Cho, Hae-jeong

Cho, Hae-jeong - I.- I -_-IIII- - -I_.-II-.-l.-...

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I.'I' :‘fiilii'i'iiii " if'U‘iI‘t". "I1 I"! 'I '3'“ I I I" 'I'i "#1 I -..-;- I _ I‘-_. I :I ' .- I. .: :_ 'I'I' - I‘ ' I I' -. !_- '._.' II I -" '-.:-. ' " 'I'.: - : -, .-.'- 'I 'I I_I-;___II.-I,-:III_ III_I;.'III__II.:-I' ..:..§ IIIEL - I II f—g . - :II I_ ‘I, ,- _II--_-'T~ ._.-,I-I:- .- I II III. I CHAPTER 5 SOPyOf/UIB: Tts Cultural and Historical Meaning The Movie No one involved in making Sopymje (swarms) imagined that it would become the most pepular domestic movie in South Korean history, quickly topping the box-office success of the same director’s famed The General}; 50% (Cbangwn iii max). At the timeof its release in April 1993, newspapers were reporting that the nation’s filmmakers were principally aiming for prizes in foreign art film festivals rather than popularity at . home, yet Sepymje won rave reviews and the adulation of viewers all over the country. By October, the number of domestic viewers exceeded one million, and the film was being screened for foreign audiences at art theaters and on college campuses in many parts of the United States and EurOpe. _ I Briefly, Sammy's focuses on a makeshift family over the course of three decades, from the 19303 through the 19605: a father, his adopted daughter, and his stepson. The family ekes out a living performing famori at parties and at the homes of rich aristocrats.1 Performers have T7221. Pena-munfiwfi-ulft'?‘ — _— .- - I.'.-I5II.I.1I-'I I'fI'fEI._ _. _ _: 513's"; - I'. ..—._ ' '.-:_'.-: -_I.'_._ . _ " 'l - -=' ' - -'-'I.'-'- 'i - ' . .. viva-r“- meI-e;nwe.~'oI=-'Irraev=L-ierv-r tutti-“Ir: .~ I . if; III".- IH: '."L"__I__ ..: L I ' ' -- sorrorrjs: CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL MEANING 135 traditionally been relegated to the lowest class in South Korea, and the family is scorned, ignored, and often humiliated. Once the country falls under the domination of American culture, the demand for p’amari falls dramatically, and the family teeters on the verge of starvation. The father, however, clings to his art and insists on passing it on to his children. He trains them in plan/mm, the daughter as a vocalist and the son as a drummer. But the son, fed up with being poor and unable tolfathom the father’s motives, runs away from home. The movie follows his search, years later, for his sister, and it culminates in their reunion. Shot against a stunning rural backdrop, swelling with the heartbreaking strains of an original score that was deliberately reminiscent of————-but not quite the same as—traditional South Korean music, and showcasing snatches of piamori and traditional folk songs, the movie was widely extolled as a major cultural achievement. The soundtrack album was also a great hit. Featuring the film’s score, composed by Kim sachet, as well as excerpts from the movie’s soundtrack, the album gives listeners-a sampling of traditional Korean music. Both the movie and the album were widely credited with reviving public interest in pleasure . The movie also generated scores of articles in South Korean newsfi papers and magazines. In addition to reviews, the South Korean press. published updates on the movie’s popularity and the public reaction, as well as interviews with the director, producer, principal actors, and the man who wrote the short story on which the movie is based. Four of the ' nationis major dailies Weighed in with editorials, and most newspapers carried columns commenting on the social and cultural significance of the Sapymje phenomenon. Reprints of many of these articles, as .well as a chronological list of them, can be found in “Sopyonjri’ Movie Basie, a lavishly illustrated resource and fact book published in October 1993, just seven months after the movie’s release.2 Apparently aimed at fans hungry for detailed and up close information about the movie, it includes a long account of the film’s production, beginning with Im KwonaTaek’s recollection that when he first read the story he knew it would be perfect for a movie. The “Sammy's” Moria Book, based on journals kept by the production crew as well as individuals? reminiscences, records enough details about locations, conversations among the cast and crew, and other insider 136 ' ' ' I . _ CHO HAE mans goingsfin to satisfy even the most ardent fan. It. also includes the full screenplay, interviews "with members of thecast and crew, a guide to the ' locations where the film was shot, and reprints” of editorials, columns, reviews, and articles. Moreover, it features blurbs from 100 fans about what Sopymjr meant to them,” excerpts from college newspapers and Internet "chat groups, and a detailed chronology of the director’s life and-career, including pictures of his family. I _ I Edited by the director himself, the book is unique in South Korean publishing history: the first to focus so lovingly and. insuch detail on a Single movie. (Books containing the scripts of fabulously popular television dramas, as well as some behind-the—scenes details, have also" been published, however.) The range of references gathered in the “Sopymjs” Morris Basie reflects the extensive public reaction to the film. ' On college campuses, for example, it provoked much discussion about " ' South Korean culture and identity—none reason why a full section of the book is devoted to the reactions of the” younger generation. It was seen as a positive sign that college students were so moved by the depiction _ . of traditional South Koreanculture. The female lead, 0 Chong-haewan accomplished p’amar'i singer making her acting debutmtoured college campuses and sang the traditional South Korean lyrics while dressed either in blue jeans or a miniskirt. The idea, she often said, was to show young people that tradition need not be Istuffy .- and boring. But what is the significance of this immensely popular movie? How should we interpret the remarkable reaction to it? _ Most writers on the subject regard the movie and the ensuing public ' response as a trumpet call heralding the revival of South Korean culture. - In articles such as “Snpymjs IsRuining- Korean Nloviesj'”3 they argued that the filmis success in exploiting traditional culture gave the illusion . that the South Korean movie industry was in revival, when in fact overall it was drawmg its last-breath in the midst of modern history’s “cultural I globalization,” one with all the markings of a primarily Western—based culture. Thus the senSation raised by Sapymjs at this point in time is a deeply significant event in South Korea’s cultural history. What does the emergence of such a mOvie in a sOciety with little cultural capital signify? . What meaning can be extracted from it? Does it contain the possibility 'of moving beyond cultural colonialism? SOPTONJE: CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL MEANING 137 By focusing on the popularity of this domestic movie, I‘d like to I discuss postcolonialism in South Korean society-generally, or, to put it differently, the self-generative potentiality of south Korean culture. Whether south Koreans are ready to throw off the 'colonialist mentality or sadasjui‘i and how such endeavors can be carried out are the issues I seek to explore here. I Historical Background The pOpularity of Sammy's must be understood within the context of ' the decline of the South Korean movie industry in the '197os and “Sos. It appeared at a time when many South Koreans, young people in partic-' ular, had beCome thoroughly disappointed 'with domestic films. South Korean movies were regarded as boring, poorly made,and melodramatic _ to the point of becoming maudlin. Foreign films dominated the market. South Korean movies have not always been out of favor with their home— grown audiences. During the @603, when directors such as Shin Sang—ok were active, viewers flocked to see domestic films. Throughout ' the 19603, South Korean movies achieved great popularity by expressing the trials and tribulations of living life in the midst of rapid social change. But as television began to establish itself as a powerful amusement medium, South Korean movies started to decline. Television dramas reflecting South Korean society came straight into people ‘3 living rooms. So did comedies, sports, and other entertainment pro grams. In addition, many who had once produced movies moved over to television. The South Korean movie industry continued to atrophy even in the climate of rapid economic growth, and most moviegoers began to prefer foreign movies, even as they watched South Korean television dramas at home. (Actually, South Korean audiences are disappointed by more than just the domestic movie industry. Whether attending a play, a concert, or a dance performance, one frequently feels-that one has somehow been mocked. South Koreans have been starved for too long _'of quality cultural works of their own, and many are now close to giving up.) Sammy's has great meaning precisely because it emerged in the midst of this culturally barren landscape. Made with tenacious craftsmanship G 133 CHO HAE JOAN and skill acquired over many years, this movie successfully bridges the gap the movie industry had created between itself and viewers. It shows I us the possibility of the rebirth of the movie medium." Sopymjs may be the beginning of a revival of the culture industry. On the Other hand, as it spurs emotional nationalism, it may simply be a reflection of an era that accelerates colonialist modernization. Final assessments of Sapymjs will _ not be determined by-its producers but by audiences, movie reviewers, and-cultural critics. “searching For Our Culture” It is widely accepted that Sopymjs became a hit because its principal theme is “searching for our culture.“5 Once an industrialized economy I has advanced to a certain level, people begin to think abOut the “self ” thatthey have lived without. This movie was released at precisely such a point in South Korea’s history. From the exclamation that “Ah, our culture is good indeed?"6 to the theoretical statement that “Sopymjs was woven-by a self~inquiring consciousness that has begun gradually to surge forth,” gratitude was fervently expressed that a “ minjale movie”— ' one that “washes away our sweet sorrows with images filled with tam- jnng-Scented ocher earth”3—-—-had been made.- Such comments reveal that “searching for our culture” is a great national desire. One passage in particular from the movie resonated in the hearts of many people: “Instead of being buried in the ban ' clenChed inside you, from now on sing the ssrithat transcends loan.” In these lines can be read the desire to find tradition and, within changed circumstances, revive it. In an attempt to examine further the discourse on collective Sentiments, I asked college students who were enrolled in .my course on cultural theory to write short essays on the film Sspymjs and the attendant phenomenon. The words of these students well illustrate the desire to “reinvent” tradition. They also provide other interesting vieWp oints: 3 I) First, Sopymjs presented a fresh view of femurs, which was strange and unfamiliar to us even though it is part of our culture. I had SOPTONIE: CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL MEANING no idea that piansnrz' was so emotional. If what we need to reestablish ourselves within the unilateral importation of Western culture and fashion is to make a new culture with tradition as its foundation, then this movie shows us the tradition that we need to find. Another important point is that this movie transcended genera— ' tions and touched everyone. Seeing middle—aged adults in their forties and fifties standing in line at theaters to watch this movie, one real~ izes that good movies are not the exclusive property of youth. That the movie transcended generations and touched everyone shows that phantom is the root that has been handed down through our everyday lives. Only through this movie did I realize this truth, and now the work of finding and revealing our roots in more areas must be started. (Class of 1988,9 Kun-sik) 2.) It was the first South Korean movie I had seen in quite a long time," and an excitement that I had not felt in quite a long time. During the singing scenes, I could sense mylshoulders suddenly beginning to dance up and down. It felt like my body was being carried away on the rhythms of “sari.” I The extremely simple story line, the succession of plain scenes with no plot twists, the immature acting of new faces with no name value, what is it about the movie that despite all this gave me such excitement? First, above all else, it was sari. Sari is not simply traditional South Korean music. There is definitely more to it than music. Our sensibility, the flow of emotions that linger in our collective heart, this dwells inside sari. It wasn’t simply due to excitement that my shoulders danced as if of their own volition. It was because I felt that my mind was one with that of the characters on the screen, because the rhythms were the flow of my own mind, that it was possible. Of course there is a bit here of the “All of our culture is beautifiill” ideology as expressed by Yu—bong (the father character). The important thing is that the sentiment within sari is fully communicated to the audience and we can look at the self that we have lost. Second, the background of the movie is another attraction. The shots in this movie are thoroughly Korean. They contain forms with simple, classic, and gentle lines. The rural landscape through which 139 Ono Han Ioauo _ the sari family passes- in its travels is the site of our lost lives and reveals I I the gentle emotions carried within that environment. Which I see these _ i. “scenes I feel great tranquility and ease. I feel the comfort of a baby who is finally resting on" a bed after laboriously taking'some faltering steps. ' Ultimately this movie’s excitement comes from its Koreanness. Its greatest attraction is that itcalls up a nostalgia for “our culture“ ' "which cannot be found in alcontemporary hectic lifestyle, a dull mass culture, or in a present thick with the marks of nationalism culture.- If" a- new awareness of traditional culture and its successive revival is a repercussion of this movie, nothing could be more fortunate. But the more important thing is gaining the self-confidence to find the traces of my historical self right here where I stand. Sapymjs made me' realize how greatly excited I could be by our own culture, and deeply impressed upon me that'I cannot be anything other than a “Korean,” - and that the culture we must develop from now on cannot be cut off from tradition. (Class of 199o, Il~kwon.) The meaning of “searching for our culture” is well expressed in these two essays. In a Word, this is similar to a feeling of relief. First, the relief that comes from confirming that despite the invasion of foreign culture, one’s own culture continues on; Second, the relief that something (“-‘Koreanness”) can unite everyone across the chasms of generation, class, and other divisive factors. This seems connected - to the relief that “we as an entity continue to exist.” Put differently, “we exist“ is a confirmation of self. There is great comfort in knowing that “roots” and a “we” that together can feel the same emotions still exist. But this discovery of tradition centered on Sapymjs. Where is the commentary surrounding the “search for the self ” headed now? There is, of course, the positive aspect of overcoming self-denigration. But _ where are South "Koreans trying to go? An ethnocentric, sentimental nationalism that emphasizes a return to tradition can be dangerous. Essentialist traditionalism can easily veer off into fascism. For some responses to the questions raised here, let’s turn to 'an essay by cultural _ critic Yi Se-ryong, titled “The Humanist Director Im Kwon—Taek, Who Found South Korean Identity in Sspymja“: soP'roNJE: CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL MEANING 1m says that the much—discussed screening? at the Cannes International Film Festival and the. prize are secondary matters. Of first importance is that our South Korean audience feels the taste and style of pita/morn Irn describes this as his ambition, but he didn’t have this ambition when he was -making Sapyonjs. “When. I Started I had the small ambition ' I developedthis large ambition,“ said Im in his famously awkward- speech. On the day of Sspysnjs’s preview screening, the reaction of the audience was. stunning. Reviewers famous for being stingy with their praise, reporters known for their pickiness, reticent junior directors,'as one they'were Wiping away tears or their eyes were reddening in a rare . Spectacle. .. . . Just what is the “50%” that to the end wasn’t lost throughout the wanderings of the sari farmlmeu—bong, his adopted daughter. Song—hwa, and his stepson Tong~ho_—-—who made a living selling their musical talents? As Im explains it, piamari is the “rapturous sOund _ that espresses. our suffering and helps us to endure.“ So he focused Sapymjs'on'“how the loan of those who wander in the midst of the beautiful landscape of southwestern south Korea seeps into femur? and is transformed into salvation and release.“ Even during liberation, 'when such songs as “Bessame Mucho” began to gain popularity and sari musicians barely eked out a living by playing in Western—style bands, the main character obstinately insists on-som'. He clings to this sari that doesn’t provide a living not only because it is our sound, but because when one sings good sari one forgets hunger, and isn’t envious of riches and splendor. But time passes, and an old, weakened Yu—bong hopes that his daughter Song-hwa will reach the stage of “tfigi‘im.”1“ The" voice of Song-hwa, who is talented in sari and more than hardworking, is a fine voice but it doesn’t meet Yuabong’s stan—_ dard. Her sari isn’t sufficient to make her a master singer. At the end of much consideration, Yu—bong blinds Song-hwa, planting loan in his young daughters heart. She finally obtains the sari voice her father could not achieve for her, but she wanders the country like a cloud in her sightless condition. There is another aspect worthy of attention in this movie that is regarded as a victory in aesthetics. This is the 142' .' 7 _ - . CHO Has Ioano ' teacher/father’s command to the'daughter that “one must store up loan and one must overcome ban.“ This teaching is very important. - This line represents Im’s message that although [one is a characteris- tic of our traditional culture, it mustnot be the ultimate goal of we who are living in the present. The reason-is that bear, arising from - circumstances "one cannot Control,'interferes with living like human I beings. Therefore we must rate highly Im’s borrowing of the movie characterismouth to say, “Instead of being buried in loan, make sari . that transcends him.“ That Sapymjs interprets'the essence of gamers" js strength as the ability to burrow deep into [one and then transcend it. (into rapture) is masterfial. To do this,-Irn expertly balances farm and wit, giving us space to.bre_atl'1e..“The sari of Ivan“ provides sorrow and ' beauty, while wit provides laughter. Yes, it is precisely this Jams and this wit that are the Special traitsof South Korean culture and which stand . asthetwo “pillars that make this movie interesting and enjoyable.11 Yi- Se—ryong regularly employs terms like “the breath of .Koreanness,” “the taste and style 'of gamer/i,“ “the harmony of .rhythmand land,” “the expression of our people’s loan,”-“salvation and release of form,“ “transcending here into rapture,” and “the balance of 14am and wit“ in this-essay. His use of these terms is a sign he accepts “Joan” as the essence of Korean culture and devel0ps his interpretation within that framework. This kind of reading represents one of the most common perspec- tives in discussions about Sopyanjs. The discourse in college circles about ban and tradition that began in the early $905 was broadened into pub* lic discourse by the screening of Sopymje. It may Wellibe that this movie played a big role in establishing “ban” and “rapture” as uniquely “Ko— rean. ’-’ But this kind of definition is Severely limiting. By restricting one’s identity, One fails to seeWhat one mustreally see. Those with strength ' ' do not restrictively define themselves. “The British,“ for example, may discuss in humor books how they are different from “the French,” but they do not. define their nationalpersonality in those terms alone. The particular pitfall of this kind of aWakening to nation in South . Korea is that self- definition becomes that which the West does not have. Koreans have passed through several hundred years of modernization, _- and there is something terribly wrong in ignoring that historical accu- SOPTONJE: CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL MEANING _ 143 mu-lation and defining the self as what the-West lacks-A self—definition that strips away the “First World” already dwelling within is most likely'a I _ self—deception and an illusion. Of course, the very fact that a group long subject to definition by others is now trying to define itself is an epochal event. That definition may quickly become yet another trap, however. Simplifying oneself to one word may provide a definite existence and identity, but finding security in setting up what is only. an extremely small part of the self as the whole self—thus ceasing to inquire into the self—is very dangerous. At a time when self—inquiry should be more vigorous than at any other, nothing is. as dangerous as such ready—made theories. " I These theories surface in numerous places, as in the words of these students : I) As the thought came to me that Westerners could not under~ stand this movie, I felt pride. The shots were peaceful, there were no sex scenes, and the movie made me understand the preciousness of I our culture. This is what a patriot is, I thought, a person who knows the worth of one’s culture. I 2) It was the first time I realized that South Korea had such beau- tiful music and such an emotion-laden landscape. I don’t understand why South Koreans don"t boast about such wonderful things. All this time we‘ve had a treasure right in front of our eyes and haven’t been able. to see it. These passages illustrate the typical thoughts of those who have fallen into self—denigration and are now-trying to recover themselves. There is a relief that “our culture” exists, one which only “we” can understand, and yet the confirmation that “our culture” is good is made through Westerners. NevertheleSS, the realization that “our. culture” isn“t too bad is a satisfactory first step, for essentialism can be used strategically _ the process of overcoming self-denigration. L Fortunately, discussion about “searching for the self ’3 continues. Somewriters note that the quality and meaning of these emofions vary from one generation to anOther. For example, in “Sopymjr, Noise, and Kim Sowith,1”“12 Yi Yong-mi points Out that the movie is experienced in 144 ' T . _ CHO HAE Joann different ways by those in their fifties and sixties who directly underwent the degradation of poverty and colonialism, those in their thirtiesand forties who faced it only indirectly, and those in their teens and twenties who have no experience whatsoever with vaerty or colonialism. For the - older generation, Sopymje evoked-their forgotten past, but clouded in hazy nostalgia. To the middle-generation, now of an age to understand their parents” suffering, it provided a sense of the continuity of life”. Moreover, Yi Y5ng~mi remarks that'perspectives Oil-tradition are also different from one generation to the nextShe notes that the 'view I that South Korean traditional cultural arts-are no longer “the shameful and squalid smell of kimek’i” that must be discarded” but one of the “arts” that can rightfully be displayed anywhere in the wOrld is beginning to take rOOt among those-who are under forty. She connects this to the I traditional arts revival movement of the 197os, the decade in which this age group began to enter college.- As she points out, South Koreans _ are trying to free. themselves from the colonial era iii-which all that was “ours” was seen to be “squalid.” The voice of a generation trying to . restore pride in “ours” is becoming louder. ' ' ' I But is the younger generation’s image of “our culture” connected 'to banilThis is not likely. Moreover, there are more than a few people within the younger generation who either have no image of “our cula him” Or. who are trying not to have any image of “our culture” at all. _ As Yi Yong—mi notes, many in their teens and twenties buy the Sepyorije soundtrack after being impressed by the music in the movie—~much as they come to appreciate Mozart after Seeing Amadeus or opera after see- ing Phantom of the" Opera. To them, “our tradition” is simply another available artistic product, not something to hold more dear because it is “ours.” Because aspects of the “feudal,” the “modern,” and the - “postniodern’i—usually conceptualized" as being non—simultaneous—— coexist in South Kurean society today, notions of “ours” and “nation”. take on very different casts depending on the viewer. Reading a present in which the non—simultaneous simultaneously exist is the Shortcut to finding the self. Revealing thrbugh differenceenot erasing difference—— is what’s important. The alternative is to fall into yet another tyranny of conformity. that “ a ' I many of the younger fgeigei anon harbor- great doubts about any return to the culture of their at ers. I I V I I I Wh th One student (Class of 1991, Yong—30k) goes further and asks u (2 er we ieallyhave pride in our culture. For this Student, the cry No matter what land of ruckus Iapanese songs and Western so there Will come a day when femur/i reigns supreme”git self-loathing. ' " ' _ ' n gs raise, reverberates with I _ , the movie’s characters came across as stran ' ' I I ' ' ' ge and mysterious. The father character is bursting with pride in Phi/iron for no a I * ' ' _ E ppaient reason, steadfastly clinging to the conviction Eh I a time Will come when fare-sari reigns supreme”———even though at at time it was a lowbrow art form that brought little more than scorn and a few pennies to its practitioners. Hm is bequeathed to his daughter 1as if it were his dying wish. Whether or not that daughter understood 1 . . im cannot be fathomed, and the final scene in which she sings sari with her younger brother all night long merely makes it more ambiguous. The daughter is depicted as if she were born only for phenom, never f i . I l . ' I eelin g hunger nor, despite her youth, sexual or romantic urges. The only understandable character in the movie is the younger brother who runs a ' l I u '3 way from home, complaining that femur/e doesn’t provide a decent emotions. I ’ ' I i I _ t wash 1: Just because of the characters’ struggle to maintain flamers, this piece of our past, or that the female character became I blind, or that the circumstances of that time period were bad. Anyway I I can’t reveal any more than that it hurt. Although if I’ve had this: . much education, I‘ should be able to supply something for discussion, a mute person is just as comfortable as a blind person. (Class of 198 9 Song—gyu) I I 3 I46 _ _ - ' " CHO HAE IOANG Probably not everyone who saw it was as touched by the film. One overseas Korean who had been away from the country for a long time said that watching this movie was like watching a “French” movie, and he asked, “When did Korea become so French?” What is the meaning of this question? . _ 1 I There are elements "in Sammy's that goagainst what is commonly considered tobe the “national-sentiment.” One is the scene where the father blinds his daughter; this made many viewers uncomfortable. One student in my class, trying earnestly to understand, went so far as to say that the father could commit such an 'actbecause the woman was not his biological daughter. More than a few students saw it as a human rights issue. In a society that says “one’s body is received from one’s parents,”15 one should be increasingly uncomfortable with this act the more one talks about “tradition.” No matter that the prOtotype of Sim— cli’J'ong16 exists, artistic frenzy that can lead a person to blind a daughter is reminiscent not of something Korean but rather of a Van Gogh 'whocuts off his own ear. Despite their unease, however, few people complained about this scene. Does this mean that South Koreans are beginning to view Van Gogh—like artists, “modern” people with artistic temperaments, as acceptable and attractiveiJ I .Another scenethat is difficult to comprehend from the perspec— tive of the commonly understood “Korean-sentiment” is the brother- sister reunion: after a night of singing sari together, they part without acknowledging their identities. ‘I-Iowever, viewers seem to have easily I accepted this scene. Describing it as a refreshing betrayal, renowned r novelist Pak Wan-so offers unstinting praise. She writes that during the final scene, “I wanted to leave as I became edgy.” She didn’t want the _ emotions built up during the movie to he suddenly lost by an ending ' in which the characters hugged, cried, and recited lines such as “Sis— ” ter! It’s Tong-ho.” The brother and sister’s “meeting through music, hugging each other in their minds only, and stoutheartedly parting” is an “advance” and a “transcendence” that is superior to an “immature” meeting, she writes. 17 Here is the convergence of Im’s “humanism”—a very modern product—Hand viewers” fervent desire to throw off a feudal and/or refugee sensibility Regarding the hints of an incestuous relationship SOPTONJE: CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL MEANING 14-7 between father and daughter, Im says, “It’s not too important whether or not there was an incestuous relationship between Yu—bon g and Song— hwa. After all, they are both people.”18 This is a “modern” view of humanity that departs from the feudal norm and sees peOple first and foremost as people. Regarding the brother—Sister reunion, he says, “The reason that they meet but can’t bring themselves to reveal their identities is that they know all too well that neither can be of any help to the other in the fiituref'”9 This is definitely a view of humanity that is far from the “Korean” way of thinking. This “wordless parting” scene is an astonishingly new feature of South Korean movies, although it is found quite frequently in Italian and French artifilms. Considering that not too long ago South Koreans wept copiously while watching the televised reunions of families separated during the Korean War, this final scene is not “Korean” at all. In reply to a student who, during an invited lecture at Yonsei University in fall 1993, asked Im why he didn’t allow the brother and sister to unburden their hearts in reunion, he said that hispersOnal. familiarity with the drifter’s life had taught him that there were times when it was better for separated relatives not to meet. The perspective on life he revealed here is connected to an Asian sense of human ties-— that is, not to a Confucian ethic but to a Buddhist salvation that comes considers it to be the condition of all human beings, not the particular “something of Korean people who have been oppressed.” His handling of the brother—sister reunion comes out of his modern and Buddhist perSpective on'life. Today’s moviegoers, both young and old, prefer that kind of parting. Im told his own story honestly, and that it made a positive impression on viewers should not be overlooked. The movie itself cannot really be said to diSplay thorough mastery of cinematic language, however. First of all, it has an overabundance of sermonizing and discursive explanations. For example, consider lines such as “Don’t stay in your loan, but overcome it” and “There is the eastern style and the western style, but when you get to a certain level, the difference between them disappears.WU Long passages contain such expressions as “I made your eyes go blind. Have you forgiven me?” r48 . f - ' ' . ' oHo Haaioano This kind of speech is onerous to modern viewers, who enjoy the subtle ' taste of ellipses. But apparently audiences still enjoy such sermons: I - believe more vieWers were draWn to the film because _of them than were repulsed by them. In a senSe. daring to preach sermons increased-the. 'movie’s mass popularity. Where did Im find the confidence to do this? . That kind of confidence is possible when one is faithful to one’s own life. In an article describing his travels with the production crew} Yi Ch’ong—jun'(the author of the story on which the movie is based) ' ' describes the thoroughness of Im, who continued to interrogate the author even after he hadcome up with an answer or a solution. Not only _ ' _ the director but the entire film crew labored on the movie with complete . x craftsmanship.21 The essayist Yi Yong-mi points to “professionalism” as precisely the quality that made the film attractive to youth. The artistry Of the father characterand the “skill” of the movie’s production team?— which poSsessed a level of craftsmanship not usually nurtured in South Korean society-"played important roles in the movie’s popularity. ' '_ Then doesn’t Sammy's reflect changed values and aesthetics even though itseems to mirror traditional values and aesthetics? And aren’t those values and aeSthetics, rather than being “characteristically Ko— ream” actually closer to the scripts of the Western movies South Ko- reans have watched so often? DOesn’t the line “When youreach the stage of ragtimJ-you forget hunger and are not envious of riches and splendor” express the desire-of a modern person who has come to de mand more than material goods? By focusing on aesthetic obsession and the drifter lifestyle. doesn’t the movie actually touch the sensibilities of modern urbanites who feel that “life is ultimately a'sojourner’s road and a lonesome jOuriieyii—wespecially thoseurbanites who are all the more lonely and fragmented due to a Third World development process yet still want to cling to their last remaining dreams? In this regard, aren’t . flamers and Korea’s rural scenery the props that put “Korean” clothes - on modern subjects? This movie”s excellence lies in. taking a very modern subject—-—”asl<ing new questions about oneis identity”—and developing ' it in a very modern way. Lilte Akita Kurosawa in Was seven Samurai and Rasher/zen} Im borrows a “traditional” setting'but succeeds in making a modern movie With a modern subject. It may be that only now are South Koreans really entering the modern age. sorroams: CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL MEANING ' ' 149 Let’s return now to our first questions: What is “tradition” and What is “Koreanness”? Was it to find “something Korean” that t11e'~p0p .. group so T’ae—ji and Boys used the traditional Korean wind instrument, ' . the rinspydngrsj in" the song “Hayoga”? Is it an important attempt to find “ourselves” if SOuth Korean children, stimulated by So T’ae—ji and Boys, develop an interest in playing the rjarpfizdm‘gm? Is the music of _ Kim Yong—dong “traditional Korean music” or “new traditional Korean ; music “P Is “new traditional Korean music” experimental music that is a _ form of the meditation music popular worldwide or is it experimental Korean music?22 Are the “modern” and the “traditional” mutually exclusive or do they go together? It is said that “a succession of various I experiments has brought a new feel and form to traditional Korean music—stereotyped as difficult and stiff and thus lunp opular—wand boldly ' put it in sync with today’s modern public.”23 What kind of harmony is the harmony that Sspysnje has achieved between the “modern” and the “traditional”? What is the tradition that is on the verge of being remade _ through Sapymjs? _ Reading Movies in the Midst of Discourse Formation Sspymjr does not provide answers to these questions. However, it greatly touched the emotions of those South Koreans who are either - feverishly looking for something or who have simply given up and fallen into slumber. That which has been hidden behind the rush of economic growm, that which has been rigidly-Suppressed. by a generation strug- gling to survive or perhaps to fulfill ambitions. that something is begin- ning to wriggle. The movie has also jogged the self-consciousness of a yOunger generation that had resigned itself to' wandering in an endlch sea of floating “signs” unattached to either nationor community. The movement to revive traditional Culture is really an indication of modernity and an effort to rescue oneself. It’s both an ideological ritual intended. to help reclaim the lost past and an uprising against _ a materialist culture that turns humans into instruments. It’s also a deliberate effort to differentiate oneself within 'a global homogenization. In other words:, in the midst of profound restructuring of both the _ ISO CHO HAE IOANG national and world orders, it is the clear expression of a will to create one’s identity anew in a manner that better fits the times. “Han” and “rapture” surface in the midst of such turmoil as if they were the everlasting essence of ourselves. Some people become more enthusiastic about efforts to essentialize tradition,while Others begin to realize that such essentializing is dangerous. _ I While the nascent movement to find. oneself can be described as - “nationalism,” it is a nationalism different from the “oppositional na— _ . tionalism” in resistance to colossal foreign power that Koreans have ' - known in the past. As mentioned earlier, it is dangerous to force an iden— tity to fit into something partial because the result may be even greater isolation and alienation. The nationalism that remakes Koreans must ' - emphasizerevitalization, cultural self~ generation, and productivity. The realization that “our culture is precious“. must not be equated with the struggles 'of a neocolonialist era in which the victim mentality becomes the driving force; rather it must involve a postcolonial self-awakening that tries to shed that mentality. As Im himself has remarked, had this movie been.released in the 1980s it would probably not have become a popular success. South Korea’s present situation-demands a new leap - forward, and Sewerage is culturallyand historically important-because it - provides the means to begin a serious discussion about the nature and direction of this leap. Witnessing the Sopyonjs phenomenon, I became aware that many people are ardently waiting for a storyteller who can tell “one’s own Story.” Whether they are tired of philosoPhical gags and fables or of old—fashioned family tragedies, or whether they are fed up with rampant materialism, many people are longing for something that comes out of their own selves. lust as foreign plays in translation no longer attract viewers, people want to hear wOrds that speak to their own hearts. They want to hear not translated speech but words that resonate deep within their own lives. A movie without one’s' own voice chases away any and all viewers. Under current circumstances, when a South Korean movie wins a prize in a Western film festival, this attests either to the country’s expanding national strength or to the enduring strength of orientalism. South Koreans have lived for too long under the domination of Western sorrorma: CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL MEANING I51 culture, and they have largely internalized the Western perspective on Asia known as orientalism. This perspective is now being imported to Asia itself, and it has become the lens through which Asians see themselves. The movies that have been made with the intent of winning prizes at Western film festivals have generally adOpted an orientalist point Iof view. These movies emphasize things that fit Western tastes and exoticize Asian civilizations. Im Kwon-Taek’s San/rogers Marker (Ssibajz', 1986) is one. example. Pae Yonngyun’s W74)! Has Bodbirikarmn ertfor the East (Dale/raga ronflrkok Miro lama lefmdaleain, 1989) is another. But were there Koreans within those movies? The words that Koreans are so earnestly trying to say and hear cannot be found there. Some commentators on Sopymjr’s success have seen it in terms of a kind of globalization slogan: “Finallysomething Korean has become universal.” When modernization is a single route leading to a single peak, the slogan “What is the most Korean is the most universal“24 may make some sense. But when people believe thereis only one kind of modernization, there is also only one “subject” in the humanism that has been pursued. All humans on this earth struggle to be that “subject.” Logically, just as what was “the most British” became “the most universal,“ what is “the most Korean“ can also be “the most universal.“ But in reality, those in the margins always fall short of becoming that kind of subject. Competition with a “center” posSessed of accumulated capabilities and overpowering capital can never be a fair game. No matter how South Koreans strive, it is still difficult within this global structure for them to produce work that is of the highest quality according to “universal” (Western) standards. And, upon reflection, there is no reason South Koreans should want to produce such a work. ' Would a South Korean movie attract a million viewers somewhere other than South Korea? An excellent movie emerges when its creator has an honest conversation with one viewer. Then the audience is not the anonymous masses or the “universal human” spread across the world but a group of individuals who share concrete historicity. In this sense, Sammy's symbolizes the triumph of a local movie within a locality. A turn toward postcolonialization is possible when one asks whether there is only one path toward modernization. Serious reflection re gard— I ing Western-oriented “development?” had already begun even before the c, Isa .'_ I - _ '_. . 'oHo HAE joauo First-World War. The pustindustrial West is now reflecting on a modern— ization that overemphasized one aspect of the “capitalist spirit“——'—i.e., “instrumentalist rationality“-_—-—and is trying to recover from the severely ' I colonized zeitgeist it Constructed.25 What is necessary now for-South I Koreans, who have never created either a “capitalist spirit” ora “ratio-I. I inalism” but inStead-have been obsessed with instrumentaliZing people in i order to increase productivity? There is an enormous difference between a society where industrialization is indigenously driven and one where industrialization has been forcibly transplanted. Doesn’t that difference become evident when the WeSt begins a self—inquiry into its expansive “modernity” while South Koreans cling to partial and abstract words like “We” and “rapture”? They must think deeply about the impact of this difference on the process of healing oneself. South KOreans must talce a good loolc atthemselves and considerthe possibility that they are-simply consoling themselves with idle tallt. Instead of returning to “things Ko— rean,” they should now pursue, in a rapidly changing global structure, an alternative modernity based on a new subjectivity.'This is especially important in an age where homogenization and heterogenization are simultaneously happening at both local and global levels. Although Sspyarzjs and So T’ae—ji and Boys are generally considered to be diverse phenomena, I read in them identical meanings reflective of the current era. I see Bob Dylan in-Kim Min-gi’s music, the Beatles” harmonization in the songs of Tulgulchwa, Elton Iohifs piano in the instrumentals of Tongmulwon, and Deep Purple in'the performance of Shin I-Iae—(1111551.26 Of course my judgment may not be shared by others. It. ispossible that Shin I-Iae—ch’ol hates Deep Purple—01"_has ' - never even heard of the band. But at the very least I hear a similarity in their music; indeed, I think the worldis-becoming one in the sense that the music of, say, 35 .T’ae—ji and Boys is reminiscent of so many different performers that it becomes impossible to identily any original sources. To the point that debate over? mimicry is now moot, South Koreans. have internalized things of the “First World” whether they like it or not, andthey live within those conditions. But South Koreans are not yet Westerners, and Westerners-are not Koreans. That distinction is not easy to fathom, and neither isit an essentialist one. South Koreans - ' are beingmade different by outside forces, but they also are making themselves different. If up to now a Western—oriented modernization _ has homogenized them, blurring the differences, then South Koreans must discard this full-blown “colonialist modernity” and search for the path toward an“alternative modernity,” recognizing differences within and without. ' The ultimate reason for writing this essay is because I want to see good movies of our own. I too want to have many Korean directors .- whom I love. South Koreans" collective misfortune has been to suffer the rapid pace of compressed development, leaving no time for Self? reflection. In truth, South Koreans have lived blealdy for too long. Unable to endure such blealmess any longer, they then lived under a delusion: as other people’s culture were their own, as if others” dreams were their dreams, as if the events that occurred in other peOple’s lands had also occurred in their own. ' Both a new "pair of spectacles through which South Koreans can see themselves and the “process” of creating new viewers with those glasses are needed now. It is the responsibility of filmmakers to make good movies, and it is the responsibility of moviegoers to attend good movies. The responsibility of a cultural critic is not to tell audiences how to view social phenomena, but to help people, standing within their own _ ' lives, to imagine freely. Notes I. Pam—m is a traditional South Korean cultural form that can be compared to opera. Each opera consists of a lengthy series of songs mat together tell I a story. Unlike Western and Chinese operas, the story is usually told by one singer, who is accompanied by a drummer. There is. no elaborate set, only the singer, who stands, and the drummer, who sits. Usually the only prop is a handheld, folding fan, which the singer uses for emphasis and drama. As the vOcalist sings, he or she talces on the role of each character in turn. There are five extant Operas, all of them based on famous Korean follctales. The best known (and the ones showcased in the movie) are the Tale of China/ayng and the Tale sf Simrla’ling. Puma was a cultural form traditionally practiced by the lower classes; it was considered such “lowbrow” culture that no aristocrat would ever deign to learn it. Many practitioners of piaassri are said to have been traveling performers who wandered from town to town. Although the 15ar ' - CHO HAE IOANG singers were scorned as inferior by the upper classes, they were often called to perform their art at parties and other aristocratic festivities. Today, piaasnrz' is recognized as a national cultural treasure, and several master flamers" singers have been designated by the South Korean government as living human cultural treasures-ma designation that brings some measure of public recognition and a nominalstipend. Trams, ' i _ z. “Sammy's” Movie Basie, ed. Tm Kwon—Taek (Seoul: Hanul, 1993), referred ‘ to hereafter as the Snpyanje book; Tramr - _ _ ' 3. Kang Chun—man, “Sspyanjr Is Ruining Korean Movies,“ Mal, October 1993, 22.6. [This article was published too late to be included in the Sopmje I book Trans] _ '_ I _ 4. The term radarjmii has historically been-used to characterize the Chosen dyinasty’s relationship andattitude toward China, a relationship often likened to that between a little brother and his big brother. Today the term is commonly used to mean an .overweening deference to and imitation of dominant nations, particularly the United States, 'that'is comparable to a colonial mentality. Tram. 5.- Uri marinara skim/“lei or “Searching for our culture“ was a movement . that arose in the 19703 on college campuses as students began to reconstruct and reinterpret traditional Korean cultural forms. The movement was a response to cultural colonialism and an-effort to strengthen Korean identity. It focused -._not on the “hi ghbrow“ culture of court music and dance but on the “lowbrow” culture of agricultural peasants. Thus-the cultural forms most widely taught were rjalrb’nm or mask dance—"dramas with masked characters who often lampooned upper—class Koreansociety—and p’nfigmnl—a mix of drumming and dancing later popularized in modernized form by Kim Tok—su’s Samninori, a musical performance played with four traditional Korean percussion instruments. In recent years, the theme of “searching for 'our culture” has been widely popular— ized, as is evident in the enthusiaStic public reception of Samulnori and other forms of Korean cultural expreSsion as well as in numerous books that deal with various aspects of traditional cultural forms. Tram. i 6. Kierufjin, Dongdae Sinner/m, May: 5, I993,'qtd. in the Sopymje book, - 22.4. ' ' _ - . i 7'. Han Myong-hi, Korea Daily, Iuly'zs, I993, “The Moon Waxes And Wanes, Wanes And Waxes,“ qtd. in the Sepysnja book, 161. ‘ 8. Mamba can be lOosely translated as “nation” or “people” in the sense of a distinct group. It is often used byKoreans to refer to themselves as a people distinct from others. Toenjang is a fermented soy bean paste that is a staple condiment and seasoning in Korean cooking. It is also used figuratively, as in this passage, to evoke a rustic, traditional folk atmosphere and also to imply authenticity of Korean identity. The reference to ocher earth is used both literally and figuratively to evoke a traditional rural world seen as “home.” Tram. . - . - - .-\. . . : ._.,._ SOPTONIE: CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL MEANING 155 9. In South Korea, the class year denotes the year of entry into college, and it is a common identifier among students and alumni. Tram. . r to. Trigrim, literally “acquisition of sound,“ refers to acquiring the singing voice of a true sari artist, i.e., a sublime voice that represents the heart and soul of femur/'15. Tram. 11. Yi Se-ryong, “The Humanist Director Im Kwon-Taek, Who Found i I Korean Identity in Sapymje,“ Master Life, April 1993, 32—37. ' ' Iz. Yi Yong—mi, “Snpymja,Noise and Kim So—wol,“ ankwa kirabak, no. 4. ass-36. 13. ,Kimrbiz' is a staple dish in Korean cuisine and consists of vegetables-H usually either cabbage or radisheS-Hsteeped in a hot, garlicky, red pepper sauce. The dish has a strong smell that many Koreans believe is offensive to Westerners. The admonition not to eat kimrbis' or other garlicky foods-before an appoint—- ment with foreigners remains a common one, and many Koreans still worry that foreigners, particularly Westerners, will find Korean food—and, by extension, the Korean people and all other things Korean-“smelly and offensive. Tram. 14.. This is a famous line uttered by the father in the movie"; it was used widely in posters advertising the film. Trans. 1 15. This Saying was often used to emphasize that one should take care of ones body out of respect for one’s parents. Tram. 16. Simchiong, a character in a traditional folktale, sacrifices her life so that her blind and widowed father may see. Tram.- 17. Pak Wan-so, Kyrmg Hyaag Swissair, May 29, 1993, qtd. in the Sapynnjs book, 155. ' ‘ i 18. Sopysnje book, 2oz. 19. Ibid., 204. _ an. Eastern style (tongp’yonje) andwestern style (sop’yénje) are two styles of femurs developed in Cholla Province in southwestern Korea. Sepia/time, whence comes the movie’s title, is prevalent in the flat, agricultural, western region of the province. It has a style characterized as feminine, with many musical flourishes and ornamentation, whereas rangp’yrinje, developed in the mountain— ous eastern region, has a simpler, more straightforward style characterized as masculine. Trans. 21. Yi Ch’ong~jun has said, “The short story was my responsibility, but the I movie is theirs.“ See the Sapysnje book, 150—53. 22.. So T’ae—-ji is the leader of South Korea’s first rap group. When the group debuted in the early 199os, it provoked another round of discussion on whether Koreans were developing their own style of modern music or simply mimicking Westerners. The riaspfizringra is a traditional Korean wind instrument with a wooden, flute-like body and a metal end that flares out like a trumpet. Kim Yong- dong composes music that mixes traditional Korean forms with modern forms. 156 ' _ CHO HAE IOANG His albums are generally classified as meditation music. The general public seems to View his music as “modernized traditional Korean music,“ as evidenced by the customary location of his albums in the traditional Korean-music section at large bookstores and music stores. The background music for Sapysreje ean also be labeled as such. Teens. ' 23. Charms film, luly 15, 1993. _ 24. This is a well—known saying associated with the push for “globalization,” an effort spearheaded by the Kim Young Siam government. TVflF’F/I. - 2. 5. See, for example, Michel Foucault, Power/meledge: Selected I nterve'ews' emf one Writings, I972-v7z, ed. C. Gordon (New York: Pantheon, 1930), and Iiirgen Habermas, The Theory of Commemeeeiee Airtime I: Reason end the Retimelezeeiere efSeeiery, trans. T. McCarthy (London: Heinemann, 1984.). 26. Kim Min—g1 is a popular singer whose songs, especially “Morning Dew”. (Ach’im isi'il), are associated with student movements and are known for poetic lyrics. Tiilguldiwa is a group known for their harmonies and ballads, and Shin Hae—chol is a well—known rock singer. Trees. of ' individualtitles were acclaimed at major film festivals, few were then picked up for wider distribution. Chris Berry, one of the most authorita— tive Western critics of Asian cinema, has suggested two reasons why the Korean film industry failed to achieve a breakthrough at this time.1 On the one hand, he contends, an increased concentration of ownership in the U.S. and. EurOpean art—house sectors resulted in a general unwill~ in guess to take risks with internationally “unlmown” product, meaning that Korean filmmakers met with unexpectedly severe resistance when negotiating overseas exhibition rights for their work. On the other hand, Korea had a hard time establishing a “new” identity for itself within highly competitive image markets because of its inability to differentiate its films from those produced by. other East Asian countries. Berry further suggests that the positive reception-given at several recent film festivals to the stylistically excessive films of Kim Ki—young ...
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