Cold War and the contested identity formation of Korean filmmakers: on Boxes of Death and Kim Ki-yŏng’s USIS Films
Han Sang KIM
Abstract The definition of the Korean national cinema in the course of modern and contemporary history of South Korea has provoked controversy. This article examines the negotiations in the identity formation of Korean filmmakers examining specific objects from years of reconstruction following the Korean War. It pays attention to the time when state-building and nation-building became combined enduring heterogeneity of this process. Kim Ki-yŏng’s films depict such characters. His public information short films reflect the legacy of American war films. However, they also contain self-conscious moments when the director refuses to be identified as a mere successor of American documentary filmmakers. Kim’s first commercial film, Boxes of Death (1955), an anti-communist thriller, shows great influence from Hollywood, but also with a strong auteurist impulse, theatrical tradition, and the Japanese colonial legacy. However, the most important aspect is the standing presence of America and the USIS-Korea in the identity of Kim Ki-yŏng and his film. American agencies intervened in the work of Korean filmmakers in the interest of “Free World” bloc-building, and those filmmakers used such agencies to obtain resources. The heterogeneity in the process of the subject formation in Korean national cinema was one common characteristic of many filmmakers of the post-Korean War era.
Keywords: Kim Ki-yŏng (Kim Ki-young), USIS-Korea, identity negotiation, national cinema, public information film, South Korea, Cold War.
Han Sang Kim received a PhD degree in Sociology from Seoul National University in Sociology. His dissertation is on the film propaganda activities of USIS-Korea and the negotiation for defining a national identity in South Korea during the Cold War. He worked as a cinematheque programmer for Korean Film Archive for four years and later as a visiting fellow for Harvard-Yenching Institute for a year and a half. He is the author of the book Sightseeing Modernization of the Fatherland: “‘Paldogangsan’,” 10 Years of Propaganda Series for Park Chung-Hee Regime [조국근대화를유람하기: 박정희정권홍보드라이브, <팔도강산> 10년] (Korean Film Archive, 2008).