Fun Facts About Korean Cinema

Who is the first female director of Korea and what movie did she make? detail graph
Who is the first female director of Korea and what movie did she make?
Answer: Director Park Nam-ok, < The Widow (Mimangin)> (1955)

The first female director of Korea is director Park Nam-ok (born in 1923). < The Widow (Mimangin) > (1955), her only film work, received the industry’s attention when it was shown in the 1st Women’s Film Festival in Seoul. Although she only director one film, Park Nam-ok had to overcome greater hardships and invest much more effort than her male counterparts to make < The Widow (Mimangin) >.

Park Nam-ok had to deal with both the difficulties of the industry situation and of gender discrimination. She had been a movie buff as a young girl and was an ardent fan of actor Kim Shin-jae. As a student, she used to be a shot-putter and a member of the track and fields team. She went on to Ewha Womans University as was expected of her by the social conventions of the time and majored in home economics, but she was engrossed in literature, art, and film rather than her own studies. However, Park Nam-ok wished to become a creator of art rather than a mere consumer.
While working as a reporter for a newspaper in Daegu, Park Nam-ok finds a job as an editor and a scripter at Joseon Film Company through director Yun Yong-gyu, the husband of her friend. There, she meets Kim Shin-jae, the greatest actor of his times, and director Choi In-gyu. While working on a war film during the Korean War, she meets script writer Lee Bo-ra and the two get married. In June of 1954, she gave birth to a daughter and decided to make her own film around that time. Her husband, Lee Bo-ra, wrote the script and Lee Min-ja starred as the heroine, and Lee Taek-gyun as the hero. Park Nam-ok began shooting with a 16mm camera and with some help from her older sister, set up ‘Sister Productions.’ She could not afford to hire a nanny and had to carry her daughter on her back while working and she had to cook for her filming crew when her funds ran low. Despite such poor conditions she finishes her first film. This is . Although the last scene of the movie has been lost, < The Widow(Mimangin) > is a realistic and acute rendering of women’s desires before and after the war, setting it apart from the work of other male directors. It clearly attempts to tell the story from the perspective of women in the ‘50s. The heroine ‘Shin,’ who is a single mother raising her daughter by herself after losing her husband, rejects the subtle approach of her husband’s friend but openly asks for his help in moving together with her younger boyfriend. She is torn apart between love and motherly instincts and suffers from internal conflict but chooses her own love instead. The heroine is shockingly honest about her own desires in the standards of her time. Unfortunately, the movie failed to appeal to audiences and Park Nam-ok had to give her career up as a director with < The Widow(Mimangin) > as her first and last film work.

Even after some time, not many women were able to join the Korean film industry which remained male-dominated for a while. But despite difficulties, Choi Eun-hee, the top actress of the ‘60s, directed two films, < The Girl Raised as a Future Daughter-in-law (Minmyeoneuri)> (1965) and < One-sided Love of Princess (Gongjunim-ui jjaksarang)> (1967), under the firm support of Shin Films. Hong Eun-won, a scripter and a screenplay writer since the late ‘40s, directed her debut film < A Female Judge (Yeopansa)> in 1962 and went on to produce < A Widow (Hol-eomeoni)> (1964) and < What Misunderstanding Left Behind (Ohaega namgin geot)> (1965). But even director Hong Eun-won, who knew the film industry inside-out, had to go back to being a screenplay writer after her second film < What Misunderstanding Left Behind>. In the ‘70s, director Hwang Hye-mi suddenly appeared in the directing scene as a rising star and directed < The First Experience (Cheotgyeongheom)> (1970), receiving critical and public acclaim, but she also disappeared after making two more films following that. It is a great pity that none of director Hong Eun-won or Hwang Hye-mi’s works were preserved and there is no way for us to look at their films. Also in the ‘70s, women in the film industry such as Han Ok-hee and Kim Jeom-seon gathered together to form an experimental film group ‘Kaidu Club,’ but the club disintegrated after two production presentations. Other females in the film industry of the ‘60s and ‘70s include Kim Mun-ja, the first female projectionist in Korea who worked for The National Audio Visual Information Service, Lee Weol-geum and Han Jeong-hee, regional distributors of the south (Seok Geum-seong, the heroine in director Kim Soo-yong’s film (1967) who works as a regional film distributor, is probably based on these women), and Go Geum-ji, who used to work as a animator for commercials in the ‘70s, but records of these women are almost nonexistent.

Female workers in the film industry and discussions about them only become active in the ‘90s with the success of women’s cultural movements. The first stages feminism film movement was initiated by young feminist film groups such as ‘Bariter (formed in 1989)’ and ‘Boim,’ which made the ‘Habitual Sadness series (Byeon Young-ju, 1995, 1997).’ With this break, women in the film industry begin branching out into various spectrums ranging from critics, producers, PR, and director. The network of females in the film industry and support for their activities is gaining strength through film festivals such as Women’s Film Festival in Seoul (first hosted in 1997) and organizations such as Women in Film Korea (founded in 1999).
(Information given above regarding women of Korea’s film industry such as director Park Nam-ok depends wholly on ‘Encyclopedia of Women in Film’ (written by Joo Jin-suk et al. Sodo, 2001).)