WonYong later.” The chaebol’s support eventually allowed new

WonYong Park

Dec. 15, 2017

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Shiri and The Political Background of
the Korean Peninsula

The Korean peninsula functions under a
unique political situation. Korea is divided into the North and South, and they
are at odds with each other. Although they have been maintaining a ceasefire
for last over 60 years, the Korean War between them is not over yet. For this
political reason, relations between North and South Korea is a significant and a
unique theme. Shiri, which was released in 1999, covers the unique theme
that other contemporary movies have avoided showing. Even though there are a
lot of other blockbuster films about war and melodrama, Shiri has a
noticeable difference due to its successful reflection on the Korean
peninsula’s uncommon political background. Shiri integrates the ethos of
a blockbuster, a war film, and a melodrama. It creates a unique kind of film

With the emergence of the large,
family-owned corporations known as the chaebol and their financial support of the Korean film industry,
specifically Samsung entertainment for this movie, the financial needs of
making films such as Shiri have been satisfied. The chaebol’s
financial support was a critical help for making the movie, because large-scale
blockbuster movies require a stable and continuous financial investment.
According to Paquet (39), one of the first remarkable effects
of the emergence of the chaebol was an increase in film budgets. “With
large amounts of capital available, budgets rose from an average of 500 to 600
million won in 1992 to 1.5 to 2 billion won four years later.” The chaebol’s
support eventually allowed new directors to make their ideas into reality.
Specifically, in the movie Shiri, there were particular scenes that needed
a big budget to make them, because of special effects such as explosions using
helicopters, cars, and a stadium with thousands of extras. These scenes were
essential to the flow of the movie and to illustrate dramatic tension.

sixth revision of the Korean Motion Picture Law abolished restrictions for
imported movies (Paquet, 35). As a result of this revision, the number of
foreign movies released in Korea significantly increased from twenty-seven in
1985 to 264 in 1989 (Paquet 35). This change has positively affected the new
generation of filmmakers, especially young movie directors. Compared to the
older generation of directors, they have had easier access to experiencing
foreign movies. Since the young directors were able to witness these advanced
and diverse film environments firsthand, they were naturally and subconsciously
influenced by them, and they were able to develop their inspirations and
creativity for the enrichment of the Korean film industry as a result.

director of Shiri, Kang Jae-kyu, was one of the younger generation of
directors who was able to take advantage of the benefits of the sixth revision
of the Korean Motion Picture Law. Moreover, he was able to receive funding for
his film from the Samsung corporation. At
the same time, the chaebol also took advantages of this involvement with
the film industry. For example, at the beginning of the film, Shiri opens with a full screen visual
saying, “Samsung Entertainment Group Presents…” Also, viewers were exposed,
almost subconsciously, to the Samsung logo, which was attached to a helicopter
in the movie. Such placements influence people to have familiarity with certain
brands and companies. As a consequence of the chaebol’s investment,
the movie was a success.

has a remarkable
cinematic meaning, not only from the perspective of genre but also from the
lines of dialogue presented in the movie. These lines from the movie
effectively portrays the political issues currently existing on the Korean
peninsula. For example, in the film some of the lines said by the character Lee Myung-hyun, are, “All I
want is you love me and never leave me whatever happens to me. That is all.
Because you are the only one who truly understands me.” She obviously truly
loves Yu Jong-won, but in
the end, she could not have a relationship with him, because she is a spy from North Korea. Also, Lee Myung-hyun says, “I was stupid. I thought I could be Hyun. But I am just Hee who has to kill her man.” This
scene illustrates the pain of the partition of the Korean peninsula. The couple
is truly in love, but killing each other is their destiny due to their divided
country and their divided loyalties. Additionally, the scene from the
movie when Yu Jong-won finds
out that Lee Myung-hyun is
a spy from North Korea is a good portrayal of the national tragedy of having
two Koreas.

 The movies of Hollywood or, in
fact, any other countries’ movies, can never illustrate the pain of the Korean
situation. North and South Korea are the only divided country in the world, so
only Korean filmmakers can depict this pain. During Yu Jong-won and Park
Mu-young’s conversations, Park
says “Revolution always comes with pain. Sacrifices are necessary.”
and Yu replies, “There
were people who thought the same as you in 1950. Remember the pain.” After
that, there is Park’s
meaningful line, “What pain the war and separation left us is our people in the
North are dying on the street. They barely manage to live with roots and barks.
Our sons and daughters are being sold off for fucking 100 dollars. Have you
ever seen parents eating the flesh of their dead kids? With cheese, Coke and
hamburgers, you would not know.” By comparing objects such as roots and barks with
hamburgers, cheese, and Coke, the movie effectively and subtly illustrates each
part of the country’s political and economic environments. At the end of this
movie, the scene where Lee Myung-hyun
and Yu Jong-won aim
guns at each other points to the current political situation of North and South
Korea confronting each other. Following this scene, Yu Jong-won shoots his lover Lee Myung-hyun. Even though they love each other, the
situational problem they face triggers them to become enemies, and it makes
them accept the inevitable destruction of their love. The background of the
movie, which is drawn from the current Korean political situation, empowers the
director to describe the overarching national grief through the context of the movie.

Shiri shows the potential of a Korean
blockbuster as a domestic phenomenon and as an international force. According
to Shin and Stringer (57), the movie Shiri
is not only a big hit, but it is also a cultural phenomenon. The authors
also insist that “Such was the magnitude of this success that the mass cultural
reception of Kang’s film constitutes what has come to be known as “the Shiri
Syndrome.” Shiri has expanded the international appeal of Korean
cinema. It was a top box office hit, and it even beat the world winning record
film, Titanic, in profits.” This movie has remarkable significance for
Korean cinema history. The story could happen in real life under the current
political situation. Therefore, this movie gives viewers to have a considerable
opportunity to re-think the relations between North and South Korea beyond
watching and enjoying the movie itself. Moreover, the emergence of the movie Shiri
is a separate, independent genre. As a result of being an independent genre, it
has inspired a lot of directors to discuss this new theme and genre, which are
mainly about the political situations between North and South Korea, leading
them to produce such as Joint Security
Area (2000), Iris (2009), The Berlin File (2012), and Suspect (2013). All of these movies are
great examples of dealing with North and South Korea political issues and
depicting the national grief.

things considered, Shiri has a significant meaning as a turning point in
Korean cinema history and also as a point of departure for the new independent
genre in Korean film industry. Shiri is significant in terms of combining
the action film, the blockbuster, the melodrama, and the spy movie genres into
one Korean style movie genre. The chaebol’s financial support for the movie and the symbolic lines
from the movie which reflects the current political situation have provided a
stepping stone for Shiri’s huge success. The director’s decision to name
the movie, Shiri, which is a
fish found only in Korea, suggests to viewers that although Korea is a country
divided, it is, in fact, one nation.





















Paquet, Darcy. “The
Korean Film Industry: 1992 to the Present.” New Korean Cinema, 2005,

Chi-Yun, and Julian Stringer. “Storming the Big Screen.” Seoul searching:
Culture and   Identity in Contemporary
Korean Cinema, 2007,