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Reconfiguring Korean Modernist Film

Sunjoo Lee 1

1한양대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

The 'modernist film' or 'art cinema (yesul-younghwa)' discourse in Korean cinema has not been genealogically studied because the tradition of self-consciousness about film form or film as a medium has remained slim on the whole throughout its history. Faced with this scarcity, my study aims at shedding light on the ways in which Korean film criticism of the 1960s imagined the 'art cinema' through the analysis of the discourses on The Foggy Town (Angae, directed by Kim Soo-yong, 1967), still known as "a masterpiece of Korean modernist film." I would eschew an aesthetic approach to The Foggy Town which tends to enshrine it in the pantheon of 'auteurist/modernist film'; investigating the ways in which multiple agencies that constituted Korean cinema of the 1960s―industry, policy, film culture, director, and criticism―were intertwined, I would instead reposition it within the historical dynamics of the time when it was released and gained remarkable popularity. In doing so, I would also reach out to historically reconstructing the tradition of Korean modernist film which had presumptively ceased to exist for thirtyyears until The Day a Pig Fell into a Well (Doejiga umul-e ppajin nal, directed by Hong Sang-soo) came out in 1996. The aspiration of world cinema during the 1960s to its 'newness,' exemplified by the French nouvelle vague, lead to the paradigm shifts in the film history: the advent of the auteur's age and the emergence of art cinema. Unlike its antecedent of the 1950s, Korean film criticism of the 1960s strived to catch up with this current of the world cinema as The Foggy Town was produced. I would argue that The Foggy Town must be conceived as an 'incoherent text,' inasmuch as it leaves coexisting a few aspects that revolved around Korean cinema of that time―realism, modernism, genericity, and popularity―therefore shaping itself as the mixture of the industrial elements of high-concept film [gihoek-younghwa] and the aesthetic elements of art cinema (yesul-younghwa)―what I would call 'high-concept-art film' (gihoek-yesul-younghwa). In this sense, what makes The Foggy Town interesting and rich lies not in its direct imitation of Western modern cinema, but in the tension where its heterogeneous elements aforementioned collided and negotiated with each other in the tradition of Korean cinema. Paying close attention to that tension, I would claim that it was the point of contradiction and fissure between the desire for the new art cinema and the components of existing popular genre film where modernity in Korean cinema was revealed.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.