Widely considered Korea's foremost filmmaker, Im Kwon-Taek has become a major international figure in the realm of world cinema. A remarkably prolific director who has over 100 titles to his credit, Im's films are renowned for their remarkable visual beauty, technical innovation, and intellectual depth.
Born on May 2, 1936, into a family of noted leftists, Im Kwon-Taek grew up and completed his schooling in the southern city of Kwangju. As a result of the Korean war, his family's fortunes were decimated and he was forced to work, first as a day-laborer, and as a businessman reselling U.S. Army boots. In 1956, he moved to Seoul where he happened to meet film director Chung Chang-Wha, who offered him room and board in exchange for work as a production assistant. Though Im had no great ambitions to become a filmmaker, he took the job, working on the set was a means of survival when work for people with leftist ties was few and far between. Five years later, Chung recommended that Im direct and in 1962, he made his debut with Dumangang-a Jal Ikkora.
Im's career parallels that of John Ford, who learned filmmaking on the set and then found his own distinctive artistic vision. By his own admission, for the first ten years of his filmmaking career, Im thought of movies as strictly a means to a paycheck for his family. This started to change in the 1970s. Korean critics first started to notice Im after the release of his 1973 film Jabcho and with his 1978 opus Chokpo (aka Genealogy), Im's growing desire to make an artistically accomplished work came to fruitition. His philosophical outlook recalls the existential humanism that marks Akira Kurosawa's finest works. Like Hou Hsiao Hsien, Im's films are investigations of the society of a nation marked by a turbulent, sometimes repressive, recent history. Without seeming provincial or overly nationalistic, Im's work explores elements of Korean culture imperiled by that country's drive to modernize. Pul ui Ttal (aka Daughters of the Flame) looks at Korea's long tradition of shamanism, framed amid the story of a failing marriage; Mandala concerns itself with the meaning and relevance of Buddhism the modern world; and Sopyonje focuses on Korea's dying folk song tradition.