South Korean films and TV series are dominating the world’s movie production and capturing the attention of international audiences. But how have South Korean movies become a global hit?
Hallyu (the Korean wave) is a term widely used to describe the international success of South Korean pop culture and entertainment, including music, film, TV, fashion, and food. In the past three years, the success of Korean pop culture—and movie productions in particular—has exponentially grown.
The international success of South Korean films started in the 1990s, right after the end of the repressive military regimes and the consequent ease of censorship laws. At that time, large Korean companies started investing into the film business. In the first years of Hallyu, international fans typically downloaded pirated South Korean movies, while South Koreans studying abroad took care of the subtitling. Then, with the advent of movie platforms, South Korean productions became more and more accessible.
The thirst for Korean cinema increased in 2019 with the release of the movie Parasite directed by Bong Joon-ho. Centered around wealth and disparity, Parasite made history by becoming the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
South Korea’s entertainment boomed again last September, when the South Korean drama series Squid Game became Netflix’s biggest ever hit, reaching 1.65 billion viewers just in its first month of release.
Last February South Korean movies achieved another milestone, when the new South Korean film “The Apartment with Two Women” premiered at the Berlinale. In the movie, actress Yang Mal-bok plays the role of a woman in her late twenties who lives with her mother. The plot focuses on the difficult mother-daughter relationship. According to co-actress Jung Bo-ram, all people—regardless of their nationality—can relate the movie with their own lives.
So how are South Korean movies becoming a global hit? Speaking with DW News, actress Jung Bo-ram said that it’s the “universalist themes of Korean society” that is behind the success of South Korean films abroad.
Moreover, the South Korean government is supporting national film and series productions through heavy investments. The South Korean government considers the entertainment industry a key driver for the national economy and aims to become the world’s leading exporter and importer of entertainment and media.
Recently, international film festivals have increased opportunities for South Korean movies to be seen, and Netflix has announced that it would spend $500 million in 2022 in an effort to expand South Korean content on its streaming platform. For a long time, tastes in movies have been concentrated on the western world. But now it seems like we have started moving in a different direction—East.