SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of Japan and Korea

Years of Radical change: South Korean cinema from the 'New Wave' to the new millenium

Module Code:
Unit value:
Taught in:
Term 1

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate:
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 engage critically with existing theoretical paradigms;

An ability to express and defend positions about cinema both orally and in writing;

An ability to develop their own particular research interests independently


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

Scope and syllabus

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 is aimed at a crossover of students from area studies and film and media studies; therefore, 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.

The course ‘Years of Radical change: The ‘Waves’ of South Korean cinema’ 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,’‘Trajectories of Modernity in 20th Century Korean Literature.’ This course should  provide MA 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.  In addition, this course will provide a complement to courses on ‘World Cinema’ provided in the Centre for Media and Film Studies (the MA Critical Media and Cultural Studies, the MA Global Cinemas and the transcultural, and the MA Global Media and Post-National Communication).

Method of assessment

One 1,500 word essay to be submitted on the first Monday after reading week, in the term in which the course is taught (20%); one 5,000 word essay to be submitted on the first Monday in the term after the course has been taught (80%).

Suggested reading

  • Bordwell, D., Staiger, J. and Thompson, K. (eds.) 1985. The classical Hollywood cinema: film style and mode of production to 1960. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Bordwell, David and KristinThompson. 2008. Film Art: An Introduction. Boston: McGraw-Hill
  • Chang, Hye Seung. 2001. “From Saviors to Rapists: G.I.s, Women and Children in Korean War Films”.
  • Cho Hae-Joang. 2005. “Reading the “Korean Wave” as a Sign of Global Shift” Korea Journal (Winter
  • Choi, Jinhee. 2010.  The South Korean Film Renaissance: Local Hitmakers/Global Provocateurs. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.
  • Cook, Pam (ed) .1985. The Cinema Book  London: British Film Insitute.
  • Dissanayake, Wimal (ed). 1994Colonialism and nationalism in Asian cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Hill, John and Pamela Church Gibson. (eds), World Cinema: Critical Approaches, Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Iwabuchi, Koichi; Muecke, Stephen, and Thomas, Mandy. 2004. Rogue Flows: Trans-Asian Cultural Traffic
  • Kim, Jinhee. 2002. “Korean Cinema in Transformation.” Korean Culture 23, no. 2 (Summer): pp.5-9.
  • Kim, Kyung Hyun. 2004.The remasculinization of Korean cinema. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press ; Chesham : Combined Academic.
  • Kwak, Han-Ju. 2002. “A ‘Smiling Skepticism’ An interview with Film Director Hong Sang Su,” Korean Culture 23, no.2 (Summer): pp. 20-25.
  • Lee, Hyangjin. 2000. Contemporary Korean Cinema: Identity, culture, politics. Manchester: Manchester University Press 45-66.
  • O’Regan, Tom. 2002. “A National Cinema.” In Film Cultures Reader, edited by G. Turner, London: Routledge.
  • Paquet, Darcy. 2000. “Genrebending in Contemporary Korean Cinema.” TAASA Review: The Journal of the Asian Arts Society of Australia 9, no.1, (March).
  • Rist, Peter and Donato Totaro. 1999. “Lee Kwang-Mo: Where there’s hope there’s a way.” Cinemaya 43 (Spring): pp.31-37.
  • Roberts, Graham & Heather Wallis. 2001. Introducing Film. London: Arnold.
  • Rosenstone, Robert. 2006. History on Film, Film on History (History: Concepts, Theories and Practices). Harlow: Pearson. Chapters 1 & 2.
  • Shim, Doobo.2005. “Globalization and Cinema Regionalization in East Asia” Korea Journal (Winter)
  • Shin, Chi-Yun and Stringer, Julian, 2005. New Korean cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules