본문 바로가기
  • Home

The Cultural Landscape of Movie Theaters

Wee Gyeong-hae 1

1전남대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This work examines the historicity of the cultural landscape of movie theaters in the city of Incheon, in the western part of Korea, a typical city in which sociocultural hybridity is represented by the presence of overseas Chinese, war refugees, the US armed forces, industrial workers, and so on in the aftermath of the Korean War (1950-1953). This paper explores three dimensions of the cultural landscape of movie theaters in Incheon. First, I examine the organization of film exhibitions, not in the regular movie theaters, and the programs they offered. Second, I look at the increase in the number of movie theaters in connection with the changing and differentiating city space and the placeness of the movie theaters from the late 1950s to the 1960s. Third, I study the local film audiences and their cinema-going experiences in the context of Korean society in the Cold War regime. As part of my study, I analyze written documents about the city of Incheon, oral testimonies from people involved in the movie theaters, cultural organizations, and film audiences in the city. Film-screening activities by temporary movie theaters were remarkable during the 1950s in the city. The “Korea and the US Cultural Center,” supported by both the USIS (United State Information Service) and the city of Incheon, and the disabled veterans’ temporary theaters, which were interlinked with the American Army base for informal film distribution, exhibited several Hollywood films, thus functioning as channels to spread the unfolding story of the “American” nation and its values. Given the growth of the movie theaters in the city during the 1960s for making quick profits, the first-run movie theaters fiercely competed with each other for survival, some even going to the extent of showing film scenes without censoring the “prohibited” scenes to attract viewership. The movie theaters in the city formed a hierarchy according to the function of space of the city in which they were located: that is, the first-run movie theaters were in the downtown area and the new ones opened in the suburb of the city. The cinema-going experiences of the film audiences were various according to their place of residence and occupation during that time. To the film audiences, Hollywood films provided entertainment and an escape from the hardships they faced after the Korean War, functioned as workbooks through which they learned about Western society, and helped them absorb the cultural shocks they experienced while living in the system of American values. Nonetheless, the sophisticated lifestyle and material affluence represented in Hollywood films evoked in film audiences an uncomfortable awareness of their own difficult financial status at that time. Hollywood films thus gave an impetus to the young male cinema audiences to learn technology related to films—in a way a manifestation of Korean nationalism. The most noticeable thing that characterized movie theaters in the city of Incheon was the presence of a huge number of Americans stationed in the army base ASCOM (Army Service Command) in the Bupyeong district, the eastern part of the city of Incheon, and “army wives” who earned their livelihood from the military camp. These prostitutes from the red-light district were the main audience in movie theaters with Korean male workers helping the operations of the American army base in the district. In conclusion, the cultural landscape of movie theaters in the city of Incheon after the Korean War suggests diverse aspects of the locality of both film exhibitions and cinema-going experiences in the context of the “cultural cold war.”

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.