Virtually Alive or Questionably Dead? The Ambivalence of Modern Korean Identity in Literature and Cinema
Theodore Hughes, Literature and Film in Cold War South Korea: Freedom's Frontier. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. 304 pp. $55 (cloth).
Kyung Hyun Kim, Virtual Hallyu: Korean Cinema of the Global Era. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011, pp. 208. $90 (cloth), $25 (paper).
The studies by Kyung Hyun Kim and Theodore Hughes discussed in this essay are rich with information and insights but are also challenging, almost subversive, to some prevalent views on Korean cinema and literature. While Kim looks into contemporary, post-1990s Korean films operating in the global market as an important (but perhaps since 2000 not the most influential) wing of the hallyu (“Korean Wave”) trend, Hughes deals primarily with early postwar literature and visual arts (including cinema) from 1945 to roughly the early 1970s. Both authors are concerned with the history and contemporaneity of Korean identity and with the manners in which this localized identity is constituted, specifically in relation to colonial modernity, global late capitalism, and ethnocentric nationalism. They also address the problematic status of cinema in the context of Korean culture and history, sometimes developing arguments in unexpected directions.