A guidebook for the latest Korean New Wave of filmmaking!

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DVD Times Review of Korean Cinema: The New Hong Kong

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Review by Barry Woodcock, DVD Times

In the introduction to Korean Cinema: The New Hong Kong the author states his intention to produce the first guidebook to the new wave of Korean cinema for the mainstream western audience. Lack of competition has ensured the book is indeed the first, and it's clear from the start that the book is written in an easily accessible style, but what of the actual content?

After the introduction, the book includes a brief history of South Korea and the influence of historical events and changing political situations on its filmmaking industry. This is by no means as dry as it sounds and provides an interesting and informative background to the rest of the book.

As an extension of this surprisingly welcome history lesson, the following couple of chapters discuss the current 'new wave' of Korean cinema, and it is here that the author makes his case for the comparison to the Hong Kong film industry. To his credit, the author only makes parallels in regards to the success and expansion of the two film industries, and rightly recognises that the style and content of the films of each region are unique and distinct.

As you'd expect, the bulk of the book is taken up with a selection of reviews. Over eighty films from a period spanning 1997 to mid-2002 are included. Although many of the titles will be familiar to those who already have an interest in Korean cinema, very few will have seen all the films in question. Inevitably nobody will be in exact agreement with all of the author's opinions, but most viewers will probably agree with the broad categorising of films into the good and the bad. Each of the films benefits from a two or three page review, which includes a list of the DVD and VCD versions available. As someone who prefers to know as little as possible about a film before watching, I did find some of the reviews revealed more of the plot than I would have liked, and the occasional spoiler is present. However, there's nothing to stop readers skipping the paragraphs containing the synopses and jumping straight to the author's opinion.

After the reviews comes a chapter listing some of the main figures, both actors and directors, in Korean cinema. Each featured person gets a short bio and a list of relevant films. Following this is a chapter informing the curious where they may be able to view or purchase Korean films, and then a chapter speculating on the future of the Korean film industry. As a coda, the book features an appendix listing all the films reviewed along with the author's rating. This is of course followed by the obligatory bibliography and index.

The book provides a useful single repository for all the English language information currently available about the Korean new wave, but it fails to provide any views from the Korean perspective. Although the absence is understandable, if the book had included interviews with some of the directors spearheading the Korean new wave it could have become an essential purchase for all Korean film fans. However, the book undoubtedly succeeds in its self-proclaimed role as 'a guidebook for the latest Korean New Wave' and as such provides an entertaining and informative read for those new to Korean cinema, or those who have already been converted and are seeking guidance as to what film to buy next.

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