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Born of the financial crisis

The South Korean film boom is paradoxically a consequence of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Before the crisis, the Korean film industry was dominated by actors pumping out b-movies on small budgets, Newsweek writes. The companies that dominated the film industry made their money from the sale of video cassettes, video players, distribution and rental, and the main interest was to flood the video shelves and cinemas with cheap entertainment. The poor quality led to Hollywood films accounting for as much as 80 percent of sales in the Korean movie market in the 1990s.

In the wake of the financial crisis, the IMF forced debt-ridden companies such as Hyundai, Daewoo and Samsung to withdraw from the film industry, and thus the inefficiency and rottenness of the film industry came to the surface. Instead, the market was left to a new generation of risk-averse moviegoers, and a new generation of filmmakers began making more commercial films. Which at the same time meant increased competition for the audience and thus more costly and, ultimately, better films.

The big breakthrough came with the action thriller Shiri in 1999, which sold more tickets than Titanic and almost on their own made the people believe in Korean film again. In 2004, domestic film accounted for 50 per cent of the market, and in the first months of 2005, the market share was at an incredible 70 per cent. Now, only the film industry in Japan and India is trading for larger sums than South Korea, while Korean actors such as Won Bin, Sol Gyeong-gu and Bae Yong are superstars throughout East Asia. While Hollywood is queuing up to make American versions of Korean successes like My Wife Is a Gangster, Phone Number og A Tale of Two Sisters.

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