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The Adaption and the Significance of Charlie Chaplin : focusing on Korean movie theaters in Gyeongseong in the 1920s and 1930s

Sun Young PARK 1

1고려대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This study aims to analyze the effects and the significance of comedies featuring Charlie Chaplin on Korean audiences and popular culture in Korean theaters in the 1920s and 1930s, focusing on the screening of Chaplin’s comedies and the sensation it created in Korea. Korean movie theaters in Gyeongseong mainly screened Hollywood films, that they were even called Western movie theaters, until 1934, when the Regulation for the Control of Motion Pictures was promulgated. Until the late 1930s when the number of Hollywood film screenings decreased due to political, economic, and cultural reasons, Chaplin’s films were tremendously popular—both new films and reruns were screened over 70 times between 1918 and 1937. However, after City Light (1931) was screened in 1934, most films that were shown were reruns of Chaplin’s short slapstick comedies produced in the 1910s and early 1920s. These shorts had been reborn as a sound film by inserting sound effects and music, and distributed by RKO. Then in the late 1930s, they were circulated in Korean theaters. Unlike Japan, where Charlie Chaplin’s films produced various imitations, adaptations, and parodies, public theaters instead of films first adapted Chaplin’s comedies in Korea. Chaplin’s films brought the visuals and cinematic laughter with humor involving physical activities to the comedies performed in Korean public theaters, which had a strong tradition of auditive laughter that mainly consisted of jokes and witticisms in stand-ups. This allowed for the integration of “slapstick” as a form of performance to the Korean entertainment industry. Chaplin became an object of appreciation and admiration for the Korean intellectuals, who confirmed their shared identities as “contemporaries” and “intellectuals,” and also became aware of their status as “the colonized” through the films. On the other hand, Chaplin’s films were palpable and real for the common people who were forced by the modernizing world to become urban laborers and live in poverty. Chaplin’s films brought issues of poverty and marginalization to the fore through the protagonist, a social misfit whose dignity was constantly attacked. As such, his films elicited sympathy from the Koreans who faced incessant frustration and depression since the colonization of Korea by the Japanese. Chaplin’s films also functioned as a guide for the “already present” modern world and a buffer against the grievous modern world.

Citation status

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