At the peak of Korean cinema’s contemporary golden age in the mid-2000s, 1960s auteur director Lee Man-hee and his films were rediscovered and have since become appreciated in ways that Lee himself never experienced. In 2010, his classic Late Autumn was remade as a transnational coproduction for a pan-Asian audience. Four decades after his death, Lee remains one of the most influential directors in Korea’s history. To understand his legacy and its sociohistorical conditions, the authors analyze how Lee’s provocative genre experimentation reinvigorated the Korean film industry in the 1960s under Park Chung-hee’s authoritarian regime, a spirit that remains alive today. Lee’s perseverance during this tumultuous period illustrates the complex relationship between the film industry and the state as well as some of the strategies filmmakers used to meet the challenges created by Park’s regime. Lee’s two best-known films, Marines Who Never Returned (1963) and Holiday (1968), are analyzed to show how creative impulses were sustained by developing a blend of social realism and modernist techniques to explore the human condition. This approach set his films apart from the propaganda and commercial productions of the time, bringing a fresh perspective to Korean cinema that continues to resonate with filmmakers and audiences today.