The Japanese colonial authorities treated Korean subjects like pupils, and further, like metaphorical children in a number of ways. They attempted to enlighten Korea, and one of the most effective tools of enlightenment for the mostly illiterate colonial population was film. It was a powerful material of propaganda and governing due to its massive popularity since its introduction in the colony. Upon the Korea Film Decree announcement by the Government General in 1940, the colony’s movie theaters became schools that only screened educational films. With this historical context in mind, this essay provides a study of the late-colonial era films released in the 1940-1945 period, including Homeless Angels, Love and Vow, Volunteer, Portrait of Youth, and Suicide Squad at the Watch Tower. My analyses focus on the intertwined issues of colonial enlightenment and propaganda, as well as the issues of ethnography, censorship, and narrative strategies of the films. The films are often packaged as melodrama through a heavy use of music, but this genre façade actually leads to the films’ narrative failure as both melodrama and propaganda. Thus I argue that the Japanese colonial authorities’ attempt at enlightenment via propaganda films ultimately failed. In lieu of a conclusion, this essay ends with a consideration of postcolonial desire for a national cinematic tradition, and the implied ethics of film viewing in postcolonial worlds.
Hollywood film was banned in colonial Korea during the Pacific War. The victory of the Allied Forces in the War meant “Hollywood’s return in glory.” Hollywood tried to regain its “lost screens” in the East Asian market, through the establishment of the Central Motion Picture Exchange (Headquarter in Tokyo and branch in Seoul) and the alliance with the U.S. government and the military (SCAP). The market share proved successful in South Korea. However, Hollywood’s offensive also caused widespread discontent about the United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) and its cultural policy among Korean filmmakers and opinion leaders who had initially welcomed American liberators. This essay attempts to examine the ambivalence itself in relation to Hollywood within the spatio-temporal context of the “liberation”: filmmakers’ experience of state-operated production in the late colonial period, their thwarted ambition to take advantage of Japan’s imperial expansion in Asia, North Korea’s successful nationalization of film production and its encouraging effect of filmmakers’ defection from South Korea, persistence of a colonial censorship system, frustrated expectation of “authentic national cinema,” and so on.
This article examines two films that have become canonical representations of national liberation in South Korea and North Korea: Hurrah! for Freedom (Jayu manse, Choe In-kyu, 1946) and My Home Village (Nae gohyang, Kang Hongsik, 1949). Taking the liberation period (1945-1948) as a postcolonial moment before the complete entrenchment of the Cold War system and its attendant conflicts and ideologies, it analyzes how the films look to the recent past of Japanese colonialism and how they prefigure the dominant national narratives and aesthetic ideologies in each Korean nation-state, particularly in relation to national liberation. In addition to examining how each film represents the colonial period, the article also relates the narratives and visual conventions of the films to colonial period filmmaking, as well as to Hollywood and Soviet cinemas. It is organized into two sections. The first section discusses the narrative forms of the two films and the second discusses their aesthetic ideologies through an attention to the dynamics of interior and exterior, depictions of landscape, and the effects of close-ups.
The dominant rhetoric of Cold War culture in the last seventy years has facilitated the dichotomous framework of South and North, good and evil, the proper and the improper, and the humanistic and the anti-humanistic. Particularly, under a dual economy of visual and corporeal regime in postwar South Korea, certain types of bodies and lives have been incorporated into the political realm of sovereign subjects while others have been excluded. However, there were also liminal, border-crossing, and volatile bodies such as North Korean refugees, secret spies, military sex workers, and uprooted female workers that were located at the margin of law and sovereign territory. The paper probes into the problematic topography of inclusion and exclusion concerning the life of North Koreans under Cold War biopolitics. For instance, such figures as shown in The Hand of Destiny (1954), Aimless Bullet (1961), Kinship (1963), and The Devil’s Stairway (1964) ask us to inquire peculiar ways of configuring Cold War biopolitics based on the production of healthy, strong, united, and social bodies. To speculate these figures based on the framework of Giorgio Agamben, the bare life of North Koreans in postwar South Korea has been something that needs to be included as an exceptional state for the foundation of sovereign power but at the same time abandoned for the sake of its development. Through comparative analyses of these films, this paper argues that the paradoxical dialectics between sovereign power and non-sovereign bodies makes the Cold War biopolitics of South Korean culture inevitably volatile. This work seeks to reframe the scope of biopolitics in post-38th parallel era through the filmic articulations of non-sovereign bodies in order to better understand the relationship between power, body, and life in Cold War Korea.
By analysing Silmido (2003), TaeGukGi: Brotherhood of War (2004) and, finally, Shiri (1998), this paper discusses how each film works to respond to an encounter with the traumatic Other. The representation of the Other necessarily leads us to raise the issue of ethics. The term “ethics” here refers precisely to “ethics of the Real” (Zupančič 2000) in which the subject redefines the mode of being in this encounter with the traumatic Real, thus becoming a true subject. One of the prevailing tropes of contemporary Korean film is the way in which the protagonist’s suicide keeps utopian impulses permanently parenthesised through the logic of sacrifice. Silmido and TaeGukGi demonstrate this. In contrast, Shiri opens up the inherent contradictions of all such ideas by revealing that the female protagonist maintains fidelity towards her own “acts” without being drawn into the logic of sacrifice. In so doing, this film enables us to cognitively map out the “geopolitical unconscious” of South Korea, i.e., the unrepresentable totality of the current South Korean capitalist system.
This article concerns itself with representations of adult overseas adoptee returnees in South Korean cinema since liberation until the present/2015. Attempting to historicize these, it questions how the adoptee returnee—as a gendered and ethnoracialized figure—comments on text-embedded ideologies of Koreanness and kinship at different moments in time. It argues that adoptee returnee representation, as deployed in male-authored nation narration, has evolved in consolidation with the socio-economical, ideological and political circumstances of the day. The first part of the article traces the adoptee returnee figure as it first appeared in the films of the late 1960s and early 1970s. With the booming South Korean economy in the 1970s, the adoptee returnee figure largely disappeared from the silver screen and was “replaced” by representations of adoptees within their adoptive countries. Since the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 and the official declaration of the New Multicultural South Korea in 2005/2006, the adoptee returnee has reappeared as a salient and refurbished figure in the cinescape, which can be considered as “a return of the returnee” (thus the title). The second part of the article offers a closer reading of returnees and family reunion discourse in postmillennial films.
Geomancy (p’ungsu in Korean and fengshui in Chinese) is the ancient Chinese art of landscape evaluation when choosing auspicious sites for houses, public buildings, settlements, and graves. The art of geomancy seemed to have originated from the Loess Plateau, North China and its well-developed form was introduced to Korea with an early wave of the cultural diffusion from China before or during the Three Kingdom’s Period. This paper proposes that the appearance of formal gardens (Chinese gardens with ponds) is a sign of the diffusion of geomancy to the Korean Peninsula. This argument is based on the following two points: firstly, both geomancy and the art of creating gardens share the same purpose of creating an ideal environment for humans. A garden is more than a collection and display of beautiful plants and trees. It represents a human endeavour to create an ideal environment for human habitation. Gardens are reorganisations of nature in a way that humans see as most ideal (beautiful). The art of geomancy is also an attempt to choose a most auspicious site and to create an ideal residence or grave on it. Secondly, Chinese garden art and geomancy share similar views on the quality of water: a pond or a watercourse should be in front of a house, not behind the house. This classical Chinese garden principle is an application of the geomantic idea that vital energy travels through soil, but stops when the energy meets water, for it cannot cross through the water. The ancient art of garden making incorporates much of these geomantic principles. Therefore, I suggest that the appearance of palace gardens in Koguryŏ, Paekche, and Silla during The Three Kingdoms Period is a sign of the diffusion of geomancy to the Korean Peninsula.
The purpose of this article lies in examining how The Hangyoreh took advantage of the discourse on pro-Japanese collaborators (ch’inilp’a damnon) for its progressive political stance in the post-democratization period from 1988 to 2002. As one of the representative progressive media of the day, The Hangyoreh took the initiative in re-introducing the once-forbidden topic of collaborators to society and claimed to have resettled the issue in present after Korea’s democratization in 1987. Furthermore, the newspaper utilized the discourse of ch’inilp’a, which reminds a negative memory of the failure of judging antinational traitors right after Korea’s liberation in 1945 and also “dire historical outcomes” that the rule of those unpurged collaborators brought into the development of post-1945 Korean history. By closely analyzing its editorials and reports, this article attempts to illuminate how the ch’inilp’a discourse in The Hangyoreh played a leading role in protecting, fostering, and furthering democratic progress, which Korean progressives thought was under the constant challenge during the post-democratization period.