Through Korean Cinema (Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso, Italy: 2010)

Italian filmmaker Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso’s Through Korean Cinema combines interviews with five Korean filmmakers – and not just any five, we’re talking Im Kwon-taek, Park Kwang-su, Lee Myung-se, Lee Chang-dong and Park Chan-wook – three film critics (Lee Young-jin, Kim So-young and Tony Rayns), short film clips and some beautifully shot footage of modern day Korea and somehow manages to come up with more than the sum of his parts.

While many of us become more aware of ‘modern’ Korean cinema it also becomes more and more glaringly obvious that, in comparison, there’s a real shortage of information about the ‘old’ Korean cinema. An industry that has weathered more than its fair share of struggles during a sometimes turbulent history, there’s a rich and fascinating background to the Korean film industry which laid the foundation for the one that we have today. By placing its five central interviews into chronological order Through Korean Cinema not only manages to provide and interesting insight into the work of a group of very different directors, but also manages to form a background to around five decades in the Korean film industry.

Although filmed as largely static talking head shots, each of the five directors represented are intercut with footage of some of their films in a way which doesn’t stop the dialogue for a ‘filler’ clip, instead the footage is nicely woven to compliment the points being raised. The directors largely avoid simply talking through their filmographies and instead deliver anecdotes and reflections on anything from single events to whole periods of time – such as Im Kwon-taek’s realisation that his presence at international film festivals was representing ‘Korea’ as a world-wide identity, a realisation that helped fuel the content of his subsequent films. Difficult working conditions are often raised – particularly censorship and the evolving political situations – as well as more personal thoughts such as disappointment with their own work and the growth of different movements such as the New Wave. Although this approach may come across as too generalised for viewers familiar with these aspects of Korean film history, Through Korean Cinema provides a clear and fascinating insight into the industry over the last five decades for newcomers. A familiarity with the work of the directors here will add another level of interest, but is far from essential.

The inclusion of comments from critics such as Tony Rayns is used at points to further explain the context of the industry during any given period – again, this is something which is helpful and supports the main interviews rather than just padding them out. With a running time of only seventy minutes there is a limit to how far Through Korean Cinema can reach – it’s detailed enough to provide a general background but there’s not enough depth for anyone already familiar with the period discussed. While there’s some interesting references it also doesn’t uncover any particularly fresh or unique insights. Still, this is a small complaint given the lack of accessible material on both the historical elements and the directors themselves – with the possible exception of Park Chan-wook whose appearance in the final section is illustrative of just how high profile successful Korean filmmakers are becoming today.

Through Korean Cinema is well worth a recommendation and worth seeking out. It’s short but there’s nothing included which feels unnecessary, so its also an easy watch. The interviews alone are interesting, the picture they paint as a group is fascinating and the combination of film footage with some beautiful shots of modern day Korea manage to strike exactly the right tone in presenting a history lesson that still hasn’t been explored enough yet.

Through Korean Cinema
Directed by Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso
Produced by Blue Film
Starring Im Kwon-taek, Park Kwang-su, Lee Myung-se, Lee Chang-dong, Park Chan-wook, Lee Young-jin, Kim So-young, Tony Rayns

Through Korean Cinema Image © Blue Film