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Korean Cinema: The Work of Bong Joon-Ho
Wed. February 9 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Bong Joon-ho’s The Host (2006) and Mother (2009) foreground the relationship between parents and children as a means to explore larger social entanglements. The family’s fight for survival obtains a distinctive moral character that reflects its historical privilege, but in these films, we also see just how much harm might be done in the name of survival. Specifically, the moral and ideological ambiguity of the family becomes supremely manifest in The Host and Mother in the ambiguity of failed parents. The consequence of bad parenting is indeed a primary preoccupation of these films and represent more expansive examples of unscrupulous applications of power. As an example of what is arguably the most baldly allegorical genre, the monster movie, The Host is explicit about its implications. The ultimate bad father is indeed the monstrous U.S. Empire at a historical moment when its grip on global domination begins to falter. The film in turns regards the hegemonic infringements of an increasingly unstable empire as a supreme form of bad parenting whose ability to protect its charges is increasingly called into question. And in contrast to Bong’s earlier films, which track the dramatic amplification of modernizing processes in Korea and to the subsequent interest in the later films to think more globally, Mother turns radically inward to tell a story set in a small Korean town that remains insulated from the encroachment of western modernity. Although it might seem an outlier, however, Mother might be regarded as pause before a fuller global pivot meant to take a final assessment of the nationalist orientation implied in the mother figure, an assessment that finds fault in the protectionist inclinations of both the parent and the nation.Joseph Jonghyun Jeon is Director of the Center for Critical Korean Studies and Professor of English and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Vicious Circuits: Korea’s IMF Cinema and the End of the American Century (Stanford University Press, 2019) and Racial Things, Racial Forms: Objecthood in Avant-Garde Asian American Poetry (University of Iowa Press, 2012). Prof. Nam Lee will present on “Class Polarization and Catastrophic Imagination in Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer (2013) and Parasite (2019)”:
This paper offers a comparative analysis of Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer (2013) and Parasite (2019), focusing on each films’ catastrophic imagination of our contemporary era. Snowpiercer is an English-language global sci-fi film, and Parasite is a local drama set in Korean realities; however, they are both about a catastrophe caused by class polarization. While Snowpiercer can be read as a universal allegory of the global capitalist system, Parasite is a fable that captures the Korean specificities of neoliberal capitalist society. How does each film imagine the global and local catastrophes, respectively, and how do they reflect and address our era’s collective fear and anxiety? In response to these questions, this paper highlights and discusses the disappearance of solidarity among the have-nots and moral breakdown and anomie as major symptoms of social catastrophes as represented in Bong Joon Ho’s films.Nam Lee is an Associate Professor of Film Studies at Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, Chapman University in Southern California. She received her Ph.D. in Critical Studies from the School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California. Before joining the academia, she has worked as a film critic and print journalist, writing film reviews and feature articles for JoongAng Daily News in Seoul, Korea. Her research interests include studies of filmmakers as creative agents, textual and contextual politics of film, women’s filmmaking, and South Korean cinema. She has published articles and book chapters on the 1980s South Korean cinema and authored The Films of Bong Joon Ho (2020, Rutgers University Press). The series is free and open to the public and will take place virtually over Zoom.
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