SOAS University of London

Japan & Korea Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Culture

1990's South Korean cinema: A critical Survey

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 1

While the 1960s has been called the ‘Golden Age of Korean Cinema,’ it was not until the late 1980s and early 1990s that South Korean cinema really began to achieve sustained critical success at home and abroad. Since that period, there has been a phenomenal growth in the popularity of South Korean film. This course aims to analyse critically a key period in South Korean cinema, what Jin-Hee Choi calls the two ‘New Waves.’ The first ‘Wave’ of Park Kwang-su (Pak Kwangsu) and Jang Son-woo (Chang Sŏnu),  and the second ‘Wave’ of Lee Chang-dong (Yi Changdong), Hong Sang-soo (Hong Sangsu) and other filmmakers.

This course will examine the political and social context of the period 1987-2000 and the main changes that led to the two ‘Waves’ of South Korean film. This course will also explore work of filmmakers most closely associated with these ‘Waves,' major subjects and themes treated in these films, their cinematic aesthetic, and their changing representations of key historical and political events like the Korean War and the 1980 Kwangju Uprising. The students will investigate the fluid quality of cinematic notions like auteur, realism, genre and national cinema and discuss the appropriateness of these terms in relation to Korean cinema. In addition, students will be given weekly study skills guidance on essay preparation and production.

This course will complement other Korean Studies modules like ‘Culture and Society in 20th Century Korea’ or courses that focus on literature for example; ‘Readings in Korean Literature,’ and ‘Trajectories of Modernity in 20th Century Korean Literature.’ This course will provide BA students from the department of Japanese and Korean Languages and Cultures with a general overview and understanding of the important developments in South Korean cinema.


None.  This module is also available as an open option.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Learning Outcomes of this module are . . . 
  • an ability to use the conceptual tools and vocabulary with which to analyse critically (not just narrate or describe) a body of film texts from the contexts of their production and reception;
  • an ability to critically analyse some key concepts of cinema: genre, national cinema, narrative cinema using the South Korean context as a model;
  • an ability to express and defend positions about cinema both orally and in writing;
  • an ability to develop their own particular research interests independently;
Objectives of this module are . . . 
  • to develop an in-depth understanding of an important period of historical development in South Korean cinema- 1987-2000 paying special attention to major South Korean filmmakers from this period; 
  • to recognise the relationship between cinematic production, exhibition, consumption,  and the political and economic context;
  • to critically engage with and assess key concepts of cinema in relation to the South Korean context; for example, ‘Wave,’ auteur, realism, genre, national cinema, narrative cinema using readings that also refer to cinema in a wider context; 
  • to ‘analyse’ films independently and efficiently using a range of important analytical tools.


This module will be taught over 10 weeks with 2 hours classroom contact per week and 2 hours of film screening.

Scope and syllabus


Weeks 1-3, we examine the changing contexts of cinematic production in South Korea between the 1980s and 1990s and the emergence of the first ‘New Wave’ of directors. The aim is to situate the developments in South Korean cinema to the radically changing political, social and economic context.

Weeks 4-6, we investigate the important legal, economic and political changes that led to the phenomenal growth in South Korean cinema and the rise of the Second ‘New Wave.’ We also interrogate the important concerns for the second ‘New Wave’ of directors, especially the examination of contentious historical and political issues (the Kwangju rebellion, the depiction of North Korea) and the attempt to represent cinematically a rapidly changing South Korean modernity.  We will situate the filmmakers’ concerns in the context of cinematic production.

Weeks 7-8, we investigate the radical formal experimentation of many of these 1990’s artists like Kim Ki-duk, Lee Kwang-mo, Lee Chang-dong, Hong Sang-soo. We will discuss important concepts related to the language or aesthetics of film; including, narrative structure, cinematography, continuity editing, and the Institutional Mode of Representation.

Weeks 9-10, we critically examine the concept of a South Korean National Cinema with reference to this group of films, and the perception of South Korean film from this period, both amongst domestic and international audiences, and how these films are seen to represent the ‘nation.’

Method of assessment

An essay of 1,500 words to be submitted on day 1, in the week after reading week (35%); an essay of 3,500 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 2 (65%).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules