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Woo Ha, Seung
Languages: English
Types: Doctoral thesis
Subjects: P303
The thesis analyses contemporary South Korean films from the late 1980s up to the present day. It asks whether Korean films have produced a new cinema, by critically examining the criteria by which Korean films are said to be new. Have Korean films really changed aesthetically? What are the limitations, and even pitfalls in contemporary Korean film aesthetics? If there appears to be a true radicalism in Korean films, under which conditions does it emerge? Which films convey its core features? To answer these questions, the study attempts to posit a universalising theory rather than making particular claims about Korean films. Where many other scholars have focused on the historical context of the film texts’ production and their reception, this thesis privileges the film texts themselves, by suggesting that whether those films are new or not will depend on a film text’s individual mode of address.\ud \ud To explore this problem further, this study draws on the concept of ‘concrete universality’ from a Lacanian/Žižekian standpoint. For my purpose, it refers to examining how a kind of disruptive element in a film text’s formal structure obtrudes into the diegetic reality, thus revealing a cinematic ‘distortion’ in the smooth running of reality. The thesis will demonstrate that Im Kwon-taek’s Beyond the Years, Bong Joon-Ho’s The Host, and Zhang Lu’s Grain in Ear and Hyazgar show how an excessive element in the formal aspect of the film text explodes an explicit narrative line, thus allowing us to redefine the whole narrative line.\ud \ud In my chapter on how Korean films screen the past, I find that Beyond the Years provides a dialectical way of moving out of the alleged Koreanness, by posing a third party between official historiography and popular memory. In the chapter on how Korean blockbusters invent the Other and how the subjects respond to the encounter with the Other through an ethical framework, I suggest that The Host reveals the fundamental antagonism at the heart of contemporary South Korean society, thus confronting viewers with truly ethical concerns. In the chapter on how cinematic strategies are used in depicting the shadowy underside of the law, I demonstrate through a close reading of Zhang Lu’s films that the radicalism of Korean cinema does not stem from the empirical description of a wretched reality but from disclosing an ontological shift in filmic images.
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