Single Spark (1995) directed by Kwang-Su Park is a South Korean film, based on a true story of Tae-Il Chon`s life, a young 22-aged factory worker, a labor activist who committed suicide by self-immolation as a protest against the labor oppression and poor conditions, under which Korean garment-industry employees were made to work. This film is about a violent conflict of the working class and employers; it underlines the sameness of labor situations in two different periods of time: in 1960s and 1970s. Neither government nor employers pay any regard to labor laws and human rights. Park researches the character of past and present Korean society, using the investigations of Kim Young-Soon, a fictional journalist, who is writing the Chon`s biography 10 years after his suicide (Park 10).
Single Spark (1995) is focused on an important historical event of South Korea presenting at the same time the developmental level of Korean filmmaking. This essay will be dedicated to analysis of the historical condition of the film industry in 1990s and the influence of these conditions on the film.
Since the late 1980’s, there was a period of Hollywood films in Korea
The Korean government realized the importance of the national high value-added media industry and decided to develop domestic filmmaking. It was time to produce films and documentaries that showed Korean culture, history and peoples` life (Ryoo 2005).
In 1988, the government abridged the foreign films import and allowed Hollywood companies to create their film studios in Korea. Since that time, Korean films would have to compete directly with Hollywood product. It does not play into the hand to the local filmmakers. Therefore, Korean domestic films accounted only 16% of the market in 1993. Earlier, the screening of Hollywood movies was seriously controlled and limited by the government.
At this time, new French and German cultural centers were formed in Seoul
They encouraged creating of the Seoul Film Collective, which consisted of the best producers and directors including Kwang-Su Park, who was capable to compete with foreign producers on quality. Park is considered to be an international filmmaker, whose films repeatedly received awards of international cinema industry. As an example, Single Spark won Best Film Award «Blue Dragon» (1995), and Park was nominated for Golden Bear on the 46th Berlin International Film Festival (1996) due to this film.
“The New Korean Wave” could develop due to several important events. Firstly, the adoption of the new constitution led to the partial easing of political censorship. Many films of Park Kwang-Su like Single Spark (1995) were proclaimed by the government earlier. Meanwhile, the government revised the Motion Picture Promotion Law. It enabled independent production and provided freedom to young filmmakers. The result of this is that, by the late 1980s, a new generation of producers had a significant impact on the national cinema. Almost all the young directors explored mainly political and social topics in their work. Single Spark is unique because it is one of the first films dealing with contemporary life of workers and industrial strikes. Kwang-Su Park chose social problems in Korea for his films because they always were appealing for people but forbidden earlier. He raised serious historical problems in his films.
The new law has brought the new screen quota in Korea
It has existed for 30 years since 1966. This system had to protect and support Korean domestic films and to promote Korean culture among citizens and foreigners. According to the screen quota all the Korean movie theatres had to show Korean films for at least 146 days each year. It inflicted losses to the theatres because most of the people preferred American Hollywood films (Kim 355).
The government anyway supported and favored film industry. The new Motion Picture Promotion Law offered filmmakers an attraction of corporate and investment capital, provided tax breaks for film studios. In spite of financial assistance on the part of government, critics consider, that the Korean films are low-quality and do not correspond to the technology and innovations of the century (Kim 359).
Single Spark highlights three different periods of time: the late 1960s, the mid 1970s and the mid 1990s, the time of this film creation. This movie compares and contrasts Chon`s story in 1960s filmed in black and white and Kim`s in 1970s filmed in full color to demonstrate an interaction and inalterability of past and contemporary Korean life. The film begins with a shot of a worker`s public demonstration. It must remind viewers of the present situation of the labor movement in Korea. The events of the mid 1970s were described as a continuation of the labor movement. The political atmosphere was faced with difficulties. The anti-government activists are smart punished. The beauty of modern city with its skyscrapers and rich night life are not shown in this film to aggravate the darkness and oppression of the situation (Park 12).
It is important to note that Single Spark consists of only 129 shots (Park 20). The spot, camera work, cutting to a minimum and the esthetics of this film prove an introspective nature of Park`s films. Single Spark (1995), a masterpiece created by talented director Kwang-Su Park proves the power of Korean cinematography. However, neither the screen quote nor the government`s support make Korean film industry compete their U.S. colleagues. Local films continue to be dominated by Hollywood films.
Korean filmmaking would have the future development, and the directors would make quality films reflecting and promoting Korean culture and values only if the government would attract foreign companies to invest and co-produce Korean films.