Under the Skies of Seoul: The Golden Age of South Korean Cinema

Programme curated by di Cho Hyun Jin e Jung Minhwa
In collaboration with Istituto Culturale Coreano in Italia


Il Cinema Ritrovato’s first major survey of South Korean cinema showcases key works from the 1960s, a decade in which the first Korean auteurs created films that were both hugely popular and cinematically daring.
The reasons behind the emergence of this golden age are complex. Whilst technological developments such as new colour and widescreen formats played their part, the wider political context is also important to consider. Between the April Revolution of 1960 and the military coup of May 1961, government-led censorship lessened considerably. Later, the Motion Picture Laws attempted to strengthen domestic film production through imposing a strict limit on the import of foreign films, resulting in a boom in national cinema. Not only were the sheer number of productions and the audience attendance figures impressive, but there was also an increase in the variety of new genres and the introduction of numerous innovative cinematic techniques.
This programme centres around five of the most prolific directors of the era. We begin with Kim Ki-young, who was known for his fiercely inventive approach to independent filmmaking. To mark the centenary of his birth, we present his internationally best-known work Hanyeo (The Housemaid, 1960) alongside the world premiere of the newly restored classic Goryeojang (1963). Both films reflect the political instability of the time, employing acutely allegorical characters and distinct visual language. Shin Sang-ok’s first colour CinemaScope film Seong Chun-hyang (The Story of Chunhyang, 1961) marked the beginning of a film empire – Shin Films – that would come to define Korean cinema for the remainder of the decade, producing over 150 titles. The brief period of creative freedom during the early 1960s was also witness to another critically lauded work, Yu Hyun-mok’s Obaltan (Aimless Bullet, 1961), which captures the desperate living conditions of Seoul’s Haebangchon neighbourhood following the Korean War. Kim Soo-yong’s Hyeolmaek (Bloodline, 1963) – set in the same district – raised the bar for early realist filmmaking in Korea with its compassionate account of the residents’ lives. Angae (Mist, 1967) applies a radically different approach in adapting a celebrated short story and is, alongside Lee Man-hee’s Hyuil (A Day Off, 1968, banned and unseen until 2005), one of the few fully fledged modernist films to have emerged from the era. If the decade opened with the optimism of the April Revolution, the second half of the 1960s brought with it a feeling of despair and resentment. These films capture the mood of this volatile time.
This programme wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of the Korean Film Archive, providing us with the film prints and fine restorations.

Cho Hyun Jin and Jung Minhwa