The Korean film industry offers a remarkably successful and fascinating story all the more because it was largely unexpected. Almost totally destroyed after the Japanese occupation (1910-1945), it started to revive only for being wiped out by the Korean War. It witnessed some shiny years during the immediate post-war period, but faced again considerable troubles from the 1970s to the mid-1990s. In the late 1990s, the Korean film industry started again to blossom, and shows an impressive success in the domestic market since then. Korean films enjoy an average market share of 54 percent over the last decade, with record peaks of 60-65 percent. Last but not least, the Korean film production has earned many prestigious awards at top international films festivals—making increasingly attractive Korean culture.
The purpose of this paper is to assess whether Korean film policies have been instrumental in this success. The conclusion is—surprisingly at a first glance— that Korean film policies have played almost no significant role.
• The import quotas (1956-1986) limited the quantity of films to be imported, but did not prevent Koreans to rush to the good foreign films and to abandon theaters showing Korean films; and they were toxic because they strongly induced Korean films makers to produce bad quality movies.
• The screen quota policy (1966 until today) has largely been a “paper tiger” simply because imposing a mandatory number of days for the exhibition of Korean movies does not mean that Koreans will watch these movies. Even more importantly, other provisions, especially the free market access of US film-makers in Korean distribution, have created a competition between US and Korean film-makers that induced Korean film-makers to show their ability to create more attractive and lucrative movies than foreign films.
• The subsidy policy has been too limited and too late for being credited for any significant impact on the success of the Korean film industry (which started almost a decade before the emergence of notable subsidies).
These results are robust enough to suggest to European policy-makers to review their own policies that advocate merely protectionism as a way to make more attractive national culture. They also suggest the need to understand better the role of private business in the Korean film success—possibly with some interesting lessons for the European business.