Trauma, Modernity and Hauntings: The Legacy of Japanese Colonialism in Contemporary South Korean Cinema
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
In recent years, South Korean filmmakers have repeatedly drawn upon the nation’s experience of Japanese colonialism as an element in the construction of their films. This thesis examines the multiple ways in which contemporary South Korean cinema has drawn upon this period in the nation’s history, through both direct representation, and allegory and evocation. I demonstrate how new perspectives have emerged, creating a space to construct more nuanced considerations of the colonial period beyond nationalist paradigms, whilst not shying away from the traumatic elements which had heretofore defined the dominant perceptions of the era. Utilising trauma theory as a key framework, I argue that by restaging the traumatic events of the past on-screen, filmmakers have provided an opportunity for audiences to come to terms with this past. Turning towards the Korean concept of han, which addresses the accumulation of negative affect and how these negative emotions can be purged through the expression of han, I explore how the folk song Arirang has been mobilised as a way of connecting a film to this legacy of sorrow. By invoking the feeling of han in their work, South Korean filmmakers have tied their personal concerns to a wider national sentiment. I then draw upon the notion of spectrality, and the depiction of ghosts in contemporary films, in order to demonstrate the ways in which the present is haunted by the unaddressed actions of the past. Finally, I argue that a series of films featuring amnesiac protagonists serve to allegorise the ‘settling the past’ movement, which saw the establishment of a number of ‘truth councils’ tasked with investigating aspects of the nation’s twentieth century history. Ultimately, this thesis argues that it is only by addressing and coming to terms with the traumatic elements of our past that we can ever hope to be rid of their negative influence.
Lim, Song Hwee
PhD in Film