Opinion & Analysis

Interest in K-culture flourishing in NZ

The cultural bonds between South Korea and New Zealand have never been more vibrant, writes HE Yeo Seung-bae, the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to New Zealand.

Yeo Seung-bae at Show Me Shorts screening, Wellington

Ambassador Yeo Seung-bae (first from left, front row) at a Show Me Shorts Korea Focus film screening in Wellington. (Photo: Supplied)

OPINION: In 2018, vibrant exchanges are connecting the hearts and minds of South Korean and New Zealand culture lovers and artists.

The 35th Busan International Short Film Festival (BISFF) this year featured New Zealand as a guest country, with New Zealand films being well received by Korean audiences.

The Kiwi television movie, The Brokenwood Mysteries: Stone Cold Dead, was selected for the Seoul International Drama Awards while New Zealand’s The Changeover also premiered in Korea at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival. Works by leading New Zealand artists, John Pule, Ella Sutherland and Simon Danny, were exhibited at the Gwangju Biennale.

In October, the focus returns to New Zealand theatres from Stewart Island to Auckland, for the 2018 Show Me Shorts film festival featuring seven Korean short films. It will be followed by the annual Korean Film Festival that is organised by the Korean Embassy and Consulate in New Zealand, together with the Korean Cinerama Trust, to screen a range of Korean films in Auckland, Wellington and Hamilton.

With a number of feature films and public screenings across the two festivals, there are plenty of opportunities for New Zealand audiences to be entertained with an exciting range of films. The Terror Fi Film Festival in Wellington this November will also feature the Korean blockbuster film Believer

2018 K-Culture Festival

The 2018 K-Culture Festival presented highlights of traditional and contemporary Korean culture to Wellingtonians. (Photo: K-Culture Festival Wellington/Facebook)

Rise of Korean pop culture 

The rising popularity of Korean culture goes beyond the film sector.

The 2018 K-Culture Festival in late July was a week-long celebration that presented highlights of traditional and contemporary Korean culture to Wellingtonians.

As the Ambassador of Korea to New Zealand, it was my sincere pleasure to see the Michael Fowler Centre packed with an enthusiastic audience enjoying the rhythm, beat and vibrancy of Korean music.

Korean popular culture known as Hallyu or the “Korean Wave” has increased in prominence in New Zealand more recently. Starting with K-drama in the early 2000s, Hallyu is enjoying its heyday with K-pop and gradually spreading into K-food, K-fashion and even K-language.

Karena and Kasey, New Zealand MasterChef winners launched their popular New Zealand television series, Kitchen Diplomacy, with Korean culture and cuisine as the focus.

Korean fashion has also received interest from New Zealanders, with Rachel Hunter featuring South Korea on her Tour of Beauty series that screened in New Zealand.

Hwaseong Haenggung palace, Suwon, South Korea

Korea is a country with 5000 years of history with ancient traditions and a rich culture,” writes Ambassador Yeo Seung-bae. (Photo: Asia Media Centre)

Why K-culture is thriving in NZ

Why has interest in Korean culture started flourishing in New Zealand? There could be several explanations, but I wish to highlight a couple of points.

First of all, it is the way Korean cultural offerings harmonise traditional and modern culture, capturing the flow of modern times.

Korea is a country with 5000 years of history with ancient traditions and a rich culture. Koreans have become skillful at synthesising these, an ability apparent, especially among young Koreans, who have reached out of Korea to discover new opportunities for business and pleasure while adapting with Korea’s swift social and economic development.

Moreover, New Zealanders’ growing interest in Korea’s unique culture has something to do with Kiwi’s openness and warmth toward different people and their cultures. This love of cultural diversity has also been reinforced by the Government’s policy and support for engaging with Asia, as seen in programmes by the Asia New Zealand Foundation like art residency opportunities provided to New Zealanders at the Seoul Museum of Art Nanji Studio. It is conduits such as these that help connect Kiwis with Korea.

Young Kiwis in the 1950s laid the foundation for our long-standing friendship when they first arrived in Busan by ship on Christmas Eve 1950 during the Korean War.

A younger generation in the 21st century has been building on that solid foundation. More than half of the 33,000 New Zealanders who travelled to Korea last year were aged 40 or younger, and the number has been increasing in recent years.

With the advancement of transnational connections and social media networks, the considerable geographical distance hardly forms a barrier to young minds, which are open to each other’s culture.

These days, many young people of both countries are watching music videos of BTS, the first K-pop group that topped the US 200 Billboard album chart twice, and instantly sharing their comments on YouTube.

K-pop band BTS

K-pop band BTS has a large fan following around the world.

Deepening ties between NZ and South Korea

With the cultural bond between our peoples getting stronger, the partnership between Korea and New Zealand is well poised to make another meaningful leap in coming years.

The friendly city relationship between Wellington and Seoul is contributing to this as are efforts by New Zealanders such as Sir Richard Taylor, who is connecting designers from New Zealand and Korea together through opportunities such as the Gwangmyeong Concept Design which was exhibited at Massey University in Wellington this October.

I wish that business people and industry leaders of both countries will work together to tap into more vibrant cultural exchanges. In particular there may be enormous potential for our creative industries, such as the film industry, for joint success on the world stage.

The Embassy of the Republic of Korea, representing the South Korean government in New Zealand, is committed to supporting this.

Views expressed are personal to the author.

– Asia Media Centre