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Nationalism in Korean Cinema Essay

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Updated: Sep 20th, 2019


The term nationalism has a wide base of meaning. It could mean a person’s commitment to his or her country, the idea of existence and recognition of individual nations or even a move to acquire independence of a nation from external forces.

Peppermint Candy was a film produced in Korea in the year 1999 that directly expressed the history of South Korea. This paper seeks to discuss nationalism in that Korean cinema. The paper will, with reference to the film, Peppermint Candy, look into elements of nationalism, figures and characters as well as the Korean history.

The film: Peppermint Candy

The film is an expression of the history of South Korean. It represents a society that existed in a time of revolutionary developments in the country. During this period of time, that majorly covers the second half of the twentieth century; the environment was characterized by extensive changes that included political and economic transformations that were transmitted to social lives of South Koreans. The film starts by a suicidal move by Yongho who jumped and crushed on a train.

The film’s set up is a reflective one that takes audience back to events in the Yongho’s life experiences that could be seen to have probably resulted in his self destructive nature. As Yongho attempts his suicide mission, he makes the exclamation that he needs to go back, an expression that could possibly represent his past encounters in life.

The film then takes the audience, through flash backs, to events of Yongho’s life. As illustrated, these scenes included time frames such as “spring 1999, summer 1994, spring 1987, autumn 1984, may 1980 and autumn 1979” (Class notes 9).

The scene in the year 1999 depicts a man in his early forties who is jobless. He has been through a lot of frustrations in his life that caused him almost, if not all, that a man can value in life. He is for example presented in the film as a man who was previously married and was financially stable with a good civil job. He is however a victim of time that had robbed him of all these things.

The film then transcends to the year 1994, in which Yongho’s private life is illuminated. He was at this time running a business that dealt with furniture and at the same time a business man in the stock market. His social life is, however, troubled as both his wife and he are involved in affairs outside their marriage. These could have been illustrations of social frustrations that were experienced by the South Korean society during this time set up.

The next flashback takes the audience to the year 1987 when Yongho is a detective. He is also just married though he is involved in extra marital affairs. In the course of his duty as a police officer, he arrest citizens and in the process tortures one by the name Myongsik in attempt to maintain order in the society that is marred with protests.

A further backward step in time reveals the character in the year 1984 in which he left the military service and was registered in the department of police. He is at this moment portrayed to have lost his innocence and is for example identified as violent. It is at this time that he marries Hongja.

His violent attitude could be attributed to the military involvement that was compulsory in the country. The 1980 scene also depicts Yongho in a military action. The flashback into 1979 is however characterized by peaceful scenes of a happy society (Class notes 108).

History of Korea

The context of the film is based on the history of South Korea with depictions of frustrating conditions that people went through. The film, for example, reflects the military rule in the country that witnessed a lot of undemocratic processes and vast violation of human rights. The military reign that was established through a coup in the year 1961, for example, saw vast arrests of the political class and civil society activists.

The media was significantly suppressed with a total ban of the print media for more than one decade. A six year period then followed when the country experienced vast development in political and economic sectors. The political stability was however threatened in the year 1971 with Park’s declaration of his presidency and his introduction of dictatorship harsh rule which was characterized by undemocratic legislations.

The reign of Park was then terminated following his assassination in the year 1979. The country, however, established its economic stability which has been on positive growth since the late 1960s. The military rule enlisted protests that were dominated by college students and activists, who were suppressed through arrests and torture in which a college student is reported to have died.

Further protests during this period led to a transition of power to an election that was held in the year 1987 after abolition of some dictatorial rules. Further transition led to the election of the country’s first civilian president in the year 1993. The country’s economic history was in the years 1997 and 1998 affected by a crisis that saw increased unemployment cases that was reflected in the film (Class notes 108).


The story line of the film together with considered history of South Korea reveals a great deal of nationalism. In Soyoung’s review of the film, the situation of in the film is given a direct correspondence to what happened in South Korea. The country according to Soyoung, was a victim of the neocolonialism that was the effect of the need by the United States and the Soviet Union to have military control over countries of the world following the events of the cold war.

These external forces thus promoted military regimes for use in the cold war. The consequence to South Korea was then a developed military rule that was quite oppressive to its people. The nationalism aspect is thus expressed through the rise of the citizens to deliver their country out of this military control that represented foreign interest.

Demonstration carried out by college students, as depicted in the film, against undemocratic processes, the fights that they launched with the aim of putting to end military regimes that acted as colonialist to South Korea was an absolute move to liberalize the country and establishing freedom and democratic processes in the country. Soyoung further explained that the occurrences of military oppression and torture as represented in the film were actual happenings that South Koreans went through (Soyoung 77).

The war to liberalize South Korea was evident from as early as the year 1949 when the then oppressive regime moved to counter citizen’s protest to have a free and democratic country with a democratically elected government.

Civilians, activists and political leaders were arrested in their fight to establish a better government system for their country. In the year 1987, for example, protests by students which led to arrests and even the death of a student were moves for liberalization. The film was thus a direct representation of the history of the country with respect to the fight for better governance (Class notes 108).


Quite a number of characters are represented in collective terms in the film to directly reflect on the South Korea society in the time frame of the considered twenty years. Yongho as a character is used as a representation of the forces that were used by the military government. Students, civil society and the political class are another group of character in the Korean history that was equivalently represented in the film.

Another set of characters is the government leaders over time of the military and the democratic regimes. The presidents considered from Rhee to Lee-bak are thus key figures in the history Korean nationalism process (Class notes 108). The general suffering of the group of students, civil society and politicians is a direct expression of “the wound and the voice” as explained by Tasso (Tasso 3).


The film Peppermint was a direct representation of the history of South Korea in its second face of nationalism. The history that reveals military oppression of citizen led to a series of moves that were characterized by demonstrations by groups of citizens that endured torture by the military government to ensure transition to democratically elected government system. This is symbolically expressed in the film by the death of Yongho who represented the oppressive regime.

Works Cited

Class notes. Nationalism in Korean Cinema. (MS word notes provided by customer).

Soyoung, Kim. Do not include me in your “us”: Peppermint candy and the politics of difference. (Notes provided by customer).

Tasso, Torquato. Introduction: the wound and the voice. (Notes provided by customer).

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1. IvyPanda. "Nationalism in Korean Cinema." September 20, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nationalism-in-korean-cinema/.


IvyPanda. "Nationalism in Korean Cinema." September 20, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nationalism-in-korean-cinema/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Nationalism in Korean Cinema." September 20, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nationalism-in-korean-cinema/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Nationalism in Korean Cinema'. 20 September.

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