Korean Screen Cultures

Interrogating Cinema, TV, Music and Online Games

by Andrew David Jackson (Volume editor) Colette Balmain (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection XIX, 330 Pages


The «Korean Wave», or Hallyu phenomenon, has brought South Korean popular culture to the global population. Studies on Korean visual culture have therefore often focused on this aspect, leaving North Korea sidelined and often considered in a negative light because of its political regime. Korean Screen Cultures sets out to redress this imbalance with a broad selection of essays spanning both North and South as well as different methodological approaches, from ethnographic and audience studies to cultural materialist readings. The first section of the book, «The South», highlights popular media – including online gaming and television drama – and concentrates on the margins, in which the very nature of «The South» is contested. «The South and the North» examines North Korea as an ideological other in South Korean popular culture as well as discussing North Korean cinema itself. «The Global» offers new approaches to Korean popular culture beyond national borders and includes work on K-pop and Korean television drama. This book is a vital addition to existing scholarship on Korean popular culture, offering a unique view by providing an imaginary unification of the two Koreas negotiated through local and transnational popular culture flows.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Acknowledgements
  • Julian Stringer - Foreword
  • Andrew David Jackson and Colette Balmain - Introduction
  • Part I The South
  • Introduction to Part I
  • Jacob Ki Nielsen - 1 It’s a Roughneck World: Male Solidarity across Generations, Classes and Races in the TV Drama Get Up
  • Ji-Yoon An - 2 Blood is Thicker than Water, or is It? Depictions of ‘Alternative Families’ in Contemporary Korean Cinema
  • Chloé Paberz - 3 The Narrative of the Misfit among South Korean Game Developers
  • Chi-Yun Shin - 4 Locating Cosmopolitanism in the Films of E J-Yong
  • Part II The South and the North
  • Introduction to Part II
  • Jake Bevan - 5 ‘Arirang’: Addressing the Nation in South and North Korea
  • Stephen J. Epstein and Christopher K. Green - 6 Now on My Way to Meet Who? South Korean Television, North Korean Refugees and the Dilemmas of Representation
  • Immanuel Kim - 7 Comedy and Ideology in My Family’s Problem
  • Andrew David Jackson - 8 DPRK Film, Order No. 27 and the Acousmatic Voice
  • Hana Lee - 9 How Are Historic Events Remembered? North Korean War Films on the Inchon Landing Operation
  • Part III The Global
  • Introduction to Part III
  • Mark Morris - 10 Ch’unhyang at War: Rediscovering Franco-North Korean Film Moranbong (1959)
  • Jessica Conte - 11 Framing South Korea and Vietnam’s Past and Present in Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait
  • Juyeon Bae - 12 Searching for Traces of Absence: Korean Diaspora in Contemporary Korean Cinema
  • Cedarbough T. Saeji - 13 Cosmopolitan Strivings and Racialisation: The Foreign Dancing Body in Korean Popular Music Videos
  • Marion Schulze - 14 Inappropriate Desire and Heterosexuality Negotiated: The Case of Women K-Drama Watchers
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

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Figure 1: Family Ties: Ch’ae-yŏn and her boyfriend’s meal with Mi-ra and Mu-sin in the third episode.

Figure 2: An example of a family meal scene from Romance Papa.

Figure 3: Family Ties: Mi-ra and Mu-shin eat in silence.

Figure 4: My Family’s Problem: The chief articulates his wife’s command in his conversation with a worker.

Figure 5: ‘Reception of the French delegation in North Korea’, 1958: from far left Claude Lanzmann, Armand Gatti, Jean-Claude Bonnardot.

Figure 6: Muoi: Legend of a Portrait: Sŏ-yŏn’s gaze settles on Muoi.

Figure 7: Muoi: Legend of a Portrait: Yun-hŭi briefly looks at photographs telling the legend of Muoi.

Figure 8: Muoi: Legend of a Portrait: Sŏ-yŏn in front of Muoi’s house.

Figure 9: Muoi: Legend of a Portrait: Sŏ-yŏn and Yun-hŭi in front of Sŏ-yŏn’s mansion.

Figure 10: Muoi: Legend of a Portrait: Yun-hŭi and Sŏ-yŏn must bribe Ŭn-chŏng.

Figure 11: Muoi: Legend of a Portrait: ‘I’m Ŭn-chŏng. That’s my Korean name.’

Figure 12: Muoi: Legend of a Portrait: Sŏ-yŏn and Yun-hŭi prepare for a party. ← xi | xii →

Figure 13: Screen captures from Taeyang’s ‘Ringa-Linga’ dance video.

Figure 14: Screen captures from Park Jiyoon’s ‘Beep’ dance video.

Figure 15: Screen captures from TVXQ’s ‘Something’ music video.

Figure 16: Screen captures from Taeyang’s ‘Ringa-Linga’ music video.

Figure 17: Screen captures from Rain’s ‘La Song’ music video.

Figure 18: Screen captures from Gary’s ‘Shower Later’ music video.

Figure 19: Screen captures from Troublemaker’s ‘Now’ music video.

Figure 20: Screen captures from 2NE1’s ‘Come Back Home’ music video.

Figure 21: Screen captures from CN Blue’s ‘Can’t Stop’ music video.

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Table 1: List of Films in My Family’s Problem Series

Table 2: Foreign Dancing Bodies in K-pop Videos (8.2013–6.2014)

| xv →


This collection would never have been possible without significant financial, intellectual and moral support from various people and institutions. We would like to thank Professor Jae Hoon Yeon of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), whose vision and support has been essential. Thanks also to Perry Iles, Stephen Epstein, Sang Hee Choi, Julian Stringer, Chi-Yun Shin, Kyung Hyun Kim, Jane Savory, Isolde Standish and Laurel Plapp for their help. Thanks to the Korea Foundation for its support, especially to Professor Keum-Jin Yoon and Ms Sue-Na Rhie for their help and advice. Thanks to Mr Young-bin Kim, director of Come to me (Na ege ora, 1996), for permission to reproduce the image on the front cover, and for providing authorisation on behalf of Mr Choong-ryeol Im, executive producer of Seonik Films Co. Ltd, the film’s production company.

This work was supported by an Academy of Korean Studies (KSPS) Grant funded by the Korean Government (MOE) (AKS-2011-BAA-2104). Romanisation has followed the McCune-Reischauer system except where a well-established and accepted Western form of a name exists, and where Korean authors use their own spellings.

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Andrew David Jackson and Colette Balmain’s Korean Screen Cultures: Interrogating Cinema, TV, Music and Online Games is the latest volume to be published in English on the diverse and vibrant popular media of the Korean peninsula. It takes its place alongside other recent edited collections which have also helped forge the rigorous scholarly analysis of this complex and important subject: Youna Kim’s The Korean Wave: Korean Media Go Global (London: Routledge, 2013), Kyung Hyun Kim and Youngmin Choe’s The Korean Popular Culture Reader (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014) and Sangjoon Lee and Abe Mark Nornes’ Hallyu 2.0: The Korean Wave in the Age of Social Media (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015). The fact that such a wealth of material has appeared lately, encompassing the work of so many dedicated and energetic researchers, underlines Korea’s leading role as producer and consumer of audio-visual content.

The volume grows out of a series of annual conferences on Korean screen cultures instigated by Andrew David Jackson. The first of these was held in London in May 2012 and was followed by further gatherings in London (May 2013) and Sheffield (June 2014); a fourth edition took place in Copenhagen in May 2015. Such events fulfil the vital function of serving as meeting places for established and emerging academics from varied disciplines. The range of issues and approaches ventilated at such forums is well represented by the scope of the material brought together in these pages.

The fourteen chapters to be found herein emphasise the three terms of the book’s main title. Korean announces a desire to identify that which is distinct or special about media produced in the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Screen indicates an absorption in matters of multi-media convergence as well as characteristic dimensions ← xvii | xviii → of particular channels of communication. Cultures expresses a recognition of the multiple systems of ideas, beliefs and knowledge that constitute the shared bases of social action in specific historical contexts.

In contributing its share of compelling new research, Korean Screen Cultures also points towards potential topics for further debate. For a start, the meaning and definition of the keyword ‘culture’ – pluralised or otherwise – will always remain an ongoing concern for commentators engaged with Korean politics and public life. (The book’s editors place accounts of cinema, karaoke and television alongside considerations of e-games, the internet and music videos – forms that are proving to be of intense fascination to younger audiences.) Similarly, the question of where to delineate the geographical and imaginative contours of ‘Korea’ is here focused around sections on, respectively, the South, the South and the North, and the Global. But other ways of thinking about the location of Korean popular culture may of course be envisaged, and one looks forward to future publications on, say, the Local, the Trans-Local, the Trans-Regional and the Trans-Urban.

Beyond this, I would like to proselytise, if I may, about one possible future intellectual preoccupation on behalf of my own specialised research interest, namely, the ‘screen’. Screen Studies is by now a well-established critical endeavour devoted to the scrutiny of the kinds of multi-media arrangements with which this book is concerned. However, in the interests of scholarly exactitude, and for the sake of argument, it is worth examining this topic from an acute angle.

What happens to our comprehension of the subject under discussion if ‘screen’ is substituted by or supplemented with the word ‘stage’? (I am not just thinking here in the limited sense of dramatic recitals in purpose-built theatres, although this aspect is certainly relevant). After all, aside from being displayed on a four-sided vertical blank surface, the products of the Korean screen industries are performed for audiences on floors that may or may not be raised off the ground. Films, television dramas, music videos and some internet programmes (as well as radio broadcasts) are recorded on a ‘sound stage’; other pop videos reproduce public concerts; karaoke is a performance; games and other digital phenomena are delivered via ‘platforms’. While reading this wide-ranging and stimulating ← xviii | xix → volume, one begins to perceive that the challenge of reframing (restaging?) understandings of the screen could be tasked to innovative accounts of contemporary Korean media. Perhaps, then, there is value too in striving to interrogate the staging of Korean screen cultures, or the screening of Korean stage cultures.

| 1 →



In 2014, a cyber-attack on Sony Pictures led to a number of as-yet unreleased feature films appearing on online download sites. The ostensible cause was the Sony Pictures’ film The Interview (dir: Rogen and Goldberg, 2014) about an assassination attempt on the leader of North Korea (or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK), Kim Jong-un. When FBI investigations traced the cyber-attack to DPRK hackers, a DPRK spokesman denied involvement, condemning the USA as ‘hostile’ (BBC News 2014). The incident reveals important aspects of media understanding concerning the two Koreas. South Korea’s Hallyu culture – a new wave of film, popular music, TV drama and online gaming – has brought the country significant international attention and has instilled much national pride. The hacking incident brought the DPRK considerable exposure, too, although the exposure was negative and unrelated to any DPRK cultural output. The cyber-attacks underline the fact that in terms of popular culture South Korea attracts western media attention for the right reasons while the DPRK attracts attention for all the wrong ones: South Korea’s creativity, innovation and profitability is pitted against the DPRK’s belligerence and propensity for destruction, and while South Korean screen cultural product is acclaimed globally, DPRK ouput remains an unknown quantity.

Screen culture – cinema, TV, pop music videos and computer gaming – plays a vitally important political function relating to the continued division of the Korean peninsula into two mutually antagonistic states. The North and the South both claim to speak for the Korean minjok or people and their history and culture (Gills 1996: xix), and although the contrasting trajectories of the two states since the Soviet collapse may have settled for many the question of which Korea has the most political and economic legitimacy, inter-state rivalry continues (Ibid.). Within this context of ← 1 | 2 → competition and geopolitical tension, screen culture has occupied an important place in state-legitimising discourses.

Over the years, DPRK political leaders and government representatives and researchers in South Korea have understood Korean screen culture in terms of its perceived political impact across the border. The recent Hallyu phenomenon has brought South Korea significant international attention, but for many South Koreans, the greatest achievement of Hallyu is its more recent penetration of the DPRK, a view that is reflected in media reports (Channel A News 2013). Thanks to less stringent controls following the 1990s DPRK economic collapse, opportunities have grown for the spread of South Korean products, smuggled in on DVDs across the Chinese border, allowing TV dramas, films and pop videos to be consumed in secret. The potential sanctions remain considerable, but northern defectors report continuing and unabated consumption (Lankov 2013: 225).

South Korean cultural commentators and government officials argue that this consumption of southern popular culture will instigate change in the DPRK. When confronted by images of their neighbour’s wealth and freedom, North Korean citizens will realise the illegitimacy of their own regime and rebel. Where years of diplomatic efforts, sweeteners, incentives, sanctions and threats have failed, K-pop and K-drama will succeed, bringing regime collapse followed by reunification on South Korean terms. DPRK observers like Andrei Lankov agree that if North Koreans had a true sense of life in the South, regime collapse would occur sooner rather than later. Lankov (2013) notes that the transfer of western imagery via screen culture contributed significantly to the collapse of Eastern European communism. It is unclear how much consumption would have to occur before the DPRK regime fell, or why, if there has allegedly been so much consumption of imagery of South Korea in the DPRK, this collapse has not occurred already, but many believe that South Korean screen culture is a vital key to cross-border political change.

As unlikely as it might seem now, given the impoverishment of the country, a similar belief – that North Korean screen culture could effect political change south of the border – was also touted within the DPRK. In February 1966 Kim Jong-il made a speech to artists in the motion picture industry about the task of DPRK cinema. Kim Jong-il’s early speeches are ← 2 | 3 → important, because he did more than anyone to shape the course of North Korean cinema over the following twenty years.1 In his 1966 speech, Kim argued that the greatest task of filmmakers was to help effect reunification by ‘preparing strong revolutionary forces in south Korea [sic] through the education of south Korean youth and other people …’ (Kim Jong-il 1992: 117 and 125). DPRK film had two clear audiences for Kim: one within the DPRK and another across the border. A vital function of DPRK film was to awaken South Koreans to their own situation – as victims of US imperialism.2 Kim does not specify how to achieve this, or even how the films would be distributed in the South. It is also unclear whether this is still a goal of DPRK state media, especially since Kim’s speech came when the DPRK’s economy was the larger of the two. What is important is that DPRK cultural producers saw a clear goal for their output across the border, and that many now see a similar role for Hallyu.


XIX, 330
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (December)
Hallyu Korean popular culture Korean screen culture North Korea South Korea K-pop K-dramas online games Korean cinema
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. XIX, 330 pp., 1 coloured ill., 18 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Andrew David Jackson (Volume editor) Colette Balmain (Volume editor)

Andrew David Jackson is Associate Professor of Korean Studies at the University of Copenhagen. He obtained his PhD in Korean history from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has previously edited two volumes: Key Papers on Korea: Essays Celebrating 25 Years of the Centre for Korean Studies, SOAS, University of London (2013) and How East Asian Films are Reshaping National Identities (2006). Colette Balmain is Senior Lecturer in Film, TV and Media at Kingston University and specialises in East Asian cinemas and cultures. She is the editor for Directory of World Cinema: South Korea and is currently working on the second edition of her first book, Introduction to Japanese Horror Film, a monograph on South Korean horror cinema and a book on East Asian Gothic cinema.


Title: Korean Screen Cultures
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