Abstract

For South Korean filmmakers and cinemagoers, the Korean War (1950–53)—and the broader issue of the North/South divide—has been one of the most enduring and appealing subjects. Contemporary films on this topic articulate the tragic dimensions of the national division and suggest that war itself is the true enemy, emphasizing that the conflict still has a meaningful impact on people’s lives. Bombastic blockbusters such as Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War (T’aekǔkki hwinallimyŏ, 2004) serve as a “prosthetic memory” of the event for younger audiences, while more contemplative and artistic films like Welcome to Dongmakgol (Welk’ŏm t’u Tongmakkol, 2005) present a starkly anti-American ideology, blaming US intervention for shattering any chance at true peace between a divided Korea. Yet, while films about the Korean War have proliferated for sixty years, filmmakers seem even more haunted by the post-Armistice atmosphere of military tension. Both during and after the period when the South Korean government enforced strict censorship and was stridently anticommunist, filmmakers have frequently turned to the figure of the female North Korean spy to represent both the danger and the tragedy of division. This article, therefore, traces the historical development and ideological subtext of Korean War films, and, to a greater extent, the postwar espionage thrillers, focusing, in particular, on the role of gender and filmmaking at two important moments: the immediate postwar period and the revival of South Korean cinema at the turn of the century.

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