Publication Details

Yecies, B, Film policy and the coming of sound to cinema in Colonial Korea, Aesthetics and Historical Imagination of Korean Cinema, proceedings of the 2003 International Symposium on Korean Cinema, Seoul, Korea, Yonsei Institute of Media Art, 2003, 38-48.


During the transition between silent and sound cinema in Korea (1929-1939), Japanese colonial film policies established stringent market barriers for local Hollywood distribution exchanges and simultaneously increased opportunities for domestic Korean and Japanese film productions. The Government-General of Korea enacted regulatory initiatives, including film censorship, as part of Japan's larger imperial agenda aimed at strengthening and expanding its Empire. In turn, the domestic film industry in Korea was invigorated and modernized by a number of Korean film people (younghwa-in) who gained valuable experience and training while travelling back and forth between Korea and Japan. Korean film pioneers innovated local solutions to cost-prohibitive American sound equipment promoted and serviced by Western Electric, the largest company in the world dealing with sound technology. This paper attempts to offer a richer understanding of the coming of sound to the Korean exhibition market by presenting new research on the adaptation of technology, administration of policy and censorship regulations, and the contention between live narrators and recorded sound. The "global" transition to sound was more local than previously thought. Given that Japan occupied Korea between 1910 and 1945, this period of Korean cinema is intertwined with the history of Japanese cinema. Key Japanese industry events and initiatives as well as government regulations had a significant impact on film culture in Korea. The transition to sound in Korea includes (but is not limited to) a detailed discussion of the sound-on-disc failure of Malmot-hal Sajung (Secret Story, 1931) and the impact of Chunhyangjeon (The Story of Chunhyang, 1935) :- the "first successful" commercial Korean talkie. All of Korea's cinemas and temporary exhibition venues had been converted to sound by the end of 1939. The transition had been a long process, taking place over more than a decade. However, local attempts to initiate and produce sound film projects in Korea reaffirmed the strength of a rising r:J.ational Korean cinema and signalled the beginnings of a promising sound industry - a . counterhegemonic space within colonial rule in which Koreans could construct and negotiate spaces for the expression of Korean culture and modernity.