Why Can’t Korean Films Ever Break Into the Academy Awards?


On February 27, The Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film went to an Iranian film, “A Separation.” The Academy Awards started giving out Best Foreign Language Film awards in 1956. South Korea has been submitting films for nomination every year since 1963. Korea’s first submission was “Mother and the Houseguest” by director Shin Sang Ok. However, Korea has been unlucky all those years as no Korean films have ever been a final nominee for the Academy awards. This year, films from more than 60 countries have been submitted in the category of Best Foreign Language Film.

Since 2000, Korean films have improved dramatically both commercially and artistically. Many Korean films have won important awards like Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Directing, and other categories at other major film award ceremonies like Festival de Cannes, Berlin International Film Festival, and Venice International Film Festival. However, no such accomplishment has been made at the Academy Awards. Meanwhile, other Asian films have had the opportunity take a part of the Academy Awards. Japan made it to the final five nominee list in 2009 with Takita Yojiro‘s “Goodbye” and Taiwan won 2001 Best Foreign Language Film award with Ang Lee‘s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”  

Experts point out that Korean films are not as well known as other Asian films among 6000 members of the Academy Awards committee who choose the final nominees. Moreover, Korean actors and directors seldom advance to Hollywood, which contributes to the limited knowledge of these members about Korean films. Programer Jun Chan Il from Busan International Film Festival comments, “Other Asian countries have staff working in Hollywood. This allows them to promote their domestic films in Hollywood. Korea should take advantage of the hype of Korean wave and make foreign markets be more aware of its films and movie industry.” 

Other experts also mention that the nominating standards of European film awards differ greatly from the Academy Awards. While European film awards focus more on originality and creativity, the Academy Awards mainly focus on the degree of completion. Dr. Hwang Chul Min from Se Jong University commented, “While the three major European film awards (Cannes, Venice, and Berlin International Film Festivals) are looking for a prodigy, the Academy is looking for a master. In the case of Korean films, their weakness is storytelling. The level of storytelling needs to be brought up.”

Some industry officials urge Korean films to make more significant accomplishments at the European film awards to be able to compete at the Academy Awards’ level. The fact that Korean films have never won the grad prize at these three major European film awards prove the limits of Korean films. Director Park Duk Ho from Korean Film Council said, “Many other Asian films have won the grad prize at Cannes, Berlin, and Venice Film Festivals. But Korean films have not even made it to the nomination in past 5 or 6 years. If we become more competent at other foreign film award festivals, we will have a chance at the Oscar as well.”

While Korea has not been lucky even in Europe, many film industry officials are anticipating a satisfying result at Cannes this March. Director Hong Sang Soo‘s “In Another Country,” Im Sang Soo‘s “The Taste of Money,” and Park Chan Wook‘s first Hollywood film “Stoker” are all expected to be nominated. Perhaps one of these films will make a significant accomplishment at Cannes and this will lead to Korea’s very first Academy award in near future.