Korea’s Premodern Past in Film

Listed under Korea 159 in UCLA Registrar, Variable Topics in Culture and Society in Korea

Korean 159 engages in the relationship of culture (art, literature, film) and society in Korea. In Winter 2020, Korean 159 will address how contemporary Korean society engages with its premodern past through the medium of film. This course will use contemporary Korean film portrayals of events in Korea’s long history as windows into how the memory of this past becomes relevant to contemporary social, political, and cultural concerns.

Course Topic Objectives and Outcomes:

Through this course, students will develop a critical and informed perspective to how history is portrayed in film media. By viewing “period films” (sagŭk) which vary from art house cinema, South Korean popular blockbusters, to North Korean propaganda, students will understand both the historical significance of the events portrayed in these films and the stakes of the past in Korea’s present. These films will demonstrate how in both South and North Korea particular messages and discussions about contemporary society are transmitted through not only film as a media form, but history as a site of controversy and critique.

Students will be trained to be sensitive consumers of media culture through an understanding of how historical film operates as a genre in the Korean context and how it uses history as a lens or framework to engage in contemporary cultural and social debate. Film will therefore also serve as a case study for how Korea’s past is part of ongoing dialogues about Korea’s present, offering students an awareness of how the discourse of history operates in Korean popular culture.

Students will also engage with these period films alongside while surviving historical documents and literary works. Comparisons between text and screen will illuminate how popular media shapes and influences historical memory. They will also be introduced to critical literature on the history of contemporary Korean film, as well as scholarly debates concerning the contemporary use of the premodern past (“medievalism”). Students will practice writing critically and analytically about the “historical film” as a genre, informed by both a historical awareness (in terms of its context of the film’s production and the period depicted) and a cultural and theoretical sensitivity to how the past becomes a part of the present.