A Propaganda Film Subverting Ethnic Hierarchy?: "Suicide Squad at the Watchtower" and Colonial Korea

Naoki Mizuno, Kyoto University
Yu Tong-sun, Kim Yŏng-suk, Im Ok-sŏn, and Takatsu Yoshiko in "Suicide Squad at the Watchtower" (Bōrō no kesshi, 1943).
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In the film Suicide Squad at the Watchtower (1943), the appearance of a Korean female physician carries with it the potential to subvert the film’s representation of the colonial ethnic hierarchy. The film’s director, Ch’oe In-gyu, had in his earlier film Homeless Angels presented the edifying message that a Korean female orphan could aspire to become a physician. This message was also incorporated into Suicide Squad at the Watchtower. In these two films the story of a Korean woman who studies to become a physician (or at least desires to become one) unfolds through the same actress, Kim Sin-jae. The suggestion that a Korean could achieve a social position equal to or even higher than a Japanese introduced the possibility of subverting the colonial ethnic hierarchy. But while the screenplay for the film had explicitly portrayed the female physician, the film version suppressed the representation, making it less evident. Nevertheless, it is possible to see Suicide Squad at the Watchtower’s enlightened message as an element with the potential to upset the ruling colonial order.