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  • A Day in the Life of Kubo the Film Critic (P’yŏngnon’ga Kubo-ssi ŭi iril)1
  • Josie Sohn (bio)

A Day in the Life of Kubo the Film Critic (2009) is a serial of unfinished short stories written by a university student and featured in A Short Love for Film (P’illŭm e kwanhan tchalbŭn sarang),2 a not-for-profit film magazine produced by university students and young professionals in Seoul. As the title suggests, these vignettes are an adaptation of A Day in the Life of Kubo the Novelist (1934), written by Pak T’aewŏn, which has been adapted many times in literary and other genres.

The new Kubo is particularly noteworthy in its parody of the contemporary film culture shared by young cinephiles living in Seoul. I suggest, in fact, that Kubo the film critic, though not a university student himself, is a veritable alter ego of today’s young cinephiles. Like the critic in the narrative, who cannot land a stable job, many are fragile neoliberal subjects whose cosmopolitan tastes and knowledge of world cinema do not [End Page 279] translate readily into economic stability. Kubo the Film Critic, in short, can be appreciated as a fictional embodiment of young cinephiles of the “88-manwŏn generation”3 who are economically insecure and burdened by the intense competition of South Korean society today.

This is not to say, however, that the recent adaptation makes no reference to the original. Following the translation, I consider, first, how the text critiques the pedantic culture of cinephiles and education-driven South Korean society by employing film theory in a manner that differs strikingly from how the original Kubo employs literary and philosophical discourses. I also address the ways in which Kubo the Film Critic signals the emergence of a generation fluent in visual or cinematic language by transforming the writerly text of Kubo the Novelist into a cinematic one. In Kubo the Film Critic, the reader can experience a cinematic vision and pacing that differ significantly from the original.

In my translation of Kubo the Film Critic, I have made every effort to preserve the format, style, and language of the original text because of their significance for the tone and spirit of the narrative.4 A faithful translation of cryptic words and run-on sentences, for example, reflects how intentionally difficult these stories are to read in the original language. Wherever applicable, I have glossed my translation choices in the footnotes. The following is the first two episodes in the unfinished three-part series published from January to March of 2009.5 [End Page 280]

A Day in the Life of Kubo the Film Critic (評論家)6

Written by An Sŏngyong (former staff writer)

Episode 1, “Metropolitan ‘Ŏ-bu-ŏ-bu’”

As the year 2008 drew to a close, on a morning a few days before the end of December, Kubo, a film critic, awoke from sleep. Despite the different alarm clocks going off simultaneously in three or four households, he felt nostalgic for sounds like those of magpies and temple bells, like those he used to hear on holiday mornings when he stayed at the head house7 in the countryside. However, as Kubo brushed his teeth he asked, “Have I ever lived in the countryside?” and thought himself strange for longing for such things since he had lived in the city all his life. Those who live in the city have idealized images of rural life, each his or her own.8 Kubo, too, had his own mental images of rural landscapes that he absorbed from television. Having heard the magpie’s call for the first time in a Rural Diary9 episode as a child, he indulged in wishful thinking that a magpie might fly in from a nonexistent hometown. He left home without eating breakfast and was already lighting a cigarette the moment the number on the elevator changed from 2 to 1. Once the elevator doors opened, he puffed hastily at his cigarette and slipped out of the building. As Kubo walked the twenty steps or so from the elevator to the front entrance of the building, three residents...


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