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Imaginary Modernity of a Cultural Elite: Choi Namju in Colonial Korea

Wee Gyeong-hae 1

1전남대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This study examines colonial modern cultural development as a historical process by investigating a local elite, Choi Namju , who was born at Gwangju in 1905 and worked as a movie entrepreneur at Gyeongseong from 1930 to 1942. I have explored three dimensions of Choi Namju’ career. First, I have examined the time he spent at Gwangju and Gyeongseong, including his participation in theater activities and the networking of human resources through play activities at Gwangju. Second, I have looked at Choi’s establishment of the “Chosen Movie Corporation” at Gyeongseong in 1937 and have analyzed the movies made in the company. Third, I have studied the foundation in 1938 of Hwakyesa, a book publisher for Korean literatures. I have also analyzed Choi’s influence on filmmaking in post liberation Korea by researching the career of Lee Jaemyeong, who had worked in the corporation as a film planner from 1937 to 1942. As a part of my study, I have analyzed written documents published by a film studies organization, oral testimonies from people involved in making movies, and daily newspapers dating to the colonial and postcolonial periods at Gyeongseong and Gwangju respectively. I would like to conclude this study as follows: First, the local elite Choi Namju and his colleagues at Gwangju recognized play as an important means of enlightening local people about modern culture in 1920s. Choi’s career as a stage actor in the local area influenced him to use films for promoting national consciousness. Second, “Chosen Movie Corporation” was fashioned along the lines of the Hollywood studio system, and was seen as a means of realizing dreams of making it big in the acting field. However, considering that a necessary step in developing the colonial Korean film industry was not “making more films”, but “distributing more films to more market places,” the advent of the company was impertinent at that time. Moreover, the three films made by the corporation had similar characteristics. All the movies displayed ambivalent attitudes towards “the national” and “Chosen-like,” which stood at the intersection of Japanese imperialism and the perceptions of film-related Korean personalities, including the local elite Choi Namju. Third, considering that Lee Jaemyeong built his career as a film-making planner in the anticommunist postliberation - social environment, Choi Namju left his footprints on the efforts to push Korean film into a leading position in the global film industry, with the help of Hollywood. That indeed was the experience of modernity and the development of modern culture in Korea via the West, especially the United States. Finally, the local elite Choi Namju was not just a film entrepreneur or film businessperson, but a representative figure of modern culture, which made the transition from the colonial to the postcolonial period at a historical moment in Korean film history.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2023 are currently being built.

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