South Korean film director Lee Chang-dong has been named Minister of Culture and Tourism in a surprise appointment by new Korean president Roh Moo-hyun. This marks the first time in Korea's history that a member of the film industry will head the ministry.

As Minister, Lee will oversee governmental affairs in culture and the arts, religion, sports, tourism, youth, and media. The ministry is responsible for 1.06% of the government's total budget.

Although the drafting and implementing of film policy is largely handled by the independently-administered Korean Film Commission (KOFIC), the Ministry of Culture & Tourism is responsible for assigning overall budgets to various sectors of the industry.

The Ministry also oversees the appointment of new members to KOFIC and the Korea Media Ratings Board, which has stirred controversy in recent years due to the indirect banning of such films as Cannes selection Too Young To Die. Current members of both organizations will be up for re-appointment in May 2005.

Lee is known as an active campaigner in favor of Korea's screen quota system, which stipulates that local cinemas screen Korean films for a minimum of 106 days per year. Even prior to Lee's appointment, president Roh affirmed his support for the system, which has come under fire from the MPAA and US trade officials.

Lee, director of the award-winning Oasis (2002) as well as Peppermint Candy (1999) and Green Fish (1997), is considered one of the foremost auteurs in the Korean industry. He is also an acclaimed novelist, and has worked as a high school teacher and university professor.

Together with actor Moon Sung-keun (former head of the Coalition for Diversity in Moving Images) and East Film CEO Myung Kaynam, Lee helped oversee an influential grassroots movement in support of Roh's presidential bid last year.