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Split Screen Korea

Shin Sang-ok and Postwar Cinema

Steven Chung

Publication Year: 2014

Shin Sang-ok (1926–2006) was arguably the most important Korean filmmaker of the postwar era. Over seven decades, he directed or produced nearly 200 films, including A Flower in Hell (1958) and Pulgasari (1985), and his career took him from late-colonial Korea to postwar South and North Korea to Hollywood. Notoriously crossing over to the North in 1978, Shin made a series of popular films under Kim Jong-il before seeking asylum in 1986 and resuming his career in South Korea and Hollywood.

In Split Screen Korea, Steven Chung illuminates the story of postwar Korean film and popular culture through the first in-depth account in English of Shin’s remarkable career. Shin’s films were shaped by national division and Cold War politics, but Split Screen Korea finds surprising aesthetic and political continuities across not only distinct phases in modern South Korean history but also between South and North Korea. These are unveiled most dramatically in analysis of the films Shin made on opposite sides of the DMZ. Chung explains how a filmmaking sensibility rooted in the South Korean market and the global style of Hollywood could have been viable in the North.

Combining close readings of a broad range of films with research on the industrial and political conditions of Korean film production, Split Screen Korea shows how cinematic styles, popular culture, and intellectual discourse bridged the divisions of postwar Korea, raising new questions about the implications of political partition.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction: Visible Ruptures, Invisible Borders

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pp. 1-20

Amid a life saturated with the production of images and exposure within them, one photograph stands out as an exceptionally illuminating window onto Shin Sang-ok’s work and its place in twentieth-century Korea (Figure 1).1 The picture was taken in the summer of 1984 and Shin, at fifty-eight, is arguably in his prime as a maker of films. ...

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1 The Century’s Illuminations: The Enlightenment Mode in Korean Cinema

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pp. 21-46

I want to begin with what might be called a diachronic para-history of periods of filmmaking in Korea that both describes and exceeds the bounds of Shin Sang-ok’s career. I do so partly because the following chapters in this book treat Shin’s work in synchronic stages, mapping it against a range of contemporaneous discourses and events. ...

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2 Regimes within Regimes: Film and Fashion in the Korean 1950s

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pp. 47-82

The topos of Im Ŭng-sik’s iconic 1956 photograph “Early Summer, Midopa” is apparently clear: the weight of traditional Korean cultural practice is giving way to the lightness of Western lifestyle (Figure 2). The keenness of what Roland Barthes called the photo’s punctum—that is, the deeply affective register of an image— ...

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3 Authorship and the Location of Cinema: In the Region of Shin Films

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pp. 83-128

One of the predominant themes in Shin Sang-ok’s own writings as well as the published interviews and scholarship on his work is the tension between the concept of the filmmaker as artist and the vicissitudes of the filmmaker as entrepreneur. On the one hand, Shin seems to have granted the existence of creative and independent authorship in Korea. ...

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4 Melodrama and the Scene of Development

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pp. 129-158

The political and generic heterogeneity of Shin Sang-ok’s films should be unsurprising when we take into consideration that he was initiated into filmmaking in the tumultuous years of liberation from nearly a half-decade of colonial rule, shot his first films in the throes of a horrific and nearly total war, built his industry-leading studio within the sphere of a militarized developmentalist state, ...

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5 “It’s All Fake”: Shin Sang-ok’s North Korean Revisions

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pp. 159-204

Following the collapse of his studios in the late 1970s in the South, Shin Sang-ok crossed over to North Korea in 1978. Until his return in 1986, he established a sprawling studio through which he directed seven films, produced at least ten others, and laid plans for a number of projects, most of which were eventually realized. ...

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Conclusion: Postdevelopment Pictures

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pp. 205-212

The tumultuous years following his return from North Korea in 1986 saw Shin Sang-ok bring his career to a close in the same way that it had begun: shuttling between nations, embroiled in controversy, living for the thrill of watching, planning, and making films. But before he could again, in the Korean parlance, pick up the megaphone, he would have to pass through a gauntlet of intelligence investigations, ...

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pp. 213-214

The debts I have incurred writing this book will be impossible to enumerate fully, not least because I do not know where to mark a starting point for the learning that has informed its writing. Unequivocally, however, I owe heartiest thanks to Kyung Hyun Kim, whose sometimes jocular but always dependable intellectual and practical support over the past decade has been a vital foundation for my life and research. ...


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pp. 215-236

Shin Sang-ok Filmography

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pp. 237-240


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pp. 241-252


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pp. 253-262

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About the Author

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Steven Chung is assistant professor in the Department of East Asian Studies at Princeton University.

E-ISBN-13: 9781452941509
E-ISBN-10: 1452941505
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816691340

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2014