This essay proposes to examine three of the perhaps most important films in Im Kwon-Taek’s career, Chokpo (Genealogy, 1978), Sŏp’yŏnje (1993), and Ch’wihwasŏn (Painted Fire, 2002) with the emphasis on three male protagonists: Tani, Yubong, and Chang Sŭngŏp, respectively. This essay explores how the symbolic and physical deaths these three characters suffer in these films, and how Im Kwon-Taek, through these quintessential male protagonists, seeks to constitute his unique national subject. In an attempt to articulate that the national subject cultivated by Im Kwon-Taek must be perceived as a relational term that constantly refers and defers to the presence of the national other, the main theoretical framework draws from Foucault’s concept of “crisis heterotopia.” This essay begins with a discussion on a Japanese character, Tani, the earliest form of national subject in Im Kwon-Taek’s 1978 film Chokpo, an adaptation from Kajiyama Toshiyuki’s short story “Zokufu,” set in the late colonial period when Japan urged Korea to abandon its own identity and instead adopt Japanese names, language, and values. I propose that the nascent form of Im Kwon-Taek’s nation-ness already had its transnational roots that are not only embedded in the complicated condition of naisen ittai (squashing of the two bodies of Korea and Japan into one), but also the combined effort by Japanese and Koreans to self-reflexively come to terms with their scarred pasts. The lamentation of the vanishing Korean identity surely is one of the themes continually projected in Im’s works since the late 1970s—of course Sŏp’yŏnje and Ch’wihwasŏn being prime examples among many—but this melancholic minjok, this essay insists, must be registered as a fulfillment of a modest, averted, and even transnational gaze of the camera in order for Im to create new cinematic language of a post-traumatic nation since the late 1970s.


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pp. 231-248
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