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TitleSeoul Searching: Culture and Identity in Contemporary Korean Cinema
PublisherState University of New York Press
ISBN 139781435626898
CategoryArts - Film
File Size2.1 MB
Total Pages330
Document Text Contents
Page 2

Seoul Searching

Page 165

150 Hyangsoon Yi

head of the boiled pig. The intriguing close-ups of their facial resem-
blance—especially their noses—instantly brings to the fore the theme of
playful transgression between the high and the low that transcends even
the border between life and death. Pal-bong’s masculine prowess and
wealth—symolized by his gun and car—are interlinked with the swine’s
powerlessness and filth. With his money, Pal-bong acts like a swaggering
braggart among his poor country cousins. There is an irrefutable corre-
spondence between the upstart’s vulgarity and the pig’s coarseness. As is
noted by Peter Stallybrass and Allon White in their book The Politics and
Poetics of Transgression, the pig has a long and rich history as a symbol of
“the lower grotesque, a hybrid creature . . . for the festive and sinister
imaginary” (47). While desecration, defilement, and sexuality are not
primary associations with swine in Korean folk culture, they reinforce
Bakhtin’s concept of ‘carnival’ in elucidating the animal’s role in Park’s
film. The swine is generally perceived as a symbol of wealth in Korean
folklore, which sheds an ironic light on Pal-bong’s shooting of the ani-
mal.13 After witnessing Pal-bong’s wife’s promiscuity with the video artist,
spectators cannot but entertain an interpretive possibility that Pal-bong’s
confrontation with the pig is, in fact, a projection of his self-hatred.
Hence, his brutal killing of the animal as his bestial other further amplifies
the ironic poignancy in their chaser/chased relation.

The swine episode culminates with a fundamental disruption of
family relations, divulging an identity crisis faced by contemporary Ko-
rean society at large. Family plays a key role in forming one’s self-identity
in Korean culture. Among various factors that have contributed to this
phenomenon, the influence of Confucianism can be counted as the most
powerful and enduring. Confucianism was adopted as the state ideology
and religion during the Choson Dynasty (1392–1910), and its legacies are
still deeply engraved in almost all facets of modern Korean life. In the
Confucian worldview, family is the basic unit of society, and an ideal
community can be built upon the proper maintenance of the relations
between ruler and subject, father and son, husband and wife, elder brother
and younger brother, and friends. In this ethical system known as the Five
Human Relations, three are directly pertinent to one’s family life. It is,
therefore, not surprising that a Korean sense of identity is shaped mainly
by one’s family bonds and that filial piety is deemed a supreme virtue that
can even be metaphorically applied to the ruler-subject relation. As is
expected, such a cultural milieu encourages people to observe ancestor
worship and funeral rites as precious opportunities for strengthening their
family ties and thereby reconfirming their identities. Although this prac-
tice is by and large rooted in Confucian philosophy, it should be men-
tioned that indigenous Korean belief systems, such as shamanism, also

Page 166

151Reflexivity and Identity Crisis

attach tremendous importance to kinship and blood ties as the foundation
of one’s selfhood (Hahm 65–68).

It is inevitable, however, that the family as the seedbed of the Korean
value system would face challenges in the advent of modernity. In Fare-
well, My Darling, the problems of the Confucian family structure and its
ethical mores unravel through Pau, whose relationship to the family re-
mains a mystery during almost the entire course of the film. He appears
to be a mere urchin pestering the visitors with small pranks, but he calls
for serious attention when he destroys Pal-bong’s car. Because the film
yields no clue as to his background, the spectators are inclined to specu-
late that he is Chan-suk’s son and that he was probably raised by Chan-
suk’s mother when her angry father cast her out of the family for her
illicit, premarital liaison with a servant. The spectators’ misperceptions
and misinterpretations are compounded by the characters’ equally erro-
neous conjectures about the boy. To their great astonishment, however,
the mother dramatically reveals that he is an illegitimate child by her late
husband. A “bastard,” the boy turns out to be in the same woeful lot as
Pal-bong, a half-brother to the deceased; both are denied full member-
ship in the Confucian familial order.14

The mishap involving Pau signifies a hermeneutic quandary that is
explored by Park’s self-reflexive film. Because of his social status, the
young boy is identified with the pig (nonhuman) and then with his uncle
(human). Correspondingly, his understanding of the world around him
erases any absolute divisions of the human/subject versus nonhuman/
object. Also, fact and fiction cannot be lucidly separated with regard to
the secret of his birth. At various moments of the film, Park sympathizes
with the boy’s station in life, and so do the viewers because Pau and
Kumdan are the most truthful in grieving the loss of the father. The
betrayal of both elusive reality and illusive realism is confirmed by other
ills and conflicts similarly repressed and concealed underneath superficial
everyday life. For example, Pal-bong’s adulterous wife mocks the ideal
image her husband tries to project of his family. Such “cracks”—as Jean-
Luc Comolli and Jean Narboni would call them—point to the failures of
the Confucian patriarchy as a dominant ideological system (817). Given
his own fallibility, the father’s moral condemnation and ostracizing of
Chan-suk vividly lay bare the tyranny of Confucian patriarchy and the
hypocrisy of its ethical foundations.

Farewell, My Darling tragicomically addresses the petrified values of
traditional family mores in changing society. What is noteworthy here is
the ethical dimension of Park’s playfulness. His critique of the family is
devoid of a cold, detached, and judgmental attitude. His approach em-
braces rather than eliminates discordant voices in the complex dynamics

Page 329

314 Index

Williams, Linda, 42, 46–47, 48
Willis, Bruce, 94n1
Winter Sonata, 198
Winter Woman, The (Gyeol Buin,

Kang Dae-jin 1977), 20
Woman of Fire (Hwanyeo, Kim Ki-

young 1971), 104, 106
Woman of Fire ’82 (Hwanyeo, Kim Ki-

young 1982), 104
Woman-Being in Asia, A (Byun

Young-joo), 206
Women of Yi Dynasty (1969), 195
Won Bin, 94
Wong Kar-wai, 80, 166
Wood, Ed, 7, 103
World of Suzie Wong, The (Richard

Quine 1960), 250
World War II, 46, 222

Yamagate International Documentary
Festival, 216

Yanggongju, 125, 248, 255
Year of the Dragon (Michael Cimino

1985), 250

Yesterday (Jung Yun-su 2002), 193
Yi Dynasty, 204, 247, 261n7
Y.M.C.A. Baseball Team (Y.M.C.A. Yagoo-

dan, Kim Hyun-seok 2002), 201
Yokdong udang, 204
Yonggary (Shim Hyung-rae 2001), 55
Yoo Ji-tae, 94
Yoo Oh-seong, 79, 93, 94
Yoo Young-kil, 49, 50
Yoon Doo-ri, 191, 206, 213, 213n1
Yoshida Yoshishige, 80
Yoshimoto Mitsuhiro, 285
Yosong haebang, 204
Yu, Gina, 44, 45
Yu Gwan-sun, 20
Yu Hyun-mok, 102
Yun Kum-yi, 250
Yushin Kaehyuk, 16, 32n2, 122,


Zemekis, Robert, 92
Zen Buddhism, 8, 168, 175–77, 179,

180, 182, 184–85, 186n11
Zhang Ziyi, 88, 197

Page 330

9 780791 472255


ISBN: 978-0-7914-7225-5





Culture and Identity in Contemporary Korean Cinema

Frances Gateward, editor

Seoul Searching is a collection of fourteen provocative essays about contemporary South

Korean cinema, the most productive and dynamic cinema in Asia. Examining the three

dominant genres that have led Korean film to international acclaim—melodramas,

big-budget action blockbusters, and youth films—the contributors look at Korean

cinema as industry, art form, and cultural product, and engage cinema’s role in the

formation of Korean identities.

Committed to approaching Korean cinema within its cultural contexts, the contributors

analyze feature-length films and documentaries as well as industry structures and

governmental policies in relation to transnational reception, marketing, modes of

production, aesthetics, and other forms of popular culture. An interdisciplinary

text, Seoul Searching provides an original contribution to film studies and expands

the developing area of Korean studies.

“Students and scholars are hungry for good critical material on South Korean films,

and this book is a welcome contribution to this quickly growing area in film studies.”

— Corey K. Creekmur, coeditor of Cinema, Law, and the State in Asia

FRANCES GATEWARD is Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies at the University of

Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is the editor of Zhang Yimou: Interviews and coeditor

(with Murray Pomerance) of Where the Boys Are: Cinemas of Masculinity and Youth.

State University of New York Press

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