In the "Abroad" part of this article, I talked a bit about the problems of international promotions by the Korean film industry. From issues of availability, to choice of works for promoting, to the foreign fanbase which can, in some cases, limit what people see in Asian works.
But let's go to promotion within the country now, and talk a bit about the issues that are there. Far more disturbing ones than the international promotion ones, as these influence that as well.
One quite big problem is that, while it's good to promote mainstream films, a lot of ones which would appeal to many are not funded or then not getting a wider release for a long time, while other very bad pieces of cinema do get attention because of a certain commercial reason. I wrote about this recently, in my article about the sci-fi genre in Korea.
Why is it that "You're My Pet" or "Temptation of Wolves" or "Quick" get so much hype and support, while other potentially good ones don't?
"Doomsday Book", which is mentioned in that article, had started filming since 2006. Six years to get such a different and interesting project out, but bad commercial films get all the money and help they need. I am not stating something new here. This is a global issue. Business is placed over quality. But because Korea does have potential and still has the power to not end up like you-know-what, I feel that such worries and complaints should be voiced. Especially by Koreans.
Some might argue "Quick" is a parody of bad action films, but parodies are smart and funny.
There are a lot of movies Korean cinema could do without and since their industries' urge is to focus on money, popularity and ratings, this might have a bleak impact in future productions. The thing most of us quite fervently wish, is that Korean cinema will not become Hollywood. And unlike those artsy art house bigots I mentioned, we do not mean that in terms of storytelling or presentation, we mean it in terms of quality and how works are treated and promoted.
The other big problem I have noticed, which is quite sad to see, is when movies are promoted as even entirely different genres or of a different tone than what they really are. Either by bad communication between makers and marketers or simply to get more interest on them. Interest gained under false pretenses, potentially fooling audiences about what they're going to spend money to see, which I don't personally like.
As a viewer, you try to learn some things about a movie you're going to the cinemas to watch. You want to know the plot, cast and also the kind of movie you can expect. Will it be serious? Will it be just some light brainless fun? Not all people have the same mood at all times. Some day, you might be up for a funny light movie. Someday, you might want a heart-wrenching drama. But it's your right to chose what to see. And by making such inaccurate promotional campaigns, these people do it for you.
While Korean films are wonderful for not being too obsessed with genres, all films have a certain tone. A certain mindset the viewers need to have when approaching it, because the majority of emotions it creates in viewers fall under that category.
But some promotional campaigns work hard to present the film as something entirely different. Some examples? Let's look at "Save the Green Planet", a movie I watched a few weeks back. The poster and trailer for this look like one is in for a fun and quirky dark comedy. You expect something along the lines of "Shaun of the Dead", cracking fun at serious issues other movies portray as sad and scary (which they would be).
Looks like a fun and hilarious movie, doesn't it?
But this movie is far from a dark comedy, even if some scenes are quirky enough for that. The movie is sad. It's actually a very heavy drama and a suspense thriller. There are disturbing scenes of torture; emotional, psychological and physical. It's dark, it's depressing and it's violent. A couple of elements that use very dark humor do not justify an entire campaign of promoting this as a fun wacky comedy.
How about a more recent film, "Suicide Forecast"? The trailer is humorous and cartoony, the posters are the same. The movie is a human drama, about people who want to kill themselves and a man who invades their very bleak lives to stop them.
Sure, it has a couple of jokes in it, but the movie in its entirety is a drama. Nothing the promotion of it prepares you for.
The same can be said about "Hello Ghost". Then there's the flipside of a piece of promotion being more serious than the actual work. A good example is the trailer for "Jeon Woochi". It looks more "epic" and serious than it really is. The movie is a laugh. The characters are quirky and silly and it's an action comedy, in that sense. It has its "all is lost" moments near the end, but those exist in every movie. It's a crucial part of storytelling.
The reason why I find this immoral, is because it's misleading audiences into watching something which they may not have chosen, if they really knew what it was. Although promotion is all about "fancying things up", it stills has to give an accurate image of the product. If you promote a cellphone as something those who love their multimedia would appreciate, it better have good multimedia capabilities and not just many apps. "Promoting" does not equal "lying".
It also feels unprofessional. A trailer or a poster are what give us an idea about the quality, theme, tone of a movie. If the promotional material has issues, we think the movie will be as problematic. It's a completely wrong assumption to make, but we always make such assumptions based on first impressions and don't tell me you do not, because you would not be human then.
However, being a foreigner, I cannot know if this is how Koreans feel. Maybe in the country itself, it's normal for viewers to not go by a poster, description and a trailer alone. Somehow, though, it seems unlikely, and with most of these movies, any material that is made for abroad is in the same spirit and tone as the ones made for within Korea.
Korea makes wonderful films. Wonderful films that people watch. This means that talented people and smart audiences do exist. But when greed and business, or simply bad planning and execution join the game, things can become very twisted. Korean movies, and entertainment in general, can become a truly globally adored entity and they can create magnificent works for local and international audiences. But these industries' ethics, their big company bosses and the lack of power the really creative and wonderful people have endanger all that.
I and many others, probably you who are reading this too, can only hope that Korean society changes little by little, along with what moves its industries. We hope for good changes which will give truly talented people more freedom and more opportunities. And we hope they will keep making these fantastic works.
What the international fans can do, is promote Korean cinema in its entirety. Let's promote its mainstream and art house. Our efforts combined with the ones that really matter, those of Korean audiences, might just keep reminding the business side of this industry that people (both in Korea and abroad) do appreciate the good things about it and they're willing to create buzz for them. But we are also able, and willing, to recognize and criticize its problems.