Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Mass Communication and Media Arts
AN ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATION OF KWANG WOO NOH, for the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Mass Communication and Media Arts, presented on August 25, 2009, at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. TITLE: MEMORIES OF RAPID TRANSFORMATION: RETROSPECTION AND NOSTALGIA IN CONTEMPORARY SOUTH KOREAN CINEMA MAJOR PROFESSOR: Deborah Tudor, Ph.D. The recent tendency of returning to history in Korean cinema corresponds with the conjuncture of democratization and globalization from 1992, which is an antithesis of the former conjuncture: modernization and military dictatorship from 1961 to 1992. Through the rapid economic development, Korea's economy reached its apex in the mid 1990s. However, Asian economic crisis of 1997 - 1998 accelerated the economic decline. The democratization and the economic crisis provided Korean filmmakers with a motivation to re-examine the past. The research contained herein will focus on these Korean reexaminations of the past. With regard to this re-examination, Korean cinema employed two main trends. Some films refer to historical and political moments, and suggest a relationship between such moments and Korean destiny. Other films deal with personal stories from the 1960s to 1990s. Both trends provide not only retrospection of the rapid transformation but also nostalgia for the past despite differences of subject matters and genre. Film studies pertinent to the subject include political criticism in U.S. film studies of ideology, historians' and film scholars' approaches to film representation of the history and the past, as well as New German cinema and post-Franco Spanish cinema. Methodology will incorporate textual analysis, followed by an examination of four films in retrospective trend, as well as four films in the nostalgic trend. For the purpose of analysis, eight films, released from 2000 to 2007, are examined. In terms of subject matter, all films are connected to Korea from the 1960 to the 1990s. In the first trend of films of historical reference, four films will be examined: The President's Barber(Im Chan-sang, 2004), The President's Last Bang (Im Sang-soo, 2004), Peppermint Candy (Lee Chang-dong, 2000), and Memories of Murder (Bong Joon-ho, 2003). The President's Barber covers the era from the last days of Rhee Syng-man regime through the Student Revolution of April 19, 1960, through the military coup on May 16, in 1961, to the assassination of Park Chung-hee on October 26, 1979, through the life of a fictional barber who served the president. The President's Last Bang (Im Sang-soo, 2004) dramatizes the assassination of Park Chung-hee. With its reverse chronological narrative progress, Peppermint Candy (Lee Chang-dong, 2000) traces how the Kwangju massacre of May 1980 influenced Korean society. Finally Memories of Murder (Bong Joon-ho, 2003) treats the expansion of capitalism during the 1980s within the form of mystery and thriller film. Four films that tell personal stories are chosen: The Classic (Kwak Jae-yong, 2003), My Mother the Mermaid (Park Heung-Shik, 2004), Once Upon A Time in A High school: The Spirit of Jeet Kune Do (Yu Ha, 2003) and Friend (Kwak Kyung-taek, 2001). All but My Mother the Mermaid adopt the form of "high teen film" for their genre conventions. Once Upon A Time in A High School: The Spirit of Jeet Kune Do (Yu ha, 2003) is a coming-of-age film set in a high school located in Kangnam, a newly developed periphery of Seoul in the late 1970s. The Classic and Friend compare adolescence and maturity by putting episodes from main characters' high school days in the middle of storyline. Whether they are set in a remote island or a high school in an urban area, these films depict not only the bitterness and poignancy of growing up but also show diverse aspects of, or responses to, the rapid socio-economic transformation of South Korea.
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