“Happy Seoul for foreigners”: scenes from multicultural life in South Korea
Jin Suh JIRN
Abstract Since the mid-2000s, multiculturalism has become a prominent buzzword in South Korea as the nation, which was founded on the myth of a single bloodline, tries to come to terms with its growing foreign population. This article looks at the figure of the industrial migrant worker who, despite being ignored by the mainstream media, has appeared in a handful of independently produced Korean films, including three—Bandhobi (2009), Hello, Stranger (2007), Where Is Ronny? (2008)—that will be discussed here in detail. These films, as I will show, not only provide an alternative perspective on immigrant life in Seoul and other parts of the country, which is more often than not represented through the privileged world of the Western “expat,” but also reveal the underlying tensions and contradictions in Korea’s approach to multiculturalism as it tries to regulate diversity through the fiat of legislative policy while ignoring the moral and political choices confronting its citizens as they decide whether or not to befriend the other.
Keywords: South Korean cinema, multiculturalism, migrant laborers, urbanization
Jin Suh Jirn, who received his PhD in Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz, teaches in the Center for Foreign Language Education at Yuhan University.