The Golden Age of Korean cinema formed around the post-war national identity that was sharply divided. The country itself was healing from the traumatic experiences of the war and evolving its perceptions of gender, culture, and politics. The historical and political divisions essentially defined cinema. One of the most critical aspects of this age was the great emphasis on female protagonists. This resonated with the deep cultural divide that was tearing at the national identity during the Cold War tensions. The absence of men in these films represents an empty center that was the chaos of South Korean society at the time.
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The Golden Age melodramas are similar but inherently different from the Western style. Personal emotions become central to the interpersonal interaction that revolves around familial, social, and political issues. Behavior standards are based on social class rather than emotional or moral apropos. The South Korean cinema was a network of global cultural influences that sought to represent feminism in defiance of the government censure. Women are portrayed as independent, self-sustaining, and opposing traditional social structures.
The film Madame Freedom was the most precise and revolutionary example of such tactics. It presented a juxtaposition of values in regards to social space, gender, and socio-historic temporalities (McHugh, 2005). There is a strong critique of the Western lifestyle and leisure that the protagonist seeks to adopt. However, the female character fails, which seeks to represent the dangers for Korea being pressured by the contemporary Western influences.
It was a film that sought to explore the combination of domestic culture with the global perspective at the time. Overall, Korean Golden Age cinema was influenced by Italian Neorealism, French art, and American epics.
The arguments developed by McHugh are undoubtedly critical in exploring not only the evolution of South Korean post-war cinema, but also its reflection of the internal cultural struggles that the country faced. I think the discussion helps to analyze an important time period in South Korean cinematography from a socio-political and historical perspective. The author makes accurate reflections and valid connections throughout the article.
Although the presented arguments make sense, it is difficult to ascertain the intentions of the filmmakers the way that McHugh does. Especially after admitting that she is not from the heritage and only encountered the culture later in life, McHugh seeks to state with confidence the cultural strife that the country experienced. The argument for the rise of feminism out of the void left in the male population after the war can be argued.
South Korean society was still inherently conservative and patriarchal. It is unlikely that within such a short span the social values began to change so quickly through a medium that was just evolving. The state censure that McHugh mentioned would have simply not allowed for the production or release of such films if the intention was based on political commentary of social or gender values. The author assumes unspoken messages of feminism and homosociality in the film are the central point to the plot.
I think that South Korea was undergoing a period of cultural change and social gender exploration that helped to empower women. However, the films were reflective of the post-war influences rather than feminism. It is important to remember that these films were artistic works that represented the Korean culture as a whole, not necessarily providing socio-political commentary.
McHugh, K. (2005). South Korea Film Melodrama: State, nation, woman, and the transnational familiar. In K. McHugh & N. Ablemann (Eds.), South Korean Golden Age melodrama: Gender, genre, and national cinema (pp. 17-36). Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.