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Understanding the world phenomenon of "Beef" and "Past Lives"

Feb 27, 2024
  • Source by KoBiz
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A look into the rich heritage of Korean American film community that laid the foundation for two celebrated productions of 2023



 The contributions of external writers may differ from the opinions of KoBiz & KOFIC, and they do not represent the official views of KOFIC.


By Sebastián N. Nadilo 


Last year, two Korean American productions captivated audiences worldwide, earning acclaim from both critics and viewers alike. Of course, I am talking about Past Lives a romantic drama feature film, directed by first-time filmmaker Celine Song and produced by A24; and Beef a dark comedy television miniseries created by Lee Sung Jin for Netflix, and produced by the same company. To understand the success of these productions, it's crucial to talk about the influence of Korea's second generation of Hallyu Wave on Hollywood; examine the achievements of the Korean American creators; and analyze the key elements that propelled Beef and Past Lives​ as global phenomena.


It is well-established by scholars and film connoisseurs that Asia is having a golden age of high-quality content. As a result, we can find Asian movies being screened at the best film festivals around the world, and we can even watch great TV shows made by Asian creators on most streaming services. There are even streaming platforms dedicated exclusively to Asian productions. This cultural revolution was propelled by the Korean Wave, which started in the 1990s. Korean productions made such a global impact, that it is impossible to find people who haven’t watched films like Memories of Murder (2003), Oldboy (2003), The Host (2006), Train to Busan (2016), The Wailing (2016), The Handmaiden (2016), just to name a few.


One company understood the importance of landing in Hollywood to propel itself as a global content creator. CJ Entertainment, Korea’s largest entertainment company, landed in Hollywood in 2006 by selling remake rights of their films, but it wasn’t until 2013 that they had their first breakthrough with Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, which became a success both in the U.S. and internationally. In 2019, the company reached the highest peak in the industry with Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. The film won four Oscars at the 92nd Academy Awards which included Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film.


However, it's important to remark that the success of Korean American creators cannot be attributed to a single company or factor. It is rather years of fighting against an industry that misrepresented them and relinquished them to the background. The result is a strong and vibrant community of creators and actors that deserves credit for winning the battle to tell their own stories from their unique perspectives. Additionally, we must acknowledge the crucial role played by various Asian organizations and festivals. These platforms consistently showcase new talent and push boundaries within the industry. We should mention that the rise of the far right in the U.S. and the impact of COVID-19 have led to increased harassment and violence towards Asian communities. In response, they have strengthened their ties and created strong coalitions to raise their voices and fight against bigotry. 




Over the past decade, we can highlight a few movies created by Korean Americans like Seoul Searching (2015) by Benson Lee, Columbus (2017) by Kogonada, Gook (2017) by Justin Chon, Driveways (2019) by Andrew Ahn, Minari (2020) by Lee Isaac Chung, After Yang (2021) by Kogonada, and Blue Bayou (2021) by Justin Chon. More recently, productions like Liquor Store Dreams (2022) by So Yun Um and Free Chol Soo Lee (2022) by Julie Ha and Eugene Yi, have made it into several international festivals and streaming platforms. Last year, notable productions included Take Me Home (2023) by Liz Sargent, Elemental (2023) by Peter Sohn, Smoking Tigers (2023) by So Young Shelly Yo, Shortcomings (2023) by Randall Park, Nam June Paik: Moon is the Oldest TV (2023) by Amanda Kim. In this talented panorama, Past Lives (2023) by Celine Song, and Beef (2023) created by Lee Sung Jin have emerged.