This essay examines two films, Modern Boy (dir. Ji-woo Jeong, South Korea, 2008) and Private Eye (dir. Dae-min Park, South Korea, 2009), both of which depict Seoul in the 1930s—the period during which Korean colonial modernity was fully shaped—and in so doing draw contemporary Koreans' attention to the vibrant facade of the city, a long-forgotten facet of the dark colonial era. It stresses that these films, through their regeneration of lost cultural imagery on the screen, evoke a certain sensibility that is commensurable with guilt. For instance, in a climactic scene in Modern Boy, the male hero walks out of the Chosun Government-General Building and passes the camera. On-screen, as the hero exits from view, the colonial building gradually looms large behind him—beautifully reconstructed in the center of the city, with its iconic aura fully retrieved. At this moment, viewers are awakened to the unfortunate history of Japanese colonialism and thus experience a feeling of regret or melancholy for the past. This cinematic encounter with the past also resonates with cultural imagery of Seoul as a forgotten colonial city that has reemerged across Korean society, especially in worn-out photographs, cinematic reconstructions of lost urban scenery, and even recent repairs of ancient palaces and streets, and suggests how the discursive space that is Seoul accommodates the negativity that buttresses the historical narrative in Korea.
Kyoung-Lae Kang; Kyung-Sung: Cinematic Memories of the Colonial Past in Contemporary Korea. Camera Obscura 1 December 2015; 30 (3 (90)): 27–59. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-3160641
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