The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema

The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema

Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society

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Book Pages: 344 Illustrations: 66 b&w photos Published: March 2004

Author: Kyung Hyun Kim

Asian Studies > East Asia, Gender and Sexuality, Media Studies > Film

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.


“Kim contributes new scholarship to both Asian cinema and gender studies. . . . [T]his book is worth reading for the sheer number of Korean films explored alone.” — Kathleen Ellis, Intersections

“What Kim does best is to whet the reader’s appetite to find and view these Korean films, to get a new perspective, and to generate discussion. For cinema-philes, this book is seriously good reading on modern Korean film industry.” — Bill Drucker , Korean Quarterly

"[E]xcellent ground work which raises the level of understanding of Korean cinema and invites others to invest more on Korean cinema. . . . [Kim's] lengthy and intelligent close readings of fascinating recent Korean films will, without a doubt, be better appreciated when the readers have already watched the film." — Hyunjun Min, Journal of Asian Studies

[T]his book allows readers less familiar with Korean films to easily understand the current Korean cinematic phenomena, while also acting as a wonderful invitation and guide to its recent history.” — Chongdae Park , The Communication Review

“Kyung Hyun Kim’s book is a roller coaster ride through modern South Korean masculinity in the cinema. At once unflinching and sympathetic, Kim’s groundbreaking study traces Korean permutations on the gendered imagery of castration and rape and the impossible condition of postcolonial masculinity, caught between incommensurable values and demands.” — Chris Berry, coeditor of Mobile Cultures: New Media in Queer Asia

“This is an important book. There is a long tradition of scholarship investigating the representation of women in Asian cinema. This has included some consideration of Korean film, which more often than not finds the representations of Korean women wanting in one way or another. It took Kyung Hyun Kim’s writing to turn my attention to the rich complexity of the men. His focus on masculinity—coinciding with the turn to the issue by major feminist film theorists—simply makes perfect sense. His is a particularly compelling contribution to the study of Asian cinema, but is simultaneously in dialogue with all manner of gender studies.” — Abé Mark Nornes, University of Michigan


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kyung Hyun Kim is Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Irvine.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Hunting for the Whale 1


At the Edge of Metropolis in A Fine, Windy Day and Green Fish 31

2 Nowhere to Run: Disenfranchised Men on the Road in The Man with Three Coffins, Sopyonje, and Out to the World 52

3 “Is This How the War Is Remembered?”: Violent Sex and the Korean War in Silver Stallion, Spring in My Hometown, and The Taebaek Mountains 77

4 Post-Trauma and Historical Remembrance in A Single Spark and A Petal 107


5 Male Crisis in the Early Films of Park Kwang-su 136

6 Jang Sun-woo’s Three “F” Words: Familism, Fetishism, and Fascism 162

7 Too Early/Too Late: Temporality and Repetition in Hong Sang-su’s Films 203


8 Lethal Work: Domestic Space and Gender Troubles in Happy End and The Housemaid 233

9 “Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves”: Transgressive Agents, National Security, and Blockbuster Aesthetics in Shiri and Joint Security Area 259

Notes 277

Select Filmography of Major Directors of the New Korean Cinema 313

Index 321
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3267-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3278-7
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