Sydney’s Korean Craze

Korean migration to Sydney is recorded as being as one of the highest among all ethnic groups. Not only has this community introduced their rich culture to our suburbs, Koreans aim to continue thriving in Australia by creating a bridge of cross-cultural understanding, Clarissa Marchand reports


A chilly night of September in the heart of Sydney’s CBD, people flood the famed George Street cinemas foyer. A line weaves around passersby and poster stands. Loud chatter of patient customers, the tapping of phones and a background buzz of movie promos travels throughout the complex. Dodging my way to pass through the line, a desk with posters labelled with KOFFIA catches my eye. I had found it – the cultural, Korean gem amongst this Saturday night chaos. Two men sat at the desk smiling as they chatted to customers waiting to receive tickets. I joined the line and watched a screen behind them playing previews that flickered between a man with a fish head and lady dressed in costume covered in blood. The unknowing tingled my senses, and as I received my ticket I was yet to realise how tightly the Korean culture would capture me in only 90 minutes.

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-10-18-32-amSitting in the traditional timber hanok, a feature piece of the Korean Cultural Centre’s reception, David Park the manager of culture and arts at the Korean Cultural Centre and artistic director of the Korean Film Festival says “Film is the most practical and accessible way to convey culture, it has the ability to encapsulate all sorts of the mentality and the life of the particular people.”


A New Taste in Film <>


Through my experience of the Korean Film Festival, Mr. Park’s thoughts matched my own. In just over an hour viewers are shown a new world and asked to engage with the happiness and turmoils that come with it. Through the Korean Film Festival you are taken to a new society and asked to feel their emotions that are exclusively drawn from Korean experience. In leaving the cinema complex these emotions have resonated to become your own, as it is through the understanding of their life complexities that you are able to develop empathy. Film is able to provide an understanding between its characters and the viewer that is difficult to create off-screen.

Dr. Timothy Laurie, a member of the Cultural Studies Association of Australia and teacher of media studies, cultural diversity and popular culture uses ‘The Admiral:Roaring Currents (2014)’ as an example to comment on the ability of Korean film to draw international audiences, and resonate with these people whilst retaining its distinct cultural qualities.

“The Admiral was a really popular film transnationally but it’s very, very assertive about the specificity of Korean cultural identities, and that’s resonating with people who are not Korean.”, says Dr. Timothy Laurie.

Korean Craze: Emergence of Korean Culture in Sydney. A video showcasing Korean events held in Sydney, with commentary from speakers from numerous representative bodies who include - Dr. Timothy Laurie, David Park and Anna Kim

In partnership with the Korean Cultural Centre, KOFFIA or The Korean Film Festival, has grown over the past seven years to match the growing interest in this rich culture of Sydney-siders. Starting from Sydney, it expanded to Melbourne in 2010 and has now reached Perth, Adelaide, Canberra and Brisbane. In 2016 there were roughly 15 000 attendees across the six cities of Australia.

David Park says, “We’re really proud of our growth of the festival and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of all the broader Australian community”.


Image is taken from Korean Film Festival, Facebook page <>


Across seven days KOFFIA showcased an array of films including ‘The train to Busan’ which has earned transnational and transcultural fame. Directors Jung Ji-woo and Lee Joon-Ik, with actress Lee Hang-na also visited Sydney as part of the festival. Sessions were held with directors for a chance to ask questions, allowing the audience to engage with aspects beyond the film. Director Lee Joon-Ik of ‘Dongju: the portrait of a poet’ answered audience queries abut his historical biopic. Opportunities such as this, to enable engagement with Korean film encourages cross-cultural exchange between Australians and Koreans.

Recorded by the Department of immigration and citizenship the migration of Koreans to Sydney has been rising year by year, with more than half of all Korean immigrants arriving in the last 10 years. New South Wales is home to the largest population of these immigrants; as of 2011 41, 819 Korean immigrants were documented. This increase exhibits the importance of exchange between our two cultures to encourage a thriving friendship. 


Republic of South Korea  a leading ethnic group in 2006-2011 for immigration, Image is taken from ID. ‘Immigration in the past 5 years – focus on NSW’

The influx of immigration has resulted in the greater exposure of Korean culture to Australian society, as seen in the recent Korean Film Festival in Australia of September. Sydney is  home to many Korean hubs, including Strathfield, Hornsby and Eastwood, which each boast an array of traditional culture. Korean businesses and festivals have risen to prominence across these suburbs, enabling the community to celebrate their heritage while establishing an understanding with the wider society.

Known as the ‘hallyu’ or ‘Korean wave’, pop culture from South Korea since the 1990s has permeated neighbouring Asian countries and now has a global reach. Hallyu is visible in the Sydney community in various forms.


An article of May 2012 published by ‘The Conversation’ named Little Koreas could capitalise on Sydney’s hottest entrepreneurs, investigates the growing number of Korean entrepreneurs and makes a prediction of what this will mean for Sydney. It notes that the Korean immigrant group has the highest percentage of entrepreneurs. Jock Collins a professor of The UTS business school is noted as a source. “That can lead to things like festivals and other cultural events, and that facilitates local, national and international tourism”, Mr. Collins said.

David Park believes the historical hardships experienced as result of the Korean War is a reason for their “mentality” in overcoming what he describes to be a country of “nothing”. This mentality may be key in being the grounds for their entrepreneurial endeavours.

“To do this in 50 years is a miracle!”, Mr. Park says.

Keeping Up With Korea - the nation taking Sydney by storm. Audio piece reflecting on the influence of Korean migration to Sydney, including the speakers Dr. Timothy Laurie, David Park and Anna Kim

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2014 Korean-born migrants made up the largest population of four Sydney suburbs including Rhodes (13%) and Newington (12%). The neighbouring suburb of Eastwood is a Korean hub, home to many immigrants and Korean-born Australians. Last week Eastwood held their annual Korean Festival that first started around 4 years ago. The Korean Cultural Centre was present amongst many other Korean-affiliated businesses, social groups and organisations.

The event showcased an array of Korean food, traditional music, dance, rides, live performances and the large Korean population of Eastwood. The enormity of this festival that attracted people of all ethnicities brings to light the apparent influence of Hallyu in the community.


Multicultural mural in Eastwood Park – painted by artist Heesco


Anna Kim, a Korean-born New Zealand and now currently Sydney resident, was a volunteer affiliated with the Korean Cultural Centre present on the day. She discusses the importance of festivals such as these in Australia for her ethnic group, “There aren’t many things that show our community and our society, as much as this festival does”, Ms. Kim says.

As predicted by Jock Collins 4 years ago, festivals and cultural events that have emerged due to the increase of immigration across Sydney enabling the Korean community to engage non-Korean individuals within their culture. Cemented on a political level by the Free Trade Agreement enacted in 2014, these displays encourage a harmonious partnership that is needed to continue the Australian-Korean exchange.

The increase of Korean migration has delivered new ideas and expanded the Australian cultural market to include Hallyu influenced cultural elements. Karaoke bars, Korean BBQ restaurants, cafes and Kpop on television are no longer foreign aspects of Sydney life, being extremely common across many suburbs. Not only does this immigrant group have an entrepreneurial mindset, as many migrate under the ‘skilled and business migration categories’ adding to the Australian economy, the rich culture that brings festivals, films and food to Sydney is a beneficial addition that encourages a cross-cultural understanding.


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