Lee Young-il and Choe Young-chol: The History of Korean Cinema

History of Korean Cinema - coverJimdoondang Publishing Co, Seoul, 1988

I’m sure this book has a readership, but I’m not sure what it is. It is so badly written that it encourages skim-reading and thus is not particularly attractive for the general reader, while the index is so poor that its use as an academic reference tool is limited. As for how an English instructor at a Korean university came to consent to having his name credited as the translator of this text — well, the mind boggles. The quality of English would not disgrace a twelve-year-old’s history essay, but is not the sort of prose you would expect in a serious book that you pay good money for. I am used to having (what I believe to be) my polished English turned into Konglish by Korean friends or clients. That’s fine: they’re paying the bills and my name goes nowhere near the final product. But if I were Richard Lynn Greever I would have dissociated myself from this little project.

The publisher follows some interesting typesetting conventions — the whole thing is printed in a bold typeface, with no space between the opening of a parenthesis and the end of the previous word(sic) (which, when so much of the text does little more than list out Korean names of films followed by their English translations in brackets, is tiresome on the eye). And the text was clearly compiled without the benefit of a spell-checker1.

The book traces the history of the Korean film industry from its very beginnings until 1988 and as such has some interesting information, but while the authors can look back without fear of imprisonment at their account of Korean film in the colonial period, their account of the industry under the oversight of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan must surely be ready for an update.

All the trends of the different types of films being produced since the beginning are recounted; and there are some interesting individual snippets: we first encounter the veteran actor Ahn Sung-ki, for example, winning the Best Child Actor award at the San Francisco Film Festival on 30 December 1960 for his performance in Sibdae-ui Banhang (Resistence of Teenagers) — also, apparently, the first appearance of a Korean film in continental America. For collectors of data, there are appendices showing box office receipts, numbers of screens open and average ticket prices over time; there are potted biographies of key directors, timelines, lists and other goodies a-plenty. But overall, this book is crying out for a half-decent PhD student to re-write it and bring it up to date.

  1. I suppose, casting my mind back to the late 80s, maybe spell-checkers were an optional extra, rather than the annoying built-in wiggly underlining we get today, which chides me for writing the Queen’s English instead of the American version. []

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