Collaboration, Coproduction, and Code-Switching: Colonial Cinema and Postcolonial Archaeology

Nayoung Aimee Kwon, Duke University
Ad for "Spring in the Korean Peninsula" at the Meiji Theater in colonial Seoul. Maeil sinbo, November 9, 1941.
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This article reassesses the issue of colonial collaboration in the Japanese empire by examining the rise of cinematic coproductions between Japanese and Korean filmmakers. By the late 1930s, colonial Korea’s filmmaking industry had been fully subsumed into the Japanese film industry, and regulations were established that required all films to assimilate imperial policies. The colonial government’s active promotion of colonial “collaboration” and “coproduction” between the colonizers and the colonized ideologically worked to obfuscate these increasing restrictions in colonial film productions while producing complex and contentious desires across the colonial divide. The very concepts of “collaboration” and “coproduction” need to be redefined in light of increasingly complex imperial hierarchies and entanglements. Taking the concept of “code-switching” beyond its linguistic origins, this article argues that we must reassess texts of colonial collaboration and coproduction produced at a time when Korean film had to “code-switch” into Japanese—to linguistically, culturally, and politically align itself with the wartime empire. The article argues that recently excavated films from colonial and Cold War archives, such as Spring in the Korean Peninsula, offer a rare glimpse into repressed and contested histories and raise the broader conundrum of accessing and assessing uneasily commingled colonial pasts of Asian-Pacific nations in the ruins of postcolonial aftermath.

Scroll down for film clips referenced in this article.  All clips are from the DVD Spring in the Korean Peninsula made by the Korean Film Archive (KOFA) in 2007. Seoul: Teawŏn Entertainment, Ltd. Used here  with the permission of the KOFA.

Clip 1: Spring in the Korean Peninsula opening sequence (0:00-4:35)

Clip 2: The film within a film: Ch’un-hyang as a spectacle of colonial kitsch (36:30-43:44)

Clip 3: Boardroom scene: corporatization of the colonial film industry (1:03:00-1:06:10)