05/18/2016, 17.24
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Korean literature and cinema taking the West by storm

Writer Han Kang won the prestigious Man Booker International Prize, a first for a South Korean. South Korean literature in translation has carved a major niche in the British market. South Korean feature films, screenwriters and directors are also playing a leading role. K-culture reaches out to the West whilst sticking to its values.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – A South Korean author’s award of the prestigious Man Booker International prize for fiction has sparked an understandable media frenzy in her homeland, where she is now seen as "the great promise" of Asian literature.

The prize itself comes as the K(orean)-culture branding brings South Korean books, movies, and music to the world.

Han Kang won the Man Booker prize with The Vegetarian, a novel that deals with a woman’s decision to stop eating meat. Disgusted with human cruelty, she wants to become a plant.

Man Booker jury chairman Boyd Tonkin described the work as “lyrical and lacerating”, a “compact, exquisite and disturbing book [that] will linger long in the minds, and maybe the dreams, of its readers”.

Born in 1970 in Gwangju, Han is a poet, writer and essayist. She is the daughter of novelist Han Seung-won. After graduating in Korean literature from Yonsei University, she first emerged in the literary scene in 1993 with poems.

Well known at home, she was almost unknown in the West, until now. Her success in Britain reflects a trend in the past three years of rising sales for Korean and Chinese works translated into English, corresponding to what some have called a non-violent invasion that can open minds and cultures.

According to the South Korean daily Hankyoreh, Han’s success is long overdue. Once the language barrier is crossed, the rest of the world can realise what South Koreans can do, which is to keep their values whilst making them accessible to others.

Before literature, K-pop led the way, gaining fans around the world, including Indonesian president Joko Widodo. Movies have also played a major role in the internationalisation of K-culture.

Lee Chang-dong won the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010. Two years later, his compatriot Kim Ki-duk received the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, three South Korean features are present, two in competition.

The 14 May issue of Screen, a daily magazine at the Cannes Film Festival, includes an article titled ‘Korea’s Show of Strength’, this according to Hankyoreh. “South Korea is back in Cannes with three highly anticipated features,” the paper added, one of the best surprise in the past decade.

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