Poet and literary critic Lim Wha once stated that cinema in the Joseon era first began by “cooperating with different neighboring cultures.” In fact, throughout its history, Korean cinema has constantly negotiated and merged with different art forms. It probably goes without saying that Korean cinema has always maintained a close relationship with literature. Traditional classic novels that are familiar to native Koreans, popular novels including newspaper serials, and literary fiction, which guaranteed the artistic level of the film, were always in constant demand from the film industry.
As is well known, a screenplay is the basic foundation for a film; without a screenplay, a film cannot exist. And screenplays, of course, consist of words; and therefore, screenplays and literature are related at the most basic level. Also, finding a good novel to adapt for a film can also mean considerably lowering film production costs. More than any other art form, filmmaking is a costly endeavor, and often times a popular novel serves as a financial safety net for film productions. For example, a popular novel can continue to be loved by the public as a radio play, then subsequently as a film. This section focuses on how film and literature engaged with and influenced each other during the 50s and 60s, a time when Korean cinema rose to prominence and entered a glorious renaissance period.
The Popular Novel: the Seed of 1950s Korean Popular Film
After finally being liberated from the Japanese on August 15, 1945, Korean filmmakers struggled to free themselves from Japanese influences and produce film independently. But the start of the Korean War on June 25, 1950, seriously stalled their efforts. This didn’t deter filmmakers; not wanting to leave a vacuum in Korean cinema history, the filmmakers continued to make films by mostly producing newsreels and documentaries for the military and its associated organizations.
Madame Freedom (1956)
Of course this doesn’t mean filmmakers stopped producing feature length films during this period. The Korean War period was a time when the future giants of Korean cinema such as Shin Sang-ok (1926-2006), Kim Ki-young (1919-1998), and Yu Hyunmok (1925-2009) each sought to make their directorial debut. While seeking refuge in Daegu, Shin Sang-ok made his directorial debut: a film adaptation of Kim Gwang-ju’s short story, “The Evil Night.” In “The Evil Night,” a prostitute helps out a writer and lets him spend the night in her room. The writer is shocked by the realities of the streets.a miniature version of society. The themes of social indictment in the original story are well represented in the film version, and today this film is considered to be a touchstone of Korean cinematic realism.