- Tourist Distractions: Traveling and Feeling in Transnational Hallyu Cinema by Youngmin Choe
“Hallyu-lujah!” (p. 8) is what departments of Korean studies around the globe might want to shout, given the huge numbers of students who have recently decided to devote four of their best years in life to the study of Korean language and culture thanks to their interest in hallyu. Hallyu, or the Korean Wave(s), first broke in the late 1990s, with additional surges in 2003 and 2012. Hallyu is generally associated with globally distributed South Korean television series and pop music, but can be broadly considered to include all exported South Korean cultural products. Korean cinema is not generally considered to be a driving force behind any Korean Wave, and it played a relatively minor role in this cultural phenomenon compared to the overwhelming impact of K-Drama and K-Pop. Besides Kyung Hyun Kim’s Virtual Hallyu: Korean Cinema of the Global Era (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), Tourist Distractions is one of the first monographs exclusively dedicated to hallyu cinema.
Given the vagueness of its definition, Choe intends to transform the catch-all term hallyu into a “bona fide critical term” (p. 7) by proclaiming travel as a central [End Page 192] characteristic of hallyu cinema. “Travel” in this study does not only refer to the representation of travel in the films, but also to the travel caused by the films, or screen tourism. Choe emphasizes that travel in hallyu cinema functions not to attract, but to distract the spectator from the familiar. In so doing, it invites self-reflection. She invites the reader on an affective journey through hallyu cinema arranged according to three categories, which she confusingly calls “emotions” or “affects” (p. 26): first, “intimacy” between Korea and Japan; second, “amity” between Korea and China; and third, “remembrance” in relations between South and North Korea. Each of the three parts is again divided into two chapters. The even-numbered chapters mirror the “emotions” stirred by the films of the early Korean Wave, while the uneven-numbered chapters reflect how these “emotions” are fleshed out in later films.
The first part introduces transnational “intimacy” in hallyu cinema as a means for reconciliation between Japan and Korea. The first chapter posits pornography as a kind of transnational “virtual tourism” (p. 43) in Park Chul-soo’s Family Cinema (Kazoku Cinema, 1998) and E. J-yong’s Asako in Ruby Shoes (Sunaebo, 2000), two of the earliest sanctioned film collaborations between Japan and South Korea. The second chapter foregrounds “affective tourism” and explores how films like Hur Jin-ho’s April Snow (Oech’ul, 2005) and One Fine Spring Day (Pomnal-ǔnkanda, 2001) self-consciously move people “emotionally to tears” and “geographically to travel” (p. 84). If pornography in the earlier films reflects how political reconciliation in the late 1990s tended to be misunderstood as economic liberalization based on mutual consumption, “affective tourism” in Hur Jin-ho’s films demonstrates how the “spectator-cum-tourists” (p. 72) feel invited not just by the denationalized locations of the film itself, but also by the feelings associated with them.
The second part revolves around “amity,” especially regarding the relations between China and Korea. Choe first introduces Kim Sung-su’s martial arts epic Musa (2001), a Korea-China coproduction shot in China, and its accompanying “making of” documentary (MOD) as an allegory for the increasing cultural and economic exchange between China and Korea. She demonstrates how the film’s diegetic travel paralleled the film crew’s travel as depicted in the documentary and concludes that the hardships of travel resulted in provisional denationalized feelings of compassion for each other. These temporary feelings of solidarity gain more permanence in a later filmic adaptation of Hwang Sun-wǒn’s “A Shower” (“Sonagi, 1953), a Korean short story about a girl and a boy who are surprised by a rain shower and seek shelter, which ultimately ends with the death of the girl. Daisy (Teiji, 2006), written by the Korean hallyu filmmaker Kwak Jae-yong, directed...