Im, Kwon-taek (1936--) By Cook, Ryan
Im Kwon-taek, one of the most prominent South Korean filmmakers, helped to pave the way for the international success of the New Korean Cinema of the 1990s. He debuted in 1962 and first worked in commercial genres, reliably filling production quotas. His early work included action and Korean War films produced under military government policies that promoted anti-communist propaganda. During the 1980s Im made the transition to art films and gained international recognition. With his 1981 film Mandala, he became the first South Korean filmmaker to tour the international festival circuit. His 1993 film Sŏp’yŏnje [Sopyonje] about singers practicing the traditional pansori form of music, broke box office records in Korea. Exploring themes in Korean history and aesthetics, Im became a representative of the national cinema and his suffering heroines have been interpreted as symbols of the Korean nation. Im revisited the art of pansori in his 2000 film Ch’unhyangdyŏn (Chunhyang), a retelling of a story about love across social classes derived from the 17th-century pansori repertoire. A recurring subject in Korean film history, the story of Chunhyang had been adapted at least seventeen times. Im’s return to the subject echoed the ethnographic tendencies of China’s Fifth Generation filmmakers, whose work was similarly both national in inspiration and global in ambition.