The South Korean film industry — buoyed by the economics of the country's famed quota system, which compels cinemas to show homegrown movies, and new opportunities for venture capital following the Asian financial crisis — had a true global hit. But Oldboy did not itself create the violent revenge trope. Let's stay with Oldboy for a second. If you haven't seen it, the film is about a man kidnapped seemingly without reason, held for 15 years, then released and given five days to find out why. Look at the dates: Oldboy was released in , meaning the original abduction took place in That was the year South Korea's first democratic president was inaugurated, after their first elections in December the previous year.
South Korea may look like a lovely place to live these days, but its transition to democracy was not a smooth one. In , two former presidents were indicted for crimes committed in office, with one even sentenced to death — though both were pardoned the following year.
A great deal of social anger was and is directed at business leaders, most of whom stayed quiet and got wealthy while the earlier regime was shooting students in the streets. In , President Park Chung-hee was assassinated after 16 years in power in a failed bid for democracy.
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Further back, of course, there's the wounds of the division of the Korean peninsula and the nightmarish war that followed. With all this suffering, and the ever-present threat just to the north, South Korea's progress has been a miracle — but it hasn't been without its cost. The South Koreans may have kept calm and carried on getting rich, but it seems impossible to lug around all that history without some of its brutal energy manifesting itself.
Hence, perhaps, these grandly bloody vengeances: you can read Oldboy many ways, but it's hard not to see protagonist Oh as an incarnation of the fury this history has bequeathed. Imprisoned since a key turning point in the nation's history, he personifies repressed rage escaping and wreaking grisly havoc. Most interestingly — spoiler alert — the ending of Oldboy hinges on an act of forgetting.
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So this was like an incubating process. Also, the waiting period before making a feature film is very long. What I love most is making films, so shorts allow me to retain that sense of passion, fun and love of making movies.
KJ: Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. For me the romantic comedy is the most difficult genre. I often wondered if I could make a romantic comedy in my lifetime and then I got this opportunity.
KJ: I always wanted to try sci-fi noir and should be able to do that. This can give the movies a sense of naivety maybe but also purity and spontaneity and I think this is what overseas audiences can get from our movies.
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RD: Are they any genres left you really want to tackle? Click below to watch the entire One Perfect Day short movie!