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Postmemory DMZ in South Korean Cinema, 1999–2003

From: Journal of Korean Studies
Volume 18, Number 2, Fall 2013
pp. 315-336 | 10.1353/jks.2013.0013



This article argues that the symbolic resonance of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) has changed over the years and looks specifically at the way in which it is represented in South Korean cinema in the later 1990s and early 2000s. This period is characterized by three overlapping phenomena: (1) the increase of political contact between North and South Korea instantiated by the “Sunshine Policy”; (2) the emergence of an Asianization discourse that downplayed South Korea’s relationship to the West in favor of a concern for inter-Asian relations; and (3) the rise of popular South Korean cinema, particularly in the form of blockbusters. A reading of the DMZ in the films Joint Security Area (JSA, Kongdong kyŏngbi kuyŏk chei esŭ ei, 2000), Yesterday (Yesŭt’ŏdei, 2002), and 2009: Lost Memories (2009: Rosŭt’ŭmemorijŭ, 2002), suggests that the history of the Korean War comes to inform South Korea’s emerging partnership with China and Japan in the newly emergent discourse of Asianization, and the DMZ becomes a way to think about the new figurative borders that define these new relationships. The DMZ, in other words, ceases to function strictly as a historical site, with a specific material past, but rather as a figurative lens through which South Korea can imagine other relationships.

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