The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema (Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society)

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In one of the first English-language studies of Korean cinema to date, Kyung Hyun Kim shows how the New Korean Cinema of the past quarter century has used the trope of masculinity to mirror the profound sociopolitical changes in the country. Since 1980, South Korea has transformed from an insular, authoritarian culture into a democratic and cosmopolitan society. The transition has fueled anxiety about male identity, and amid this tension, empowerment has been imagined as remasculinization. Kim argues that the brutality and violence ubiquitous in many Korean films is symptomatic of Korea’s on-going quest for modernity and a post-authoritarian identity.

Kim offers in-depth examinations of more than a dozen of the most representative films produced in Korea since 1980. In the process, he draws on the theories of Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Zizek, Gilles Deleuze, Rey Chow, and Kaja Silverman to follow the historical trajectory of screen representations of Korean men from self-loathing beings who desire to be controlled to subjects who are not only self-sufficient but also capable of destroying others. He discusses a range of movies from art-house films including To the Starry Island (1993) and The Day a Pig Fell into the Well (1996) to higher-grossing, popular films like Whale Hunting (1984) and Shiri (1999). He considers the work of several Korean auteurs—Park Kwang-su, Jang Sun-woo, and Hong Sang-su. Kim argues that Korean cinema must begin to imagine gender relations that defy the contradictions of sexual repression in order to move beyond such binary struggles as those between the traditional and the modern, or the traumatic and the post-traumatic.

Product Details

  • Series: Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society
  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books (March 8, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822332671
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822332671
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces

Customer Reviews

The Master Narrative of the New Korean Cinema

One person found this helpful.
 on March 12, 2017
By Etienne RP
The thesis of this book is quite simple. Korea in the 1980s and the 1990s was a post-traumatic society. The figure of the father had been shattered by its authoritarian leaders, who ended in a grotesque finale (see The President’s Last Bang, 2005, about the assassination of Park Chung-hee) or, in the case of Chun Doo-hwan, lacked hair (The President’s Barber, 2004). The double trauma of colonization by Japan and fratricide murder during the Korean War had deprived the Korean people of its identity. The sins of the fathers were visited upon the sons, and the Memories of Murder (2003) still lingered. The ritual murder of the father could not unite the community of brothers as they stood divided between North and South (Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War, 2004), between sons of patriots and sons of collaborationists (Thomas Ahn Jung-geun, 2004). The films quoted above, all produced in the 2000s, could resolve the tensions and dilemma of overcoming trauma by representing them on screen. By contrast, films produced in the 1980s and 1990s could only repress the representation of the primal scene, generating frustration and anger. In psychoanalytic terms, this is the difference between “working through”, the positive engagement with trauma that can lead to its ultimate resolution, and “acting out” or compulsively repeating the past.

Testosterone Plaza!

44 people found this helpful.
 on August 2, 2004
By J. Scott Burgeson
After the testosterone-fueled rebirth of (South) Korean cinema in the ’80s and ’90s, only in the last few years have serious, critically rigorous books on the subject begun to appear in English in dribs and drabs. Kim Kyung-hyun’s The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema is the most theoretically sophisticated to appear so far, and is must reading for all crit-theory heads wondering what the hell has been going on in South Korean society in the past few decades–especially on the big screen, which has been dominated by brooding, raging men for quite some time now.

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