You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Korea Grapples With Films Set in Japanese Colonial Era

Nation Tries to Come to Terms With Its Painful Past

Korean commercial films set in the Japanese colonial era have a checkered history at the box office.

Most films taking pace in that epoch, including “The Anarchists” (2000), “Blue Swallow” (2005), “Epitaph” (2007), “Radio Days” (2008) and “Modern Boy” (2008) scored fewer than 1 million admissions.

Kim Jee-woon’s big-budget, genre-bending “The Good, the Bad, the Weird,” which earned $38.3 million from 6.69 million admissions in 2008, was one of the rare successful examples.

This general lack of box office appeal has discouraged studios from returning to the period — until now.

Last year, several colonial-era films achieved exceptional success, including Choi Dong-hoon’s big-budget actioner “Assassination,” which became 2015’s second-biggest film; Lee Joon-ik’s low-budget black-and-white biopic “Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet”; and crowdfunded comfort-women drama “Spirits’ Homecoming.”

The latter two were both considered sleeper hits, as they competed against blockbustr Hollywood releases “Deadpool” and “Zootopia.”

“The colonial era is full of figures and events suitable for film adaptations, but filmmakers in the past were not willing to tap into that particular era because of the national sentiment about the painful history,” says “Dongju” writer and producer Shin Yeon-shick. “However, as the truth about past incidents is being revealed and vindicated, Korean society has recently started to recover from the trauma and found it less difficult to watch such films.”

Another reason for filmmakers’ reluctance was production costs. As audience demand for colonial films was low, companies had been hesitant to bear the enormous expense to build proper sets and props to re-enact the era.

Shin says that this may change. “The success of ‘Assassination’ has proven the commercial potential of films set in that era. There may be even more such films in the future.”

Indeed, more big-budget films set in that era are on deck for theatrical release this year. They include Park Chan-wook’s Cannes competition entry “The Handmaiden,” Kim Jee-woon’s spy drama “Age of Shadows” and Hur Jin-ho’s romance drama “The Last Princess.”

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • Barron HiltonBarron Hilton 1990

    Famed Hotelier Barron Hilton Dies at 91

    Barron Hilton, a famed hotelier who helped expand the Hilton Hotels empire and a founding owner of the Chargers NFL football team, has died, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation announced. He was 91. “Today the world of hospitality mourns for one of the greats. Barron Hilton was an incredible family man, business leader and philanthropist. [...]

  • Patrick Whitesell and Ari Emanuel WME

    Endeavor Targets Sept. 27 for Stock Debut, IPO Video Tells Company's Origin Story

    After years of preparation, Endeavor is set to make its formal Wall Street debut on Sept. 27, when its stock will begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Endeavor has targeted Sept. 26 for the final pricing of its shares. The stock will trade publicly the following day. Earlier this week, Endeavor said its [...]

  • Netflix - Apple TV

    Netflix Stock Drops After CEO Acknowledges 'Tough Competition' Coming From Disney, Apple

    Netflix shares fell as much as 7% Friday to a nine-month low, coming after CEO Reed Hastings commented that the November launches of Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus will introduce a “whole new world” of competition. Hastings, speaking at the Royal Television Society conference Friday in Cambridge, England, said, “While we’ve been competing with [...]

  • Charlie Rose Sexual Harassment

    Charlie Rose Sued for Sexual Harassment by Longtime Makeup Artist

    A makeup artist who worked for Charlie Rose for 22 years has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit, accusing the former CBS and PBS host of years of unlawful behavior toward female employees. Gina Riggi alleges that Rose was verbally abusive with her and would often make derogatory comments about her weight. She also alleges that [...]

  • Rob Stringer

    Sony Music Chief Rob Stringer on Sustaining Growth and Recovering From the 'Dark Times'

    The Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference, now in its 28th year, gives top executives at major companies the opportunity to make their case to investors — and the Goldman analysts the opportunity to keep things on the up and up. While the analysts don’t necessarily grill the executives, they don’t lob softball questions either. That was [...]

  • Frank Grillo'Avengers: Endgame' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    Matt Phelps Tapped as President of Joe Carnahan, Frank Grillo's Warparty

    Frank Grillo and Joe Carnahan’s Warparty productikon banner has appointed Matt Phelps president of the company. Phelps will head the Los Angeles office and be responsible for overseeing all film and television projects. “We searched long and hard to find the right fit for Warparty and felt that Matt embodied everything that we were looking [...]

  • Jack Gilardi, Longtime ICM Partners Agent,

    Jack Gilardi, Longtime ICM Partners Agent, Dies at 88

    Jack Gilardi, a longtime ICM Partners agent who represented such stars as Burt Reynolds, Sylvester Stallone, Jerry Lewis, Charlton Heston and Shirley MacLaine, died Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 88. Gilardi was known for his gentlemanly style, love of the Los Angeles Dodgers and his skill at representing top actors. He [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content