One Film, or Many?: The Multiple Texts of the Colonial Korean Film "Volunteer"

Jaekil Seo, Kookmin University
The list of characters in "Volunteer" (Chiwŏnbyŏng, 1941).
Abstract

Until recently, studies on films from colonial Korea in the Japanese empire had to rely primarily on secondary texts, such as memoirs, journal and newspaper articles, and film reviews. The recent discovery of original film texts from archives in Japan, China, Russia, and elsewhere and their availability on DVD format, prompted an important turning point in the scholarship. However, juxtaposing these newly released DVD versions with other archival sources exposes significant differences among the existing versions of texts. For instance, a newly discovered script reveals that important segments are missing in the recently released DVD version of the propaganda film Volunteer. There also exist important discrepancies in the dialogue among the original film script, the actual film version, the synopsis, and the Japanese subtitles. Some of the Korean-language dialogue, which might be interpreted as exhibiting some ambivalence toward Japanese imperial policies, was completely silenced through strategic omissions in the Japanese-language subtitles targeting Japanese audiences. Some Japanese-language translations of the script also exhibit drastic changes from the original Korean-language dialogue. Piecing together such fragmented and fraught linguistic dissonance found in the colonial archives, we can conjecture that viewers from the colony and the metropole of Volunteer may have consumed very different versions of the film. This article aims to examine the significance of such dissonance, which has only recently become audible in so-called films of transcolonial coproduction.

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

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