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Contemporary culture of South Korea

Since Korea's division into two separate states, South Korea has developed a distinct contemporary culture.

See also: Culture of Korea on traditional culture



Korea has its own pop industry with native singers. Many of the Korean pop stars and pop groups are well known in East Asia and other parts of Asia. K-pop often emulates American pop music, and usually features young, sexy performers. It is a highly profitable industry, and in 2004, the 17 year old singer BoA earned a US $9 million profit in a single tour. [1]

The emergence of the group Seo Taiji and Boys in 1992 marked a turning point for Korean popular music, as the group incorporated elements of American popular musical genres of rap, rock, and techno into its music. The tremendous success of Seo Taiji and Boys in Korea and such similarly experimental groups as Panic set the trend for the present generation of K-pop groups and artists.

Following Seo Taiji and Boys, dance-oriented acts were dominant in the Korean popular music scene of the 1990s. Recently, rock music has made some headway into the mainstream, with acts like Yoon Do-hyun Band gaining national recognition.

Famous K-pop groups and singers include:

Popular artists who diverge from the traditional K-pop sound include Lee Jung Hyun, a female techno artist and equivalent of America's Moby; 1TYM , a four-member rap troupe; and Wax, a female alternative rock group. South Korea is also home to a few hardcore "gangsta'" rappers, including Jinusean , Drunken Tiger, and PSY , whose flippant and humorous sound is similar to Eminem's.


Karaoke is called Noraebang (노래방) in Korea, but the Japanese word Karaoke (가라오케) is used, too. It is a popular way to spend an evening. Noraebang can be found at many corners in the cities and are popular with young and older generations alike.

Korean films

Since the success of the Korean film Shiri in 1999 Korean film seems unstoppable. Today South Korea is one of the few countries where Hollywood productions cannot easily dominate.

Shiri was a film about a North Korean spy preparing a coup in Seoul. The film was the first in Korean history to sell more than 2 million tickets in Seoul alone. This helped Shiri to surpass box office hits such as The Matrix or Star Wars. The success of Shiri motivated other Korean films with large budgets for Korean circumstances.

In 2000 the film JSA (Joint Security Area ) was a huge success and even surpassed the benchmark set by Shiri. One year later, the film Friend managed the same. In South Korea the romantic comedy My Sassy Girl outsold The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter which ran at the same time. As of 2004 new films continue to outperform older releases, and many Korean productions are more popular than Hollywood films. Both Silmido and The Brotherhood were watched by over 10 million people, which is a quater of the Korean population. The Silmido is a film based on a true story about a secret special force. The other is a blockbuster movie about Korean War directed by the director of Shiri.

This success attracted the attention of Hollywood. Films such as Shiri are now distributed in the USA, and in 2001 Miramax even bought the rights to a Americanized remake of the successful Korean My Wife is a Gangster.

The 2003 supsense thriller Janghwa, Hongnyeon (Tale of Two Sisters) was successful as well, leading Dreamworks to pay $2 million (US) for the rights to a remake, topping the $1 million (US) paid for the Japanese movie The Ring.

Many of the Korean films reflect how much the Korean people long for reunification and suffer from the division of the peninsula. Many of the films underline feelings which cause them to be likened to French films. The Korean film industry, however, now produces all kinds of films.

In February 2004, the controversial director, Kim Ki-duk won the award for best director at the 54th annual Berlin Film Festival. He was awarded for the film Samaria which is about a teenage prostitute.

In Cannes, two korean films Old Boy by Park Chan-wook and The Woman is the Future of the Man by Hong Sang-soo were invited in the competition. The film of Park won the Grand Prix.

See also: Ha Jiwon (actress), Im Kwontaek (director), Lee Changdong (director) Cho Seung- Woo(조승우,actor,

Web Site:

Korean poetry

See also: Kim Jong-chul (poet)

Way of Life

The industrialisation and urbanisation of South Korea have brought many changes to the way people live. In the past, most people lived in small rural villages. Changes to peoples' lifestyles have led to many young people leaving country areas to find new opportunities in the cities (particularly Seoul). In the past, it was not uncommon for several generations to live under one roof; today South Koreans are moving more towards the standard nuclear family.

South Korea is a very competitive academic environment (getting into a prestigious university is considered a prerequisite to any kind of success); for this reason, high school students often spend a huge amount of their time studying. Many South Korean parents consider it to be essential that their sons and daughters attend private institutes (Korean: 학원/학당) to learn a variety of subjects, ranging from the study of Chinese characters to music, art and English.

Foreign influences

South Korea has been highly influenced in recent years by foreign countries; primarily by the United States and Japan. Many people enjoy watching Japanese and American films and cartoons. Until 1998 when restrictions were eased, importation of all Japanese movies, music and comics had been technically illegal due to the negative feelings of many Korean people towards Japan as a result of its occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Today, however, many people believe that this ban is outdated.

The influence of foreign countries has changed people's eating habit as well; many people now enjoy Japanese, Chinese, and Western food in addition to traditional Korean food. Pizza is one of the more favorite foreign foods among South Koreans.

South Korean dress is also being more heavily influenced by foreign styles; young people in Korea dress as much as their Japanese and Western counterparts do.

The influence of technology

Computers and the internet play an important role in the life of young South Koreans today. Around 60% of South Korean homes are equipped with high-speed internet connections. Koreans are such enthusiastic internet users that many popular South Korean web portals such as Daum and Naver , have some of the highest traffic ratings in the world, despite the fact that their content is only accessible to those who understand the Korean language. Koreans use the internet for sending e-mails and instant messages, for research, but most commonly for entertainment, such as watching Flash animations, videos or for playing multiplayer games such as Starcraft.

People often access the internet through cyber cafes (Korean: PC방; PC bang). Korean gamers are famous for their devotion to their hobby, and many gaming sessions last hours; in a few extreme cases, days. One man was found dead in a PC room after gaming for four straight days without sleep, food, or water [2] .

Koreans are also prolific mobile phone users (Korean: 핸드폰; lit. handphone). South Koreans of all ages have mobile phones, and use them for viewing websites and for sending text and picture messages. Only a few years ago, most people only had "beepers" (pagers); today, it would be a struggle to find someone without a mobile phone.

See also

External links

  • Official site for the book "Korean Cinema: The New Hong Kong"
  • Site with in-depth reviews of recent Korean films
  • Darcy Paquet's site on Korean films
  • Korean Pop Music Source
  • The Korean Movie Database
  • K-POP Generation

Last updated: 02-19-2005 20:48:10
Last updated: 03-18-2005 11:16:12