By Korean Film Archive
Kim Hyung Seok (Programmer, PyeongChang International Peace Film Festival)
'Christmas in August' promo photo (convert to B/W) (1998) by Hur Jin-hoKorean Film Archive
The 1990s was a period of upheaval in Korean cinema. Funding and production systems changed, and new directors and actors appeared. ‘Mania-oriented fan culture’ became popular. The movie brochures during this time also went through significant changes. More diverse brochures emerged, breaking away from the stereotypical shapes of the past. Looking at the 1990s brochures with seven keywords, let's look back on the Korean movie culture at that time.
The Dream Movie Program Brochure (1990) by Bae Chang-hoKorean Film Archive
Artisans – Typography
Artisans of the 1980s or earlier still worked behind the camera in the 1990s. Those artisans included Im Kwon-taek of the 1960s, Lee Jang-ho, Kim Ho-sun, and Park Chul-soo of the 1970s, and Bae Chang-ho, Chung Ji-young, Kim Yu-jin, and Kwak Ji-kyoon of the 1980s. Rather than following the trend, they chose to stand up for their artistic visions, and used bold and simple typography to reveal the titles of their films.
In that sense, they can be called "traditionalists," and the brochure of Bae Chang-ho's The Dream (1990) simply puts the word "dream" on a long vertical brochure and adds the head copy of "people, who drew near for their yearning, thirst for lust" beneath the image. It is simple and honest.
Movie program brochures for 'Fly High Run Far-Kae Byok' etc. (1991) by Im Kwon-taekKorean Film Archive
The 1990s were a truly heyday for Im Kwon-taek. He projected his unique theme of 'humanism' into the landscape of 20th century Korean history in films such as Fly High Run Far-Kae Byok (1991; the upper), Sopyonje (1993; the lower right), and The Tae Baek Mountains (1994; the lower left). In the bold typeface of their titles, you can feel the self-confidence of a film auteur who has developed slowly since the 1960s and peaked in his film career.
Look at the brochure of The Tae Baek Mountains. There is only one line written on it: 'Directed by Im Kwon-taek.'
301, 302 Movie Program Brochure (1995) by Park Chul SooKorean Film Archive
Director Park Chul-soo, who showed a diverse spectrum through Woman Requiem (1985) and A Pillar of Mist (1986), makes a bold leap forward in the 1990s. 301, 302 (1995) is a film at that inflection point. Combining appetite and sexual desire, this film has a Freudian theme, and expresses its uniqueness through a symbol-like typeface. Park's determination to deliver a new film is well expressed in the typeface created by the 'Visual Development Lab, Heart.'
The Road to the Race Track Movie Program Brochure (1991) by Jang Sun-wooKorean Film Archive
New Wave – Faces
In the early 1980s, directors Lee Jang-ho and Bae Chang-ho led a new trend in Korean cinema, followed by Park Kwang-su and Jang Sun-woo. The new wave they pioneered was an important flow through the 1990s, and several directors developed pioneering new areas. What's interesting is that the newness of those films was represented by certain 'faces.'
The Road to the Race Track (1991) directed by Jang Sun-woo, adapted from Ha Il-ji's bestseller of the same title, revolves around the relationship between R (Moon Sung-keun) and J (Kang Soo-yeon). In this brochure, Kang Su-yeon is staring at the audience. Her expression reflects the film's attitude, where nothing is forced upon the viewer or prescribes any message.
Movie program brochures of 'Black Republic' and 'A Single Spark' (1990) by Park Kwang-suKorean Film Archive
In Black Republic (1990), Park Kwang-su's camera follows Ki-yeong, a university student who is on the run, into a coal mining town. In A Single Spark (1995), his camera goes back to the past to meet Jeon Tae-il in Pyeonghwa Market, where sewing factories were concentrated in the 1970s. Activists and workers had hardly been seen in Korean films before Park’s films, and his films captured their faces.
Cutting the Sorrow With a Knife Stuck in the Chest Movie Program Brochure (1993) by Hong Ki-seonKorean Film Archive
The late director Hong Ki-seon is one of the central figures when discussing the history of Korean independent films. His first film Cutting the Sorrow with a Knife Stuck in the Chest (1992) depicts the stories of the people on board of a fishing boat. This film tells the story of people thrown into the middle of the open sea. The face of a rising star at the time, Cho Jae-hyun, captures the despair of humans who have been pushed to the lowest position.
The Murmuring Movie Program Brochure (1995) by Byun Young-jooKorean Film Archive
The history of documentaries being released in theaters in Korea is surprisingly short. The Murmuring (1995) directed by Byun Young-joo was the first film to be released in theaters. This film captures the faces of the Japanese military comfort women. The wrinkled faces of old ladies calmly recalling their past in front of the camera resonate more than any other spectacle.
'The Marriage Life' movie program brochure (front side) (1992) by Kim Eui-sukKorean Film Archive
Films with Systematic Pre-production – A Man and A Woman
The biggest change in Korean cinema in the 1990s occurred in the field of capital. This is because domestic capital was crowded out, and films were made by funding from corporations and financial capital. Changes in funding also brought changes to the film itself. Romantic comedies finally appeared in Chungmuro (then the heart of Korean film industry), and the era of so-called ‘films with systematic pre-production’ opened.
'The Marriage Life' movie program brochure (back side) (1992) by Kim Eui-sukKorean Film Archive
The first film was The Marriage Life (Kim Eui-suk, 1992). Marketing of this film had a freshness worthy of being recorded in Korean cinema. The film combines a screenplay based on data collected through research and a sense of a new generation. Marketing for this film utilized the boldness of showing the backs of two protagonists, the effervescent copies, and the light but audience-oriented approach. This strategy was inherited in countless romantic films.
Blue in You Movie Program Brochure (1992) by Lee Hyeon-seungKorean Film Archive
In 1992, when The Marriage Life appeared, we encountered another story of a man and a woman. Director Lee Hyeon-seung's first film Blue in You was a feminist film equipped with a new sensibility. In particular, the blue tone color created by director Lee, a former art director, stood out among contemporary Korean films at the time, and the original soundtrack by Kim Hyeon-cheol was also sensuous.
Movie program brochures of 'The 101st Proposition' etc. (1993) by Oh Seok-geun etc.Korean Film Archive
The story of the man and the woman continued. ShinCine made The 101st Proposition (1993) after the success of The Marriage Life. Director Kang Woo-suk, who pulled off a huge box office hit with the buddy film Two Cops (1993), presented How to Top My Wife (1994), a 'Kang Woo-suk styled Marriage Life,' and prestigious film marketer Shim Jae-myung founded 'Myung Films' and released Corset (1996) as the founding work.
Christmas in August Movie Program Brochure (1998) by Hur Jin-hoKorean Film Archive
The trend of romantic comedies in Korean cinema shifted to melodramas such as The Contact (1997), The Letter (1997), A Promise (1998), and Christmas in August (1998) at the end of the 1990s. The combination of simple texts and calm images, which can be seen on the brochure of Christmas in August, reflects the new trend in melodrama of the late 1990s, away from the sensibility of the old-school melodramas.
Terrorists Movie Program Brochure (1995) by Kim Young-binKorean Film Archive
Action – Scars
Romantic comedies were popular in the early 1990s. Then, genre films known ‘male-centric films’ followed. These were mostly action-packed crime films with male characters who looked rough but were empty inside. The audience were not attracted to the Hong Kong-style gangster image. It was their wounded souls that inhabited the heartless night of the city, and that sensitivity was often expressed in the scars on their faces.
Soo-hyun of Terrorists (1995) wore a bandage on his face with his empty eyes. This were the typical image of tough guy in action genre of the time. Action directors who dominated the 1990s include Kim Young-bin of Terrorists, Jang Hyun-soo of The Rules of the Game, and Kim Sung-su of Beat. They co-worked with male stars such as Choi Min-su, Park Joong-hoon, and Jung Woo-sung. They worked together through a world of brutal yet stylish action.
Movie program brochures of 'The Rules of the Game' and 'Beat' (1994) by Jang Hyun-soo & Kim Sung-suKorean Film Archive
The brochure for The Rules of the Game (1994) boldly used a scene that can be seen as a critical spoiler. The brochure shows Yong-dae bleeding to death. When the film was released, this film was, in especial, spotlighted for its special makeup. Beat, which launched Jung Woo-sung to stardom, also featured the image of Min, a 20-year-old youngster without a dream, and the black-and-white photo revealing the rough feeling of his skin is impressive.
Nowhere to Hide Movie Program Brochure (1999) by Lee Myung-seKorean Film Archive
If we were to pick the best action scenes throughout the 1990s, this scene would be one of the choices. This brochure of Nowhere to Hide also reveals the climax scene like The Rules of the Game. Of course, it is hard to find any other visuals that have that much impact. Detective Woo and killer Jang run as pursuers and chasers throughout the movie. On a rainy day, they finally face off head-to-head, each putting their fists into the other's weary face.
No. 3 Movie Program Brochure (1997) by Song Neung-hanKorean Film Archive
Comedy – B Movies
In the 1990s, eccentric comedies started to be made. Writers and directors with their own dramaturgy, such as Yeo Kyun-dong, Song Neung-han, and Park Heon-su, began to lampoon the world with their works.
They freed themselves from the solemnity of film grammar. Their unorthodox mise-en-scène and dialog filled the screen. It was during this period that the so-called ‘postmodern’ style, which employed such features as employment of parody and kitsch sensibility, appeared, and director Song Neung-han’s No. 3 (1997) was a representative work. Their tastes for radical B Movies could be summed up by Tae-joo swearing with his middle finger on the brochure.
Ambiguous Man Movie Program Brochure (1996) by Kim yong-taeKorean Film Archive
At this time, cartoon style and movie promotion were also combined. Ambiguous Man (1996) and Attack the Gas Station (1999) are comedies of different colors, but these two films break the formality of existing brochures and incorporate elements of comics.
Attack the Gas Station Movie Program Brochure (1999) by Kim Sang-jinKorean Film Archive
Ambiguous Man shines with a B-movie’s sensibility of subculture, and Attact the Gas Station is armed with the ‘punk’ spirit of genre films. These films opened up a new landscape for Korean comedy, which began a rapid evolution by accepting the gag style after Two Cops.
Ghost Movie Program Brochure (1990) by Jerry ZuckerKorean Film Archive
Hollywood – Fantasy
In fact, the greatest impact on the Korean film industry in the 1990s was not the fresh attempts of films with systematic pre-production, the familiar pleasure of genre films, or the heavy subject consciousness of New Wave films. It was the direct-distributed films that appeared in the late 1980s. The direct distribution system exerted its full-fledged power in the early 1990s, and Ghost, released in November 1990, was the beacon.
The Korean title of this film was replaced with the utterly melodramatic Love and Soul. Ghost conveyed the essence of Hollywood fantasy to the Korean audience, and its theme song, “Unchained Melody,” dominated the Korean streets during the winter season of that year. And fantastic movies created in the ‘dream factory’ came to Korea through various genres such as action, adventure, mystery, and musical for a decade.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show Movie Program Brochure (1975) by Jim SharmanKorean Film Archive
There are many films and auteurs summoned by mania-oriented fan culture in the 1990s, but The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) is a bit special. This film, a cult legend, landed in Korea in 1998, 23 years after its release, and we worshiped and enjoyed this musical fantasy just as American audiences did in the 1970s.
The Matrix Movie Program Brochure (1999) by Lana Wachowski·Lilly WachowskiKorean Film Archive
The Wachowskis' The Matrix, which was released in 1999, showed more than anything we could have imagined. It was a visual revolution that 'your eyes would not believe' as in a head copy. The dark-toned metallic characters and their action spectacle seen on the brochure have since been imitated countless times, but those were brand-new then.
Stranger Than Paradise Movie Program Brochure (1984) by Jim JarmuschKorean Film Archive
Art-house Films – Color Tone
The biggest cultural phenomenon in Korean cinema in the 1990s was the popularization of cinephilic culture. Art-house films from all over the world were screened in dedicated theaters and young audiences responded positively to those films. The brochures of those art films have one thing in common: they appeal to the audience with a sophisticated feeling through a specific 'color.'
The brochure for Stranger than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch, 1984), a black-and-white film released in Korea in 1995, reflected the tone of the film. This image, used in brochure and poster, was also used as a popular interior prop for numerous cafes at the time.
The Big Blue Movie Program Brochure (1988) by Luc BessonKorean Film Archive
Luc Besson was considered one of the leading directors of "nouvelle image." His film The Big Blue (1988) and Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors: Blue (1993) captivated the audience with blue-toned images, as their titles suggest. It is quite a simple promotion strategy, but there was no better way to do it.
Three Colors: Blue Movie Program Brochure (1993) by Krzysztof KieslowskiKorean Film Archive
While the main color tone of The Big Blue is the blue of the deep sea, that of Three Colors: Blue is a darker shade that reflects the psychology of the main character.
Damage Movie Program Brochure (1992) by Louis MalleKorean Film Archive
The release of Damage (Louis Malle, 1992) was controversial in Korea. The film conveys sensuality with various colors. The brochure combined with light green and dark blue tones reveals the sensual characteristic of the film. When it was re-released in 2021, an intense red tone was chosen for its main color. The power of ‘Damage,’ the title written in red-colored Gothic font on top of the green tone, is intense.
Bad Blood Movie Program Brochure (1986) by Leos CaraxKorean Film Archive
Bad Blood (1986), Leos Carax's representative work, shows the director's unique sense of color and was released in Korea in 1994. The 'blood' in the title is a very strong image and motif of this movie, and the saturated red image is captivating.
Total Eclipse Movie Program Brochure (1995) by Agmieszka HollandKorean Film Archive
Total Eclipse (1995), directed by Agnieszka Holland and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, depicts the life of poet Arthur Rimbaud. The red color was used to represent the world of the poet's maddened poems. The caricature shown on the brochure is a portrait of Rimbaud by Pablo Picasso.
Planning and Production by Korean Film Archive
Curation by Kim Hyung Seok (Programmer, PyeongChang International Peace Film Festival)
Production Arranged by Lee Ji-youn·Song Eun-ji
Edit Configuration by Agnes Park·Ko Sang-sok
Translation by Hwang Miyojo