A Hall of Mirrors: Film Regulation and Industry Strategy in Colonial Korea, under Empire and its Aftermath
Bae, Keung Yoon
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CitationBae, Keung Yoon. 2020. A Hall of Mirrors: Film Regulation and Industry Strategy in Colonial Korea, under Empire and its Aftermath. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractHow does a colonized country’s embattled film industry respond to an imperial directive to nationalize cinema? And how should we understand the films that were produced by this industry? These are the central questions that this dissertation seeks to answer. Korean films produced under the Japanese empire have long been a conundrum for historians of Korean cinema. On the one hand, they occupy a crucial position as the origins of Korean cinema, both for North and South. On the other hand, many of the films from the colonial period are unmistakably works of “shameful” propaganda, especially the 1930s-1940s films that were rediscovered in the 2000s. The films have been exhaustively examined through the lens of collaboration versus resistance, as is often our wont when studying colonial Korean history. But films and filmmakers in East Asia of the late 1930s and 1940s existed within larger systems of material and technological production, economic funding, and cultural capital, and colonial filmmakers’ considerations ought to be understood beyond just political censorship or coercion. Like in a hall of mirrors, where beams of light are reflected and refracted in multiple directions, film policies and filmmakers’ agendas would intersect across national boundaries to become projected onto the screen itself.
This dissertation examines the multi-directional and complex process of the formulation, implementation, and impact of the late 1930s-1940s film regulations in the Japanese empire, specifically focusing on the colonial iteration of the 1939 Film Law and the response to it from colonial Korean filmmakers. I propose the concept of a “hall of mirrors” to encapsulate both the global nature of film policy and the interactions of gaze through cinema, the multi-directional, interlocking beams of influence and awareness across national borders. In doing so, I seek to bring together pre-existing studies of wartime Japanese film with the studies of colonial Korean film, which are areas of scholarship that have historically been separated into regional fields. In using regulation as a kind of prism through which to recast our understanding of East Asian cinema, I closely read the legal texts and the introductory texts “explaining” the legislation. I posit that it is necessary to center colonial film– the film industries of Chosŏn Korea, Taiwan, and Manchukuo – to write a history of East Asian film under Japanese rule at this time. I closely examine the ways in which colonial filmmakers responded to the law, and in doing so I map out the complex contours of the politico-economic landscape under which colonial filmmakers produced films, and the strategies by which these industries sought to survive and reach the larger market of the Japanese metropole. With this backdrop in mind, I then conduct a re-reading of the colonial film texts of this time period, and locate the fraught project of self-representation under colonial rule within a confluence of imperial regulation, multi-national funding, and market access. Finally, I examine the long shadows cast by the colonial period on the post-liberation South Korean film industry, starting with film regulation under US governance, the “revival” of colonial-era policy under Park Chung-hee, and the Korean culture industry’s continuing reliance on overseas markets.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368891
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