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South Korean Golden Age Melodrama

Gender, Genre, and National Cinema

edited by Kathleen McHugh and Nancy Abelmann

Film History, Gender, World Cinema

Published: March 2005
ISBN: 9780814332535
Pages: 272 Size: 6 x 9
Illustrations: 18 b&w illus.

This collection is a provocative read. The authors explore an interesting period of Korean cinematic history that is informative and little know by Americans.

— Korean Quarterly

Immediately following the Korean War, South Korea’s film industry flourished with vibrant local production of high-quality films. Characterized by its stunning melodramas, this "Golden Age" of South Korean cinema produced a body of work as historically, aesthetically, and politically significant as that of other well-known national film movements such as Italian Neorealism, French New Wave, and New German Cinema. Conditions that fostered South Korea’s cinematic Golden Age were short lived; a brief period of intense poverty and struggle—but also creative freedom—was ended by the dictatorship of Park Chung Hee in the late 1960s. Strong international interest in South Korea’s current film renaissance make an analysis of this enormously underappreciated cinematic tradition long overdue.

South Korean Golden Age Melodrama is the first English-language book to examine this era of remarkable activity, covering the specifics of the Golden Age as well as the influences it has had on contemporary South Korean film and television. Given the compressed, ambiguous, and fundamentally transnational social and political dramas of South Korea’s history, South Korean Golden Age Melodrama addresses the widespread appeal of particular film modes and aesthetics, especially that of the melodrama. These essays also examine genre in relation to articulations of nation and constructions of gender in Golden Age films and how the nation manifests itself in persistent gender and genre trouble.

Combining textual analysis, reception, and historical/cultural detail, South Korean Golden Age Melodrama skillfully renders the complexity of the Golden Age. Contributors cite both domestic and foreign films to demonstrate the generic and transnational impact of Golden Age cinema, sometimes calling into question the very integrity of "national cinema" in light of the workings of a transcultural cinema sphere during that era. With nine chapters, sustained treatments of nine canonical Golden Age films, together with extended consideration of contemporary film and television, this volume offers a rich contribution to the theorization of film genre and national cinema and their relationship to gender.

Kathleen McHugh is associate professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is author of several books, including American Domesticity: From How-To Manual to Hollywood Melodrama (Oxford, 1999).Nancy Abelmann is associate professor of anthropology and East Asian studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is author of several books, most recently The Melodrama of Mobility: Women, Class, and Talk in Contemporary South Korea (University of Hawai’i Press, 2003).

Contributors Include:
Nancy Abelmann, Jinsoo An, Eunsun Cho, Hye Seung Chung, David Scott Diffrient, Soyoung Kim, Kyung Hyun Kim, Keehyeung Lee, Kathleen McHugh

This collection is a provocative read. The authors explore an interesting period of Korean cinematic history that is informative and little know by Americans."

– Korean Quarterly

South Korean Golden Age Melodrama: Gender, Genre, and National Cinema, jointly edited by a film studies scholar and an anthropologist specialized in Korea, is a significant step towards the recognition of South Korea Golden Age Melodrama outside of its home country. It not only introduces many of the then popular and influential movies, it provides the reader with a good context in film studies and Korean social (and cinema) history. The volume is moreover impeccably edited and possesses sufficient scope in subject matter to be attractive to readers with diverse interests. If you are interested in melodrama, Korean social history, cross-cultural studies or related subjects, South Korean Golden Age Melodrama: Gender, Genre, and National Cinema should be on your shelves."

– Acta Koreana

Overall South Korean Golden Age Melodrama offers insightful and useful information hardly known to scholars, Western as well as Korean. This book significantly contributes to Korean cinema studies. Genre and melodrama as well as gender studies."

– Quarterly Review of Film & Video

Just when South Korean cinema has grabbed the global spotlight as the most successful non-Hollywood cinema, South Korean Golden Age Melodrama opens our eyes to its history. And when melodrama itself is being rethought as a historically and culturally varied mode, this volume 'gets us out of the USA,' as one critic puts it, and enables us to understand melodrama as transnationally produced but always already locally specific."

– Chris Berry, Goldsmiths College, University of London