Greetings Cinema friends,
For American audiences, the last two decades has seen the rise of breakthrough South Korea films—from a slow trickle to a fever pitch. Beginning for many with whispers of a shocking genre epic, Park Chan-wook’s Cannes Grand Prix winner Oldboy would find its way to daring cinemas (screened in Ragtag’s single screen iteration in the spring of 2005) and circulate through video stores and red envelopes. This spiraling ascension culminated at the 2020 Academy Awards with Parasite’s historic wins. In the intense spotlight, Bong Joon-ho advocated for international film broadly, but also introduced a global audience to South Korea’s cinematic history.
That history is inextricably tied to the story of the 20th century. Freedom following Japanese occupation, the Korean War, coup-d'etats, martial law, popular upheaval, democratization, and globalization all influenced and dictated the direction—and restriction—of South Korean cinema.
Rarely screened in the US, the film is widely considered the first of the Korean New Wave. What begins as a neorealist buddy comedy about painters bouncing between odd-jobs becomes a rallying cry for the working class in the midst of Seoul’s whirlwind economic growth. It is no exaggeration to say that the film could not have been made even one year earlier, as nearly three decades of despotic military rule came to a close only months before Chilsu and Mansu started filming.
We are proud to host one of the very few theatrical screenings of this landmark film in the US, and will be joined by a panel of experts in South Korean culture and political science to discuss the complex history that shapes the identities of people and cinema.