Jeonju: Home of South Korean culture and history

Jeonju: Home of South Korean culture and history

Take in the artistic and cultural side of South Korea as Jeonju hosts its 11th international film festival
Street performers on Cinema Street.

Jeonju: spiritual home of Joseon

Jeonju is seen by many South Koreans as one of the major homes of culture and history in the country. It has played its part in several significant events in Korean history, including being occupied during a peasant rebellion. It was the capital of the Hubaekje kingdom and the city is considered the spiritual home of the Joseon dynasty because it was here that the Royal family that founded the dynasty originated. 

Hanok villageJeonju's Hanok villageThe city's Hanok village is a major attraction for tourists from all over the country and houses over 800 traditional style Korean houses which in turn hide inside them a tangible network of cells of Korean culture and history. Gyeonggijeon, a shrine built to hold, amongst other things, the portrait of King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon dynasty is at the village's heart but you can also wander amongst the myriad alleyways and stumble across small workshops that keep alive some of the cultural art forms that may otherwise die. Amongst other things you can do are make hanji paper (1,000 won (US$0.90) per sheet,) play traditional games (free), take a lesson in Korean drumming (7,000 won) or learn to make the city's famed bibimbap (10,000 won.) There are also plenty of Hanok that have been converted into guest rooms, restaurants, wine bars, cafes, art galleries and more.

Getting lost among the relative peace and quiet of the Hanok village (sadly the village is not pedestrianized ) can give the impression that Jeonju is a sleepy city but depending on the time of the year you visit it can be a pulsating hub of activity. The village is in the heart of the downtown area and hosts several traditional culture festivals during the year and with well over half a million people, including a thriving expat community, Jeonju has more to offer than the Lonely Planet might suggest.

Jeonju International Film Festival

As well as being a centre of traditional culture Jeonju has delved into the very modern world of digital film making and has successfully hosted its own film festival since the turn of the millennium. This year the Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) will host its 11th festival from the 29th of April until the 7th of May 2010 in several locations throughout the city. 

The festival is a baby in comparison to other Asian film festivals but it has carved out something of a niche with its Digital Project. The festival is at heart a competition and there are three main categories. The International competition introduces new films from around the world with entrants in this year's festival coming from as far as Colombia, Georgia and India. A Korean feature film competition is of course de rigueur and there is also a Korean Short film competition. The Jeonju Digital Project (JDP) is the festival's jewel in the crown. Fifty million won is given to three directors and they make a 30 minute digital film. This year, American James Benning, Canadian Denis Côté and Argentinian Matias Pinero were selected and their creations will be premiered at the festival. A selection of the JDP directors' other films will be also be shown. The 'Cinemascape' section of the festival may well be the most appealing as it features the work of noted directors and includes feature length, documentary and short films by directors including Francis Ford Coppola and Fritz Lang.

JIFFCinema Street during the festival.Being a Korean festival, there is an obvious preponderance of Korean films and the Korean Cinema Showcase features six of the best Korean films to have been produced recently. More poignant for Jeonju is the Local Cinema Showcase where films made in the city get their own platform. This year there will be three short films shown in this category.

There are retrospectives of Pedro Costa, Romuald Karmakar and Miklos Jancso and Kim Dong-won and there is an experimental category as well as all night and even outdoor screenings. There are two directors' master classes, one by Bong Joon-ho and one by Pedro Costa where following a screening the directors will present a lecture and host a question and answer session (10,000 won).  

Opening and closing films cost 10,000 won and general admission costs 5,000 won. Outdoor screenings are free. Online booking is available for general screenings from 11am, April 15 until midnight on May 6. For more information, visit

About the author: Rob McGovern is a freelance writer currently living in South Korea, where he has lived for the last three years. When he's not sampling the delights of Korean cuisine he can be found in a taekwondo gym or on a boat, plane or train somewhere in Asia.

To read more articles by Rob McGovern, or to contact him go to one of his two blogs. A Land of Quirk and Charm for his personal outlook on Korea or for slightly more polished work.

Rob submitted this piece as part of CNNGo’s CityPulse section. To find out what other stories we are looking for, go to our CityPulse page.

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