K-anime image

Lately I have been getting more and more interested in Korean animations. While there has always been something that has made me want to explore any creative forms that exist on the fringes of what was traditionally defined as ‘art’ (from children’s literature to graphic novels) but that has found increasing acceptance in academic circles in the past decade or two, my curiosity about Korean animations stems from a number of projects from the last couple of years: films like 돼지의 왕 (Daegieui Wang/The King of Pigs, 2011)파닥파닥 (Padak Padak/Padak, 2012) and 은실이 (Eunsili/The Dearest, 2011), which have one particular thing in common: they all deal with serious and, in some cases, hopelessly dark subject matters. While it is primarily Western filmmakers that seem to have an ingrained habit of treating animations as a purely lightweight medium to tell stories meant only to amuse children and more reflective and/or darker-themed projects exist aplenty elsewhere (examples include 「火垂るの墓」/Hotaru no Haka/Grave of the Fireflies, Japan, 1988, Tatsumi, Singapore, 2011, and 「ももへの手紙」/Momo e no Tegami/A Letter to Momo, Japan, 2011). Korean animations, however, lately seem to have a disproportionate output of such films and although it may be coincidental, it makes me want to know more.

Compared to Japanese animation, the world of animated films in Korea is tiny. There is no globally renown animation studio like Studio Ghibli. There are no directors whose trajectories fans from around the world follow closely like they do with the likes of Hosoda Mamoru, Shinkai Makoto or Katabuchi Sunao despite their careers still being recent (they have each nor more than a handful of feature-length films to their name and started directing around the millennium only), or like late Kon Satoshi, who managed to carve out his place in J-animation history with the four projects he completed in his much too short life. Even though the K-animation industry may be significantly smaller, it is not non-existent, but rather unexplored, unknown and often unacknowledged for the the contributions it has made, e.g. the TV series The Simpsons is one several American productions that is largely animated by Korean studios.

K-anime image 2

Clockwise: 오세암 (Oseam); 천년여우 여우비 (Yobi, the Five-Tailed Fox); 마리 이야기 (Mari, My Beautiful Girl); 소중한 날의 꿈 (Green Days).

Some questions on my mind:

  • What is the history of Korean animated films? What kind of connection is there to production (and consumption) of manhwa and/or animated television series?
  • Which are the leading animation studios in Korea, either for TV animations series or feature-length manhwa-yeonghwa or both? Or are animations primarily indie-produced, one-off projects?
  • What kind of drawing style and animation methods are used?
  • Who are the leading directors, animators, voice actors (etc.) in Korea animation?
  • What role do animated films play in Korea? Are they mostly imported, and, if so, from where?
  • Who are the primary consumers of a) animations in Korea and b) Korean-made animations, in Korea and elsewhere?
  • How do Korean animations differ from animations elsewhere?

I hope to find out more about the history and current state of Korean animation, though I can’t promise if I will be able to answer all the questions I have at the moment. As part of my exploration, I will watch and review whatever animated films from Korea I can get my hand on, including the following (those marked with *, I have a source for, if you know how to get hold of others – including any not listed – get in touch):

Some feature-length animations to be reviewed:

  • 마리 이야기 (Mari Iyagi/My Beautiful Girl, Mari, 2002)*
  • 오세암 (Oseam/Oseam, 2003)*
  • 원더풀 데이즈 (Wondeopul Deijeu/Wonderful Days aka Sky Blue, 2003)*
  • 왕후 심청 (Wanghu-simcheong/Empress Chung, North Korea, 2005)
  • 천년여우 여우비 (Cheonnyeonyeou Youbi/Yobi, the Five-Tailed Fox, 2007)*
  • 돼지의 왕 (Daegieui wang/The King of Pigs, 2011)* – REVIEW (7.5/10)
  • 소중한 날의 꿈 (Sojoonghan Nalui Ggoom/Green Days, 2011)* REVIEW (6.5/10)
  • 마당을 나온 암탉 (Madangeul Naon Amtak/Leafie, a Hen in the Wild, 2011)
  • 은실이 (Eunsili/The Dearest, 2011)
  • 파닥파닥 (Padak Padak/Padak, 2012)*
  • Coleur de peau: Miel (Approved for Adoption, Belgium/France, 2012)*
  • 사이비 (Saibi/The Fake, 2013)
  • 우리별 일호와 얼룩소 (Wooribyeol Ilhowa Eolrukso/Satellite Girl and Milk Cow, 2013) – REVIEW (7/10)
  • 메밀 꽃 필 무렵, 운수좋은, 날 그리고 봄봄 (Memilggot, Woonsoo Joheunnal, Geurigo Bombom/The Road called Life, 2013) – omnibus of three shorts – REVIEW (unrated)
  • 서울역 (Seoulyeok/Seoul Station, 2015)
  • 맞춤희곡 (Majchumhuigog/The Customised Play, TBC)

Short animations:

  • Adam and Dog (USA, 2012)
Nominated for an Oscar in Animated Shorts: Adam and Dog.

Currently nominated for an Oscar in the category Animated Shorts: Adam and Dog.

My aim is to serve you with a mix of reviews and background information on the industry, the various people who work in it (and the how and why behind their creations, maybe even interviews) as well as its domestic and international impact. I want to (somewhat) systematically assemble all this in one place as for the moment whatever has been written seems to be in bits and pieces strewn across the web. If you have any leads do share (e.g. suggestions for books on the subject, individuals that may be knowledgeable about Korean animations, sources for the films), I would appreciate hearing from you!

Note: Although I am starting this project in the year that has just begun, it will not be limited to 2013 but rather will be a long-term series on this blog with no specific end-date in mind.

Bonus Bit:

  • Coincidentally, there’s an article on the Korean animation in the Guardian today: “South Korean animation: is the underdog finally having its day?” Seems it was inspired by the release of 돼지의 왕 (Daegieui Wang/The King of Pigs, 2011) in British cinemas this week. (Note: Daegieui Wang will also be the first film I’ll review as part of this series.)

Related Posts: Links to related posts to be added as I write them.