Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
This dissertation performs close readings of a body of well-known East Asian films. The Japanese films discussed include Kitano Takeshi's Hana-bi (1997) and Fukasaku Kinji's Battle Royale (2000). From Korea, the dissertation focuses on Peppermint Candy (1999, Lee Chang-dong), The Coast Guard (2002, Kim Ki-duk), The Chaser (2008, Na Hong-jin), and four films by Park Chan-wook: Joint Security Area (1999), Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003), and Lady Vengeance (2005). Through an analysis of these films, this dissertation argues that the narrative cinema of South Korea and Japan, produced between 1997 and 2008, uses the representation of violence to foreground and critique the ideology of capitalism.
Both South Korea and Japan see substantial economic growth, collapse, and rebuilding in the twentieth century. From 1986 to 1991, Japan experienced an asset price bubble, but its collapse in 1991 led to the period known as Japan's “Lost Decade” which marked the end of the nation's post-war economic miracle. A comparable trajectory occurs in South Korea. Following significant development in the 80s and 90s, the Asian Financial Crisis brings South Korea to a halt in 1997. In what came to be locally known as the “IMF Crisis,” South Korea had to rely on a $21 billion bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund. Just as Japan's economic collapse almost immediately preceded Korea's, both countries attempt to work through the trauma of the Lost Decade and the IMF Crisis in their national cinemas.
Mirroring what audiences in East Asia were experiencing, the characters in these films endure instances of violent displacement. In response to their disenfranchisement, the protagonists of films such as Hana-bi and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance brutally lash out. But unlike in the majority of narrative cinema, the characters' violent actions do not lead to resolution. Instead, violence only creates a recursive loop where systemic inequity persists. As a result, the brutal cinema of Korea and Japan pushes the representation of violence to its limit point and reveals the tacit goal-oriented logic where it is repeatedly used as a justified means to legitimate ends. By illustrating and problematizing this idea, these films uncover how this ideology of violence is a central tenet to the larger structure that actually produced the source of alienation: neoliberal capitalism.
This dissertation thus demonstrates two points. First is the way in which economic trauma in Japan resonates in Korea, a process that carries over into their respective cinemas. Second is how these films assert that the representation of violence does not merely concern issues of film and media, but rather shares a deeper connection with the dominant ideology within globalization. As the films demonstrate, capitalism ultimately benefits the capitalist, a dynamic that can only occur at the expense of the laborer. These films thus articulate the inherent violence in this worldview that disregards the wellbeing of the Other. At the same time, the films also contend that it is that single-minded impetus towards profit that fueled the economic collapse, an almost inevitable result of the region's furious adaptation of industrial capitalism in a process referred to as ‘compressed modernity.’ Less interested in the enormous prosperity resulting from modernization in the region, the films confront and lament the often neglected but equally exorbitant costs. The violent cinema of South Korea and Japan thus insists that the financial crises of the late twentieth century, the persistence of economic inequality, the cinematic representation of violence, as well as the growth of its own industries, constitute a knot that can only be understood in its totality.
This dissertation addresses a number of questions including the polarizing violence of East Asian cinema, the connections between Korean and Japanese national cinema from 1997 to 2008, how those cinemas relate to recent economic crises, and the relationship with the larger historical context of neoliberal globalization. I argue that violent films such as Battle Royale (2000) and Oldboy (2002) are not merely exercises in gratuitous violence. Instead, they are articulations of a deep-seated disappointment in the unfulfilled promises of twentieth-century capitalism, stemming from concern over the intense inequity that persists in South Korea and Japan. My dissertation ultimately demonstrates two things. First is the way in which economic trauma in Japan resonates in Korea, a process that carries over into their respective cinemas. Second is how which these films depict and critique the formation of the productive, violent subject in neoliberal capital. In illustrating these points, my dissertation teases out fundamental issues concerning cinema, history, capitalism, and violence.
publicabstract, Capitalist ideology, Cinematic violence, Economic crisis, Japanese cinema, Korean cinema, Neoliberalism
Copyright 2016 Se Young Kim