Flowers in Hell: a Korean Cinema Retrospective at AGNSW

Wed 19th July, 2023 – Sun 22nd October, 2023
Art Gallery of NSW
Art Gallery Road, Sydney
Stretching from 1960 to today, this is the most comprehensive survey of Korean films shown in Australia to date, covering black-and-white thrillers, buddy comedies and the famous Parasite.

Following the overwhelming success of Burning, Parasite and other films, the English-speaking world has finally woken up to the riches of Korean cinema. It’s been a long time coming – the local industry’s been thriving for at least 60 years.

Korean filmmakers output has inevitably been shaped by recent history: a brutal 35-year occupation by the Japanese and a foreign-power backed civil war that divided the peninsula nation in two in the 50s. As such, gallows humour, ultra-violence and caustic social commentary are common themes. But also: hope in spite of everything.

As AGNSW puts it: “filmmakers have found ‘flowers’ in hellish circumstances, eking out moments of beauty and creative expression from the rubble of postwar Seoul and in spite of strict censorship regimes” – hence the title for the museum’s 20-film retrospective, Flowers in Hell.

This is the most comprehensive survey of South Korean cinema in Australia, stretching all the way back to 1960-1 with black-and-white titles The Housemaid and Aimless, both converted to digital from the original 35mm. The former film inspired the more famous Parasite.

The startling rapid economic growth of the next three decades – and the drastic changes it wrought on culture and society – is charted in buddy comedy Chilsu and Mansu (1988) and corporate satire Age of Success (Korea’s answer to Oliver Stone’s Wall Street).

Then comes the 1990s and beyond “K-wave” or “Hallyu”, the global phenomenon that’s produced smash-hits Burning (2018), Parasite (2019) and Decision to Leave (2022). While shot with the benefit of big budgets and global audiences, these films have much to say about social inequality.

Explore the full program, which is staged on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons and evenings until October 22.