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A Study on 1970s Subculture through the Reception of Hong Kong Martial Art Films -Focusing on the Sentiments of Discount Theater Audiences

Lee, Gil-sung 1

1중앙대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

The youth culture of the 1960s, represented by young adult films, were largely divided into the youth culture centered on university students and residual subculture in the 1970s: the mainstream youth culture consisted of draught beer, jeans, folk songs, and socially critical films produced by directors who were part of the Yeongsang-sidae (literally the "age of images") Movement, and the subculture bloomed among young laborers and teens, excluding university students and intellectuals, and was represented by lewd magazines such as Sunday Seoul, martial arts novels, erotic novels, comic book, and violent Hong Kong martial arts films. This study explores this subculture that flourished opposite the youth culture in the 1970s by analyzing popular martial arts films from Hong Kong. The type of such subcultures is dubbed the discount theater culture for the purpose of this paper. Discount theaters were film theaters located in the outskirts of cities, which mainly screened Hong Kong martial arts films and B action movies. They were particularly popular among teenagers and young laborers for their affordable admission fees and easy accessibility. However, discount theaters were also considered a part of social problems due to the decrepit facilities and their locations in sleazy neighborhoods. While the university student-centered youth culture received social spotlight and became the topic of dynamic discussion at the time, the discount theater culture was not properly examined or studied, and only received criticisms from contemporary critics who deemed the culture as the hotbed of degenerative lowbrow culture. Recently, however, the view of popular culture began to change, and many started to make attempts to explore and understand the sentiments of subcultures. In this context, academics began to discuss new research frames that break from focusing on simple narratives and displays of excessive sexuality and violence. In the 1970s, Hong Kong films were a type of "youth films." Young protagonists had superhuman strength, and they met their deaths because of their pride or because they sacrificed themselves to save their friends. They rebelled against society, and they were not tied to loyalty or moral justice. Such attitudes were already in conflict with the ethical beliefs of the previous generation, and the brutal violence on physical bodies along with excessive displays of deaths in the films were linked to the implicit taboos in society that the youths challenged. These new sentiments about the physical body were also connected to the appeal of fighting scenes in films starring Bruce Lee. His body was a testament to the raw physical strength of the human body and the ideal state one's body can reach through training. The acquisition of physical strength and abilities through training was the only defense mechanism that the socially disadvantaged people could think of. In the oppressive political situation of the 1970s, the agents of the discount theater culture were unable to criticize the society with logic and metaphors as the agents of the youth culture. Instead, they revealed their sentiments through self-inflicted damage to their bodies and excessive displays. Such displays of sentiments through the physical bodies instead of verbal expressions were a challenge to taboos, which were unable to be interpreted and understood within the cultural discourse of the 1970s.

Citation status

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

This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.