful in Hollywood, and like Korean films, so with Latino films, where they believe that all Latin America is Mexico, and all Latinos live in wooden houses, or we put on the style and shade casts “Old West” but the reality is that it is not.

    in my case, what I call the attention of Korean movies and dramas, was for their content, how to project the feelings, emotions, sensations, in a visual way, without much dialogue, an example is the movie April Snow starring actor Bae Jae Joong, an excellent movie, that I personally love it, I’ve seen and enjoyed more Korean movies that I liked a lot, but I especially enjoy most Korean horror film and Japanese as Under Scandal (this is not terror but history and very good) Host, A Tale of the Two Sisters, Battle Royal, Death Note, All about Lili Chau Chau, this latest film is one of my favorites. the mentablente the majority of viewers can not appreciate the quality of films.

    and one of my favorite Asian filmmakers is Wong Kar-Wai, for films such as 2046, the Mood for Love and Fallen Angels, who for my critical eye are excellent movies.

  2. Hollywood film makers know that the idea has been exhausted, so they turned their eyes to Asia film market and looking for movie idea. The first targets were Japan and Hongkong, now they have a lot of interest in Korea movie.

  3. I’ve seen a couple of Korean movies, most of them online and some I was able to find them in Korean Stores… it would be a great idea to export more Korean Movies 🙂

  4. I volunteered for the vancouver international film festival(VIFF) last october. At that time I realized the quality of korean movies is good. Famous korean director Joon ho Bong was on the jury, and korean movie ‘the man from nowhere’ (아저씨) was a hit in vancouver. Also many non koreans have a deep knowledge about korean movies and movie stars.
    It can be a really good idea.

  5. I totally agree..It’s so awkward to see marching band in subway station and original Korean movies are much better than remakes. But I don’t agree that modern Korea isn’t so drastically different from modern America. Appearance and atmosphere are slightly different. (I mean some details) But I believe that makes korean movies so distinctive and interesting. If non-Koreans can’t find any difference between Korean movies and theirs, they prefer to watch their movies to save their efforts reading subtitle. BTW, I’d glad that we can watch Korean movies about “Coming of Age in Korean High School” in Michigan Theater although it’s little bit dated films. (http://ii.umich.edu/ncks/eventsprograms/filmseries)

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      I think you’re probably right about cultural difference being an appealing factor of Korean movies to some. I also think if subtitles were the problem, it’d be okay to just dub them into English, although you would lose a lot of feeling that way.

  6. i love My Sassy Girl!

    there are a ton of Korean movies i have not seen, but know that i should, but there is one that i absolutely adore: The Way Home.

    i saw it once, cried my eyes right off my face, and will never watch it again. and i own it. it was brilliant.

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      Some people think My Sassy Girl is ridiculous because the girl treats the guy so bad and he just takes it cuz she is hot. I liked it though.

  7. Thanks for sharing such a nice article.

  8. Yes, I also noticed American don’t want to read subtitle. Plus, they still don’t have an open mind on Asian movies.

    By the way, I have an Italian friend who knows almost of all films directed by Kim Ki-duk. Kim Ki-duk only directs art films, so they are not very popular among the public. Personally, hope those art films derected by him to become well-known, because they’re so brilliant in terms of story and scenes.
    Haha 😀 I know this is not really related to the post, but this is what comes to my mind after reading it!

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      I’m not really familiar with any directors.

      As far as the Asian movie thing goes, there’s a huge following of people who love Japanese animation, so if we can develop some kind of niche culture around Korean movies, then maybe there will be a market for that.

      Or not…

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