Korea’s film industry started in the 1920’s. The first sound film didn’t happen until the 1930’s. After Japan had occupied Korea in the ’30s, the Japanese started a film studio to pump out propaganda films in Korea. After WWII there was little film production until after the Korean War.
In South Korea things really started taking off with the government supporting the industry. By the 1970’s though the government had restricted and regulated the industry to the point that it almost died. In the 1980’s with a new elected government, the restrictions lessened but the industry wouldn’t recover until the ’90’s. In the late 1990’s the South Korean film industry hit a boom that is still being felt today. Many great directors emerged (there was always great directors it’s just that there is quite a few visionary ones today) like Bong Joon-ho, Kim Ki-duk, Kim Jee-Woon and Park Chan-wook.
Horror movies have always existed in Korean cinema. Folk tales and ghost stories were always popular scary films. Once the 2000’s hit though, the genre really took off. Unlike Japan’s horror boom, the South Korean horror boom didn’t focus as much on extreme horror. That isn’t to say that there aren’t some nasty stuff happening in the movies, it just hasn’t gotten as nasty as some of the stuff in Japan. I’ve focused on few South Korean horror movies in past 31 Days of Horror entries, The Host and Thirst, but today’s South Korean film is A Tale of Two Sisters(2003).
A Tale of Two Sisters is South Korea’s highest grossing horror movie. It’s based on an old folk tale called Janghwa Hongryeon jeon (The Story of Janghwa and Hongryeon) and this was the sixth time that the story had been filmed. The first was in 1924. This version updates and changes the story around a little giving the viewer a nice creepy surprise at the end. Like most folk tales this one is about an evil step-mother. The film starts off in a psychiatric ward where a doctor is talking to Su-mi who is unresponsive. Su-mi and her sister are sent home to their father and his new wife. Things aren’t what they seem. There seems to be a ghost around the place and the step-mother might be abusing Su-mi’s younger sister. The film is creepy and keeps you on your toes. Plus I find any film that features a sack that moves is always extra creepy.
A Tale of Two Sisters was remade in the U.S. as The Uninvited in 2009. This version didn’t do as well as it’s predecessor.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the North Korean side. Their film industry also kicked off in the 1950’s after the war but there isn’t much known about the films that they have made there. However in the 1980’s North Korean leader (or future leader at the time) Kim Jong-il had kidnapped South Korean director Shin Sang-ok and his wife South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee for the purpose of making North Korean movies. From the time Shin was kidnapped in 1978 to 1986 when he and his wife escaped during a Vienna film festival and made it to an American Embassy Shin made seven movies that were produced by Kim Jong-il. One of these movies was Pulgasari (1985) a giant rubber suit monster movie in the vein of Godzilla.
The plot is set in feudal Korea where an evil king is starving the peasants. A blacksmith makes a doll that comes to life (the giant monster of the film) and helps the peasants overthrow the evil king. It’s propaganda and it’s not a very good film but as far as giant monster movies go it’s still better than the 1998 American Godzilla movie.