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China, Korea, and Japan have been historically close for centuries, thus accounting for their numerous common artistic traditions. From pre-Christian times until the 8th and 9th century AD, the great trade routes crossed from the Middle East through Central Asia into China. Hinduism, Buddhism, some knowledge of ancient Greek, and much knowledge of Indian arts entered into China, and thence in time into Korea and Japan. Perhaps before Christ, the Central Asian art of manipulating hand puppets was carried to China.
For more than 700 years, until 668, in the kingdom of Koguryo, embracing northern Korea and Manchuria, court music and dances from Central Asia, from Han China, from Manchuria, and from Korea, called chiso and kajiso, were performed. Many of the dances were masked; all were stately as befit serious court art. They were taken to the Japanese court in Nara about the 7th century. Called bugaku in Japan, they have been preserved for 12 centuries and can still be seen performed at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, though they have long since died out in China and Korea. In Koguryo's neighbouring kingdom of Paekche, a form of Buddhist masked dance play was performed at court, and, in the 7th century, it too was taken to the Japanese court at Nara by a Korean performer, Mimaji, who had learned the dances while staying at the southern Chinese court of Wu-hou. Called kiak in Korea and gigaku in Japan, the Aryan features of some of its masks clearly indicate Indian (or Central Asian) influence. Such complicated genealogies are common in East Asian performing arts.
Korean drama has its origins in prehistoric religious rites, while music and dance play an integral role in all traditional theatrical performances. A good example of this classical theatrical form is the masked dance called sandaenori or talchum, a combination of dance, song and narrative punctuated with satire and humor. Slightly varying from one region to another in terms of style, dialogue and costume, it enjoyed remarkable popularity among rural people until the early 20th century.
Pansori, the lengthy narrative songs based on popular tales, and Kkokdugaksinoreum or puppet plays, performed by vagrant artists, also drew large audiences. The shamanistic rituals known as gut were another form of religious theater that appealed to the general public. All these performances are seldom presented today.
There are a few institutions that offer various performing arts in one place, an example of this being Jeong-dong Theater in central Seoul, that presents a traditional performing arts series, drama and music.
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Public interest in films has been mounting and several international film festivals have been staged by provincial governments or private organizations in Korea. They include the Pusan International Film Festival and the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival. As in other countries, Korean cinema circles are seeing a noticeable expansion of the animation and cartoon industry. More than 200 companies are producing works of this up-to-date genre.
Korea sold 37 films with a combined value of about US$3.4 million in 1998. This figure may be equivalent to the price of a handful of imported movies. In 1998, movie houses showed 43 Korean-made films. When all these facts are considered, Korea's film industry is still in a fledgling stage despite some creative directors.
Choe Sang Su, A Study of the Korean Puppet Play (1961)
Cho Wong Gyong, Dances of Korea (1962)
Halla Pai Huhm, Korean Dance, Theater, and Cinema (1983)