|Answer: < The Wedding Day (Sijibganeun nal) > (Lee Byeong-il, 1956)
The first Korean film to receive recognition in a foreign film festival is a 1956 film by director Lee Byeong-il (1910-1979), < The Wedding Day (Sijibganeun nal) >. The film was based on the play < A Happy Day of Jinsa Maeng ( Maengjinsadaek Gyeongsa )> by Oh Yeong-jin and starred Jo Mi-ryeong (cast in the part of maid Ib-bun) who was an idol star for her innocent image and Kim Seung-ho (cast in the part of Jinsa Maeng), a top actor with a stabilized and familiar image.
Jinsa Maeng cannot bear to send his daughter to marry Mi-eon, who has a crippled leg, and sends his maid Ib-bun to him instead. But when the fact that Mi-eon is a good looking young man who is far from being crippled is revealed, Jinsa Maeng regrets too late after Mi-eon marries Ib-bun. The story centers on Jinsa Maeng who is greedy but always makes mistakes and ends up wringing his own neck, which brings about comedy and satire. Korea first participated in the Asian Film Festival in 1956 as an observer country and in the following year, became a registered country for the first time in 1957. This is where < The Wedding Day (Sijibganeun nal) >, which was a very popular film in Korea, too, received a special award for comedy. With this award, < The Wedding Day (Sijibganeun nal) > became the first Korean film to be recognized in a foreign film festival and entered the 8th Berlin Film Festival and the Sidney Film Festival.
The recognition of < The Wedding Day (Sijibganeun nal) > gained overseas boosted the confidence of the Korean film industry which was just beginning to flourish. Furthermore, it gave support to the opinion that in order to win an award in a foreign film festival, expressing ‘local colors’ that delivers the unique colors of Korea to a foreign audience is just as important as, or even more important than, the quality of completion and production. In short, people argued that in order to be persuasive overseas, films should have exotic Korean scenes.
After the recognition of < The Wedding Day (Sijibganeun nal) >, the Korean film industry which was originally focused on improving the despondent industrial environment received a surge of confidence and gradually began to pay attention to foreign film festivals. In particular, the Asian Film Festival became an essential event for the Korean film industry and Korea’s film critics. Korean films were submitted to each festival and the results were reported in detail. After the 1960’s, actor Kim Seung-ho was recognized as the best lead actor for his performance in < A romantic papa (Lomaenseuppappa) > (Shin Sang-ok, 1960) and < Mr. Park (Bakseobang) > (Kang Dae-jin, 1960), and in 1960, the San Francisco Film Festival recognized Ahn Seong-gi as a Best Child Actor for his performance in < A Defiance of Teenager (10dae-ui banhang) > (Kim Gi-yeong, 1959). In 1961, the film < A Coachman (Mabu) > (Kang Dae-jin, 1961) was awarded the Silver Bear Award and the advance of Korean films to foreign film festivals.
In 1962, the Asian Film Festival was hosted extensively in Seoul and < Mother and a Guest (Sarangbang sonnimgwa eomeoni)> (Shin Sang-ok, 1961) received the Grand Prix Award, while the actor Shin Yeong-gyun is recognized as the best lead actor for his performance in (Shin Sang-ok, 1961). Korean films won awards in 5 categories in that year’s festival. Hosting the Asian Film Festival in Seoul gave strong confidence to the Korean film industry which was experiencing rapid growth in both quality and quantity already and Koreans began to set their eyes on expanding not only into Asian markets but beyond, to Berlin and Cannes. However, Korean films failed to receive any further recognition in other major foreign film festival (aside from the Asian Film Festival) for quite a long time. News of awards in major overseas film festivals only began starting up again in the 1980s.
Nevertheless, efforts to submit Korean films to foreign film festivals were continued and much debate was raised every time in an effort to decide on the film to be submitted. The reason was that after 1958, the government gave quotas for foreign film import (a policy where the government decides the ratio of foreign films that film companies can import in a given period of time) as a reward for entering foreign film festivals or receiving awards from them. This policy pressured Korean film makers to produce films to submit to foreign film festivals, just to get the import quota ? the chicken or the egg issue.
* Refer to http://www.kofic.or.kr under ‘Overseas Information Center < Award-winning Films in Major Foreign Film Festivals>’ to check out the list of recognitions that Korean films have received in major foreign film festivals.