Inspired by the idea that Korean films during the colonial and post-liberation periods (1919–1948) constantly question the boundaries of Korean national cinema, this article suggests that those films produced during the periods be designated as “Joseon film” (Joseon yeonghwa) and aims to examine the backdrops and potential effects of the nomenclature. In doing so, this paper reexamines the boundaries of Korean film history. At the center of this discourse are ten Joseon films the Korea Film Archive has rediscovered over the past decade, of which this article focuses on three Tuition (1940), Angels on the Streets (1941), and Seagull (1948); all discovered at overseas film archives. These three films constantly evoke and prompt questions on the conceptual definition of Korean film, even though they have been included in the historiography of early Korean cinema and been preserved materially in the Korean Film Archive. Tuition and Angels on the Streets, dating from the Japanese colonial period, and Seagull, dating from the post-liberation period. I examine their production and distribution on the boundaries between Joseon and Korean cinema and between colonial and nation-state cinema. Although the former two films aimed at becoming imperial Japan’s state (Gukka) films, they came to be categorized as Joseon (Minjok, ethnic) cinema by imperial Japan since the colonial realities reflected in the film were problematic to mainland Japan. The nationbuilding propaganda film Seagull, which was produced and distributed in 1948, had to start negotiating with the state to become South Korean film. It could not be legitimated as a South Korean film as it was filmed, since the print was confiscated by the authorities due to the actors who defected to North Korea. Reviewing the designations of and the boundaries between Joseon and Korean cinema, this article takes a critical approach to Korean film historiography of the Japanese colonial and post-liberation periods in Korea.
The purpose of this article is to reexamine sageuk (historical dramas) that were screened from the late 1950s to the 1960s in regards to the Korean film industry and their reception by the audience. During this time, historical dramas occupied an important position in the film industry and were the leading genre during the peak box office seasons. In an effort to examine the status and the significance of historical films, this paper divides the relevant time period into three phases. The first phase, the latter half of the 1950s, was a time when historical films were being established as big pictures. The second phase, the first half of the 1960s, established the custom of screening these big-budget historical films during the peak box office seasons around major holidays. The Third phase was the latter half of the 1960s, during which the popularity of historical dramas declined due to the industrial crisis and the rise of a younger audience. This article attempts to expand the scope of the discourse on historical dramas, which has been focused on the text analysis and their socio-historical significance, and examine the perspective of the film industry and reception of the films at the time. Based on this discussion, I aim to take a multifaceted look at the study of genre films.
Changes in Korean cinema during the 1970s and 80s served as the foundation for its takeoff in popularity in the 1990s. During this period, traditional Korean film production ideology and conventions were present, and the Korean New Wave can be said to be the result of the coevolution achieved while competing against such conventions. In this paper, I designate the main trends and films in Korean film history during the 1970s and 80s as the “Korean New Wave.” Korean New Wave encompasses the entire activities of the film movement group and the Korean film directors from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. I discuss Gwang-su Park, Myung-se Lee, Sun-woo Jang, and Ji-young Jung as representative directors. However, Korean New Wave is not a sudden occurrence but rather a social and historical consequence. Its pre-history comprises Yeongsang sidae (The Age of Image) centered on director Gil-jong Ha of the 1970s as well as the New Wave prequel represented by Chang-ho Bae, Jang-ho Lee, and Kwon-ta Im in the 1980s. Beginning as a prelude to the New Wave, Barambuleo joeun-nal (A Fine Windy Day, 1980) by Jang-ho Lee and continuing with Neoege nareul bonaenda (To You from Me, 1994) by Sun-woo Jang, or even to the establishment of the Busan International Film Festival in 1996, Korean New Wave was a consequence of co-influences, collaboration, competition, and struggle between the old system of Korean cinema and the new challenges it faced. However, the elements of New Wave were made obsolete by the topographical changes of the film industry and audience culture that came after the mid-1990s.
Since the 1990s, the genres of Korean film have been re-imagined, and the changed status of melodramas symbolizes this. Melodrama, which was a mainstream genre of Korean film for a long time, has been dissolved into a variety of emerging film genres, losing its dominance. This evolution has been commensurate with the imperative to secure distance from the emotions centered on the pathos of compassion and sympathy, and to question the period dominated by such emotions. The trajectory of Korean films in the 1990s, which began with a greater focus on romantic comedy and continued into comic action films, and the rise of thrillers in the 2000s, demonstrate this transformation. Since the 2000s Comedies and thrillers have acted as a common denominator of genre hybridization, maintaining their status as mainstream genres. This is because these two genres are most suitable for reflecting and reenacting the dynamics of Korean society and the specificity of its modernization due to the coexistence of a delayed modernity and a nascent post-modernity in Korea. In this transformation of film genres, current Korean films embody a labyrinth without an exit where the pursuit of rationality ends in failure or deepens an ironic aesthetic that calls for a contemplative form of humor regarding the coexistence of heterogeneity, contradictions, and absurdity.
Probing into South Korea’s international co-produced films in the 2010s, this article assesses Korean films’ commensurability in the globalized world sharing capitalist modes of living. Since the 1980s, neo-liberalistic globalization has been in full swing in most part of the world. In the course of this transition, capitalist modes of living, such as economic inequalities, the rise of social precariats, and social fragmentation, have become commonplace conditions easily recognizable by any individual with access to their external world. Since the 2000s, the development of Internet technology and media content in East Asia have created an environment wherein the South Korean film industry has an aspiration to expand its market share beyond Korea in terms of its own globalization. With the media globalization, films co-produced by South Korean and foreign filmmakers have appeared in earnest since 2010. These internationally coproduced films, which endeavor to go beyond the realm of Korean national cinema, address external audiences by seeking commensurability in a way of negotiating global audiences. This paper argues that Snowpiercer, Okja, and Parasite by Joon Ho Bong contain commensurability in addressing international audiences who communize capitalist modes of living.
From 1882 to 1910, Seoul was a special foreigners’ concession called a mixed-residential quarter. During this period, external influences changed the landscape of the Korean capital. Hence, the changes in foreigners’ settlement space in Seoul are an important element in our understanding of power dynamics among the nations surrounding Korea. Chinese power reinforced its predominance over Seoul immediately after that city’s opening, but Japanese power gradually came to the forefront in the wake of the SinoJapanese War, with Japan eventually occupying most of southern Seoul after the RussoJapanese War. Between 1882 and 1910 more than 90 percent of foreign residents of Seoul were Chinese or Japanese. Therefore, it is possible to understand transitions in the foreigners’ settlement space through an evaluation of the activities of Chinese and Japanese merchants and changes to their respective spaces. Such an analysis shows that the Chinese space had a dot-type distribution without a specific direction, whereas the Japanese space had a radial-type expansion centered on the Japanese legation. Furthermore, it shows that parts of the Chinese space were replaced with an augmented Japanese space. Hence, this further suggests linkages between changes in the foreigners’ space and changes in political power, commercial activity, population, and lifestyles, painting a distinct picture of Seoul in the decades immediately following the open-port period in Korea.
Among the Confucian and Buddhist philosophical heritages of East Asia, Zhu Xi’s school of nature and principle (lixue 理學 in Chinese, seongnihak 性理學 in Korean), with its philosophy of the primacy of li (principle), provides valuable resources for a new universal ethics due to its rationalistic metaphysical characteristic that goes beyond instrumental or functional reason. The defining traits of lixue involve a metaphysical philosophical thinking that places importance on the making of distinctions in the levels of being. The distinctive characteristic of Zhu’s metaphysics is connected invariably with his philosophy of the primacy of li, which gives precedence to li 理 over qi 氣 (‘material force’ or ‘psycho-physical matter’). By positing the objective existence of a normative truth embedded in xing 性 (seong in Korean; ‘moral [human] nature’), the NeoConfucianism of Zhu Xi seeks to secure the moral basis of not only human society but the entire ecosphere. Zhu Xi’s philosophy of the primacy of li may serve to reinvigorate the ethical foundation of contemporary Korean society, which despite current materialistic-physicalist tendencies is marked by manifestly deep Neo-Confucian spirituality and religiosity.