Cinema depicting the Korean War can help raise awareness of the conflict and offer clues to how ultimately Korea might be unified, according to Leonid Petrov, an organiser of the Korean War in Film screening and discussion program.
The lion's share of Australia's Korean community is from the South; with only about 10,000 of a 125,000-strong Korean population having their roots in North Korea. As such, within the local Korean community, perspectives on the 1950-1953 war are largely one-sided.
Petrov, who lectures in Korean Studies at the University of Sydney, says many Koreans living in Australia have a somewhat limited knowledge of their nation's history. Young South Koreans are particularly curious about their past, particularly as North Korea remains isolated to this day, whilst the North-South struggle for State legitimacy continues. Here, Petrov believes “the art of film plays a role”.
Organised in conjunction with the Korean Media and Culture Club (KMCC), the Korean War in Film event is taking place over three successive Wednesdays this month, following an earlier round of screenings held in May 2010.
The following three films are being shown:
Kang Je-gyu's The Brotherhood of War (2004), the highest-grossing Korean film of all time upon its theatrical release, revolving around two brothers who are drafted into the army by force during the outbreak of the Korean War.
Lewis Milestone-directed US film Pork Chop Hill (1959), which depicts the fierce battle fought between the US Army and Chinese and Korean Communist forces at the tail end of the War.
Kim Song Gyo's On the Railway (1960), a North Korean classic set during the autumn of 1950, when a locomotive engineer is attempting to evacuate precious machinery and equipment during the North Korean retreat.
“Until the early '90s, the Korean film industry was suppressed, there were only about a dozen films a year and they were underfunded,” Petrov explains. “They managed somehow to produce good quality films, but could not compete with Hollywood blockbusters.
“Then the legislation changed and quotas became favourable to local films. More investment came and venture capital streamed into the industry. Films started to be exported, along with Korean songs, fashion design, computer games, industrial design etc.”
Despite this cultural gain, Petrov stresses that a "Cold War structure" remains in the region; not only in Korea but in China and Taiwan and Japan and Russia.
Locally, the Korean community is very tight-knit, with organised cultural activity revolving around Korean businesses, Korean newspapers and, especially, the Korean church.
Founded by fellow Korean Studies lecturer, Ki-sung Kwak, the KMCC is an informal group that aims to promote Korean culture and foster social interaction through social activities including seminars and film screenings.
“We not only wish to show films but also have some sort of activity,” Ki-Sung explains. “We would like to have performances by Korean musicians and artists living in Sydney and other Australian cities, and we plan to invite people from the local community to talk about issues, such as the relationship between the North and South.”
Less active in recent times, the club held a film festival event in both 2006 and 2007, which received generous support from the Korean consulate. Ki-sung admits it is a challenge to refresh club membership amongst the student base.
“I really want the club to be very active but when our members graduate we have to encourage new members to join the club,” he says. “What I actually plan to do is ask some student representatives to actually run the club.”
Aside from students moving on, the proliferation of Korean product available on DVD presents a further challenge to the club.
“When we first showed a Korean film here, it was back in 1999,” Ki-sung says. “DVD was not so popular, and we attracted about 300 people from the community.
“Also, with the internet, people can now easily download movies. The Korean government is planning to develop technology to download a two-hour film in less than 10 seconds, so that's quite attractive.”
The Korean Media and Culture Club screenings are held at the University of Sydney. For information visit http://sydney.edu.au/arts/korean/societies/index.shtml