Social Transformation in Korea


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Social transformation in Korea
The development of the film industry that show the post-colonial error has been intertwined very closely with the coming of the woman’s film and the modernities that are associated with colonialism. Films that feature female protagonists consumed and made for the women have acted as an important source of revenue for the film industry of South Korea since 1955 (Kathleen, 8). Looking in to these films, that explore gendered modernity as well as female sexuality, provides a good way of observing the post-colonial error in which sexuality, gender and cinema technologies have been inscribed by modernity. The history of South Korea’s colonization (Japanese, European and American) created a national identity that enabled it to structure the cinema of the country. The modernity’s hybrid formation that is associated with colonization’s multiple layers over very short period of time contributed to the restructuring of roles of gender. The inauguration of militia government in 1961 paved the way for modernization project that is state- initiated involving exploitation of the cheap female labor by controlling the sexuality of female workers. The movie industry of South Korea responded to this social phenomenon through the production of a series of films on American princesses, hostesses and bar girls that narrativise the failed incorporation of the rural migrant of the female workers into an industry that is labor intensive.
South Korean cinema of the post colonial times came to shine after the production of the movie ‘Madame Freedom’ that was done by Chayu Puin in 1956 (Kathleen, 8). The film’s success that focuses on the female sexuality, contributed to development of the film industry in the country. The movie majors mostly with the female identity that was constructed through the American consumerism and modernity. The film played a big role in the early developing of cinema industry as it reflected the shifting women identities by depicting the modern woman, Madame Freedom. The display of a free-floating lifestyle and her tailored suit provoke the longing for consumerist lifestyle. When her business partner gets her embraced erotically with her husband, she slaps her. Madame Freedom runs home very ashamed only to be rejected by the husband. Comparing the husband’s conventional clothing that fits the house of traditional style, with her western dress, it signifies her non belonging. This film was set in an impoverished and war stricken country and associates the consumer females with decadence despite the inevitable fetishism.
During the 1960s modernization, unmarried workers of migrant women moved from the rural to Seoul. This was social phenomenon that influenced the women depictions in the films in this period. As South Korea was going through social transformation that is very rapid during the 1960s nascent industrialization, the young girls from the rural set up became the most vulnerable and the most exploited group of the new society of urban set up. On arrival in the cities they would provide cheap labor as factory workers in the light industry or bas domestic helpers in the upper-class homes of the rich people. An example of a film that dealt with this type of social issue was ‘the housemaid, Pak Ku in 1964. In the film the female workers who are unmarried suspected to be femme fatales of working-class pose as threats to the families that are in the middle-class. Their sexuality that is feminine when combined with their status as working-class place them in a position that is very abject. The abjection allowed the film to draw an emotional affection maximally fro the viewers of Ajumma. The success of this film, ‘The Housemaid’ by Kim Ki-yong of 1960 is very much contextualized in such vein.
The films reception by the female audiences during that time was registered by the reactions to a scene in which a married employer who is a man gets seduced by his house maid. A report was that the women audiences responded to this scene with yells of ‘kill the bitch’. The antagonism among the women that is according to their differences in class and marital status is very much marked in this type of spectatorship. housemaid, which is based on incidents that are real, disguises and displaces conflicts of class within the threatening sexuality of women and discloses an a middle class that is newly formed and that is toward other emerging lower-class (Sung, 352). The maid is depicted as a monster that is hybrid and is within the family of middle-class as she dreams of being mobile upwardly. The themes that are evident in the film allow the reflection of figurative of transformation of family and gender. The domesticity, motherhood and masculinity are juxtaposed against severe social and financial crises.
‘Sopyonje’ film that was released in 1993 by Im kwon-taek is an artistic film that expresses concern about traditional culture disappearance. It revives the attention of the public towards Pansori which is the subject matter, a traditional art in Korea of dramatic singing which had been almost forgotten. Despite the talent and hard work, Yu-bong and Son-hwa come out as failures. They try to resist the downfall of their art that is doomed with all the might but in vain, due to the overall decline of the Pansori. This failure is first attributed to Yu-bongs own failures. He was once the best of a master teacher trainer and got banished because of the affair with the concubine of the master. It later unfolds that Pansori is no longer getting any favors from the society that is changing rapidly. Initially it would receive warm responses from the audience but years later it was valued no more. The film shows the social dimension as both nostalgic and subtle. Dong-ho traverses the east then west which was the pre-modern and then modern. He is greeted by an old woman in dilapidated clothing compared to his own western clothing. There was sexual rivalry between him and Yu-bong. Sopyonje is concerned with modernization which acts as the constutive Koreas social memory.
‘A single spark’ film revolves on the character Jeon who committed suicide publicly calling for labor law compliance. He is depicted as the symbol of labor movement of Korea. Kim a fugitive on the run takes time reconstructing Jeons life that he cannot see his pregnant wife. When Jeon gets a job in clothing industry, he is forced to work for long hours (Sung, 352). He sees this as mistreatment and calls fellow workers to fight for labor laws. When he sees he cannot succeed he commits suicide. The film shifts focus from this political activism and heroic struggle to anguish and despair that is experienced by the compassionate and innocent youth. It gives an examination of the modern-day history of Korea. It compares the life of Jeon and Kim by rendering the latter in full color and the former in black and white.
All the four films show Korea’s transformation from the time they get independence to the error of post colonialism. The country is seen to transform gradually both socially and economically. The government that takes over does not recognize the rights of workers mostly the women who get to the city to get employment. They have no option other than going on strike and join movements on labor in the view of trying to stop the mistreatment by the employers. They work for long hours under little pay and the working conditions are very poor. The women fight tirelessly for their rights with some help from the churches. On the social scene, the films show how the people transform socially, forgetting the traditional cultures and getting influenced by the modernity that is based from the west. Women are seen to change from the mode of dress and behavior, mostly sexual decadence. In the process of looking for money they find themselves in love affairs with rich married men something that leads to destruction of the families. The period of 1960s sees Korea transform significantly towards the late 1990s. Film makers in the movie industry are also seen developing by the way they try to show this transformation in the most captivating way possible, through casting films that show this change. the first two movies ‘Madame freedom’ and ‘the house maid’ show how the western culture rapidly permeated in Korea at the time of modernization process and swept away the traditions substantially affecting the way of people’s lives. As this happened, the Korean traditional characteristics gradually lost the influence on the way people lived. This is shown by Madame Freedom’s sexual decadence and the way of dressing in the films from Korean to western culture (Kathleen, 8).. On the other side ‘Sopyonje’ and ‘a single spark’ films show how Korea witnessed the negative impact due to western culture inflow on the loss of cultural identity. They show the need of recognizing this effect and the reason for strengthening the cultural identity. When people realize that the Korean dramatic art like the Pansori have been neglected, Yu-bong tries to remind the people of its existence as the Korean culture. As a result of this from the 1990s, cultural identity establishment was considered a very important policy issue in South Koreas response to cultural globalization.

Work cited
McHugh, Kathleen A. “South Korean film melodrama and the question of national cinema.” Quarterly Review of Film & Video 18.1 (2001): 1-14.
Sung, Sirin. “Women reconciling paid and unpaid work in a Confucian welfare state: The case of South Korea.” Social Policy & Administration 37.4 (2003): 342-360.

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