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Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia



Thailand: The Lessons of Protest | Kevin HEWISON

A Critical Consideration of the Use of Trauma as an Approach to Understanding Korean Cinema | Ju-Yong HA and Joel DAVID Review Essay on Perspectives on Philippine Languages:

Five Centuries of European Scholarship | Lawrence A. REID

Philippines-China Relations, 2001–2008: Dovetailing National Interests | Charles Joseph Garcia DE GUZMAN


Turning the Page: Re-examining Standards in

Academic Journal Publication | Asian Studies Editorial Staff Hudud: Is UMNO goading PAS? | Francis LOH Kok Wah Introduction to Crises, Vulnerability & Poverty in South Asia:

Peoples’ Struggles for Justice and Dignity | South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE)

Japan, An Ambiguous Power | Valerie Anne Jill I. VALERO REVIEWS




Eduardo C. Tadem (Editor in Chief), Asian Studies

Michiyo Yoneno-Reyes (Review editor), Asian Studies

Eduardo T. Gonzalez, Asian and Philippine Studies

Ricardo T. Jose, History

Joseph Anthony Lim, Economics*

Antoinette R. Raquiza, Asian Studies

Teresa Encarnacion Tadem, Political Science

Lily Rose Tope, English and Comparative Literature

* Ateneo de Manila University. All the other members of the editorial board are from UP Diliman.

Managing Editor: Janus Isaac V. Nolasco Editorial Associate: Katrina S. Navallo Layout Artist: Ariel G. Manuel


Patricio N. Abinales, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Andrew Charles Bernard Aeria, University of Malaysia Sarawak

Benedict Anderson, Cornell University

Melani Budianta, University of Indonesia

Urvashi Butalia, Zubaan Books (An imprint of Kali for Women)

Vedi Renandi Hadiz, Murdoch University

Caroline S. Hau, Kyoto University

Huang Renwei, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences

Reynaldo C. Ileto, Australian National University

Benedict Tria Kerkvliet, Australian National University & University of Hawaii

Lau Kin Chi, Lingnan University

Lee Jung Ok, Daegu Catholic University

Francis Loh Kok Wah, Universiti Sains Malaysia

Armando S. Malay, Jr., University of the Philippines Diliman

Kinhide Mushakoji, Osaka University

Raul Pertierra, Philippine Women’s University

Somchai Phatharathananunth, Mahasarakham University

Michael Pinches, University of Western Australia

Bambang Purwanto, Gadjah Mada University

Vicente Rafael, University of Washington

Helen Yu-Rivera, University of the Philippines Diliman

Harsh Sethi, Seminar Journal (New Delhi)

Wen Tiejun, Renmin University of China

Surichai Wun’Gaeo, Chulalongkorn University ASIAN STUDIES

Copyright 2014 | ISSN: 0004-4679 (print) | ISSN: 2244-5927 (online) Asian Center, Magsaysay cor. Guerrero Sts.

University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City EMAIL: upasianstudies@gmail.com | janus_isaac.nolasco@upd.edu.ph

PHONE: 63.2.920.3535 or 63.2.981.8500 loc. 3586

The cover is based on the design of Marco Malto. The silhouette on the front cover is that of


Thailand: The Lessons of Protest

Kevin HEWISON ...1

A Critical Consideration of the Use of Trauma as an Approach to Understanding Korean Cinema

Ju-Yong HA and Joel DAVID ...16

Review Essay on Perspectives on Philippine Languages:

Five Centuries of European Scholarship

Lawrence A. REID ...51

Philippines-China Relations, 2001–2008:

Dovetailing National Interests

Charles Joseph DE GUZMAN ...71 COMMENT


Turning the Page: Re-examining Standards in Academic Journal Publication

Asian Studies Editorial Staff ...99

Hudud: Is UMNO goading PAS?

Francis LOH Kok Wah ...113

Introduction to Crises, Vulnerability & Poverty in South Asia:

Peoples’ Struggles for Justice and Dignity

South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE) ...123

Japan, An Ambiguous Power

Valerie Anne Jill I. VALERO ...138 REVIEWS


The Ruling Elite of Singapore: Networks of Power and Influence by Michael D. BARR

Joel ROCAMORA ...148

Tapping Ink, Tattooing Identities: Tradition and Modernity in Contemporary Kalinga Society, Northern Luzon, Philippines



Human Wrong

Mohiuddin AHMAD ...155

Student Lovers on a Hopei September

Thomas David CHAVES ...159



Thailand: The Lessons of Protest


Professor, Murdoch University

A b s t r a c t A b s t r a c t A b s t r a c t A b s t r a c t A b s t r a c t

Since late 2005, Thailand has seen almost unending street protests by red shirts and yellow shirts against incumbent governments. While there are many lessons from this period of often unruly and uncivil political contestation, this paper concentrates on four that bear on several assumptions associated with the broad literature on democratic transitions. These are: (1) the political intransigence of a conservative elite unwilling to accommodate the rise of electoral democracy and subaltern claims for political voice; (2) the challenges posed to notions that the middle class and civil society have certain “historical roles” as the ballast for democratization; (3) the capacity for so-called independent institutions and agencies, created as checks-and-balances to be captured; and (4) the link between high rates of inequality and political rebellion cannot be assumed.

Keywords: collective action, democratization, monarchy, antidemocratic movements, middle class, inequality

WITH THE EXCEPTIONS of Singapore and Brunei, each of the countries of ASEAN has experienced regime challenging political protests in recent decades. Thailand has experienced more than most. The period since late 2005 has been unusual as one of essentially nonstop protest, which only came to an end on May 22, 2014, when the military overthrew a pro-Thaksin Shinawatra elected government. Since the coup, all protest has been banned and political repression has been extensive.


Thailand’s street protests have involved a range of actors, from small ginger groups to huge and aggressive antigovernment protests that have gone on for several months. Throughout the period, however, the most significant and lengthy actions have been by the red-shirted supporters of Thaksin and his various political parties, and those by royalists, often identified as yellow shirts. Both groups have been able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of supporters.

Thailand’s political protests present an opportunity for considering the lessons of collective action in the context of a nation where democratization has been debated, challenged, and discarded. Before turning to the lessons, however, some background is required.

C o n t e x t C o n t e x tC o n t e x t C o n t e x tC o n t e x t

In the depths of the Asian Economic Crisis, Thailand’s parliament adopted the 1997 constitution, which had been debated since 1992. This constitution was the first to involve a consultative process, even if it remained elite-dominated. The new constitution was innovative in that it took seriously human rights, decentralization, and the establishment of checks-and-balances. The latter were meant to combat the cycle of “money politics” that saw politicians accumulating ill-gotten funds to buy votes and parliamentarians (MPs) in elections.

A defining feature of the constitution was the effort to establish a more stable form of representative government. It did this by making the executive stronger and by establishing a greater degree on party control over MPs. The aim was to prevent “party-hopping” by MPs and to increase the longevity of elected governments. In essence, the desire was to establish a stable, two- (or three-) party system.

As events unfolded, Thaksin was the only prime minister to be elected under the 1997 constitution. He convincingly won polls in 2001 and again in 2005. That constitution was thrown out in the 2006 military coup, which then resulted in the 2007 constitution, essentially drawn up to prevent


parties unexpectedly continued to win substantial election victories, the military threw out its own 2007 constitution with the 2014 coup.

The 2006 coup was preceded by several months of street protests against the Thaksin government, led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a loose alliance of civil society, businesses, elite and royalist groups who opposed the parliamentary power of Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai Party. PAD came to be known as “yellow shirts” as they donned the colour of the king’s birthday and made their protests a royalist revolt against Thaksin’s “parliamentary dictatorship.” PAD were on the streets from February 2006, having been formed from state enterprise unions and NGOs and royalist opposition groups that began to rally from late 2005. In February and March 2006, PAD organized massive demonstrations (Pye and Schaffer, 2008). Following the 2006 coup, PAD disbanded, but reformed and returned in 2008 to oppose the pro-Thaksin government that had won the 2007 election. When that government was thrown out by a judicial intervention in late 2008, PAD dissolved into several ginger groups promoting ultraroyalism, ultranationalism and a strident opposition to Thaksin. Following another election victory by the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai Party in 2011, PAD morphed into several protest groups that eventually became the antidemocratic “People’s Committee for Absolute Democracy with the King as Head of State” (PCAD) that was on the streets from late 2013 until the May 2014 coup. Its work was completed by the military’s intervention.

The yellow shirts came to be opposed by the “red shirts,” who were associated with the pro-Thaksin “United Democratic Front Against Dictatorship” (UDD). The UDD first became organized following the 2006 coup and in opposition to the military-backed referendum for the 2007 constitution. In early rallies, it opposed the military, railed against elite interference in politics, supported Thaksin, and demanded elections.

The red-shirt rebellions of 2009 and 2010 against the royalist- and military-backed Democrat Party-led government saw the army deployed to defeat them, resulting in considerable loss of life. The military had not


acted against PAD; indeed, its leadership refused to act on the lawful government’s orders in 2008 to clear demonstrators who had occupied airports. Later, in 2013–14, not only did the military refuse to act against the PCAD, it supported and protected the protesters.

The PCAD received considerable support from the opposition Democrat Party. Yingluck Shinawatra’s landslide 2011 election victory embittered the Party. Unable to win an election between 2001 and 2011, and closely aligned with palace and military, the Democrat Party came to reject elections as “majoritarianism,” railed against alleged corruption by politicians, and gave its support to extra-parliamentary oppositions. The Party’s acceptance of street protests began with its support to PAD from 2006. The Democrat Party continued to support antielection and antidemocratic groups, providing the leadership of the PCAD.

This reliance on street-based politics—by both sides—saw some 250 people killed and several thousand injured, most of them red shirts. This period of extended political conflict has been destructive and divisive.

Indeed, many commentators have suggested that the conflict has been deep and long because it is a struggle for the future of Thailand’s politics.

How did it come to this? The rest of this paper examines four areas that may assist in answering this question and suggests some of the broader

“lessons” of political conflict and protest.

Lesson 1: Elite intransigence Lesson 1: Elite intransigenceLesson 1: Elite intransigence Lesson 1: Elite intransigence Lesson 1: Elite intransigence

There is considerable discussion in the political science literature about successful democratizations and the compromises required from elites to achieve this, often in the face of collective action that threatens elite interests (see Robinson 2006). The Thai case is a reminder that, even in the face of considerable force for change, entrenched elites do not necessarily make the historic compromises that permit democratization.

Thailand’s decade of protest has been characterized as a struggle of


competing elites, with a rising elite (Thaksin and his political and business allies) challenging the long-dominant conservative elite composed of a coterie of palace-connected senior civil and military officials, big business/

old money, and technocrats (Hewison 2008, 205–7).

There was an element of this in the early period of disputation.

However, as the conflict deepened, there was society-wide mobilization and remarkable political polarization, with the conflict coming to be defined by the efforts of the royalist elite to defend its economic wealth and political dominance. In this defence, this elite has relied on street mobilization as well as the use of the military, judiciary, and several of the “independent”

agencies established under both the 1997 and 2007 constitutions, both now defunct.

The royalist elite’s mobilizations gained considerable support from Bangkok’s middle class and from the Democrat Party-dominated mid- South. Its campaigns have had several consistent themes: anticorruption, protection of the monarchy, and a rejection of electoral democracy. It is not unusual to see a middle class opposing corruption. What is unusual, and definitive of this conflict, is the class’s alliance with the royalist elite to defend and promote a feudal institution—the monarchy—while rejecting electoral democracy. This rejection is even more unusual given that uprisings against military authoritarianism in 1973 and 1992 are routinely considered middle-class revolts (Ockey 2001).

In Thailand, there has been an ideological weaving together of anticorruption, protection of the monarchy, and the rejection of electoral democracy. The argument that knits them together begins with the observation that civilian politicians are massively corrupt, gaining election through “policy corruption” or “money politics,” using the electoral system to maintain their power. Politicians can’t be trusted, voters are bought, duped or ignorant, and so electoral politics is the core of the corruption problem. The monarchy is essential, so the argument goes, because the king is the only moderating influence on corrupt politicians, being of the highest moral calibre and “above politics” (Thongchai 2008).


Of course, there is massive corruption in Thailand, and it has long existed. This does not seem to have restricted the monarchy, however, and it has become massively wealthy over the past five decades. Politicians may engage in corrupt activities, but so too does the business class, military, police and the bureaucracy; each has long been identified as massively corrupt (Pasuk and Sungsidh 1999). This matters little in the political discourse that it is civilian politicians who are considered corrupt and corrupting. In fact, the principal beneficiary of Thailand’s politics since at least the 1950s has been the royalist elite, and it is this elite that has prevented electoral politics from establishing deep roots. The reality is that, since 2000, the majority of the electorate has repeatedly voted for pro-Thaksin political parties that are then thrown out by allies of the royalist elite, be that military, judiciary, or street demonstrators.

The lesson of this struggle is that the royalist elite is unwilling to make the necessary historic compromise that would allow it to live with electoral democracy and with politicians it dislikes. That intransigence amounts to a political bloody-mindedness opposing a compromise that would see a quite limited reorganization of political power in the country.


Lesson 2: Civil societyesson 2: Civil societyesson 2: Civil societyesson 2: Civil society, middle class and defesson 2: Civil society, middle class and def, middle class and def, middle class and def, middle class and def ining democrining democrining democrining democrining democracyacyacyacyacy A further important lesson of this struggle has been that civil society is not the ballast for democratization as sometimes portrayed in modernization accounts (Barro 1999). In fact, in the political mobilizations of recent years, Thailand’s civil society has been dominated by middle- class interests and has been aligned with the royalist elite’s agenda.

In his early days in power, Thaksin gained the support of many nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and civil-society organizations (CSOs) for his attention to grassroots issues and for his nationalism. By early 2006, however, this NGO and CSO support had drained away in the face of allegations that Thaksin was authoritarian and corrupt.

Interestingly, those actually at the grassroots seemed to appreciate Thaksin’s so-called populist policies more than middle-class NGOs. After all, they


This political decision at the grassroots was vilified by the middle class and many leaders of NGOs and CSOs. Those who voted for pro- Thaksin parties were said to be duped or bought and admonished as uneducated and referred to as “red buffalo.” The image was of red shirts being led to vote and to rally by the “populist” Thaksin. The image of the

“red buffalo” has been a staple of royalist ASTV/Manager cartoons (see 2bangkok.com 2012).

One of the most revealing debates during the period of conflict has been over the meaning of democracy. All sides have declared that they are the protectors of democracy and have claimed to be motivated by concerns over the nature of Thailand’s democratization. In the 2013–14 demonstrations, street protesters from the PCAD rejected electoral democracy. They not only opposed an election but also blocked candidate registration, the distribution of ballots, and the voting itself. They also demanded that their supporters boycott the election. The PCAD argued that no election could be “free and fair” until the “Thaksin regime” had been destroyed. Their ultimatum was that the Yingluck government should be thrown out, replaced by an appointed government and an appointed reform committee to ensure that the Thaksin regime was uprooted. They were supported by the opposition Democrat Party, which has boycotted elections in 2006 and 2014; both preceded military putsches.

In general terms, this coalition has argued that elections are just one aspect of democracy. The PCAD’s complaint was that pro-Thaksin parties would always win an election because of the support from the uneducated or duped in the countryside and then engage in

“majoritarianism” and ride rough-shod over the minority (that is, the opposition and those who did not vote for the pro-Thaksin party).

Both PAD and the PCAD, supported by the Bangkok-based middle class, have campaigned for a “democracy” that is less reliant on the outcomes of voting and elections. Each has demanded a greater reliance on selected and appointed “representatives,” usually opting for ministers or a royally- appointed “national government.” Such calls fit well with the royalist elite’s


long-held desire for “Thai-style democracy” where representation was defined as a process, not as elections. The process involved the father- leader (earlier, a general, then the king, and now looking more like a general again) going out to visit his children-citizens, learning of their problems and their needs, and responding as he thinks best (Hewison and Kengkij 2010).

This paternalism was also evident when the military took power in 2014. The junta’s Orwellian doublespeak on democracy saw that even a coup can come to be defined as an act to strengthen democracy.

[the] NCPO [the military junta] and all Thai citizens uphold and have faith in the democratic system with His Majesty the King as Head of State. [The] NCPO fully realizes that the military intervention may be perceived by the West as a threat to democracy and a violation of the people’s liberty. However, this military intervention was inevitable, in order to uphold national security and to strengthen democracy.

(Government Public Relations Department 2014)

This manipulation of governance symbols was also taken up by protesters who championed transparency and anticorruption, defining

“true” democracy as an opposition to elections.

Those on the other side also championed democracy, but made a simpler argument. They observed that winning several elections should count for something and asserted that if political reform was needed, as demanded by the PCAD, then electoral democracy was the appropriate platform rather than an unelected and unrepresentative body. They asserted that there could be no democracy without voting. They pointed out that the repeated overturning of some very substantial election victories was an affront to democratic politics.

The lesson has been that the middle class is not the “natural” ballast of democratization. As Fukuyama has observed,

Middle-class people do not necessarily support democracy in


to protect their property and position. In countries such as China and Thailand, many middle-class people feel threatened by the redistributive demands of the poor and hence have lined up in support of authoritarian governments. (2013, 56)

Yet even this notion of contingency may be questioned for Thailand where a more diverse middle class has been evident. Earlier, Huntington (1991, 18) noted that a cause of democratic reversal was “conservative middle-class and upper-class groups” excluding populist, leftist, and lower- class groups from political power. This has certainly been seen in Thailand, where the Bangkok middle class and the elite have been drawn to antidemocratic positions that emphasize hyper-royalism, hypernationalism and fascist ideology. In contrast, it has been the relatively less well-off workers, farmers, and some provincial middle class groups that have been supportive of electoral democracy.


LLLLesson 3: Judicial politicization and the messon 3: Judicial politicization and the messon 3: Judicial politicization and the messon 3: Judicial politicization and the mythesson 3: Judicial politicization and the mythythythyth of checks and balances

of checks and balances of checks and balances of checks and balances of checks and balances

One of the major complaints of the PCAD was that the elected governments of recent years were able to ignore checks and balances.

This was certainly not true for the judicial branch which has been captured by anti-Thaksin political activists and has become an instrument of the royalist elite.

Political philosophy and analysis since Montesquieu has considered the separation and independence of the judiciary important. In many jurisdictions, an independent judiciary and the rule of law are meant to underpin democratic politics. Thailand’s judiciary has taken a different path. It was allocated a more prominent role in the 1997 constitution and this was expanded further under the military’s 2007 constitution. These constitutions gave the judiciary new political roles, appointing members of “independent agencies” and selecting those appointed to the Senate.

These roles and the institutions created, together with the judiciary itself, were to act as checks and balances for the legislature and executive.


However, during Thailand’s decade of protest, the judiciary has been politicized and has seen significant judicialization (Hewison 2010).

Judicialization is a reliance on courts and judicial means for resolving political and policy predicaments. Over the last decade, hundreds of political cases have been referred to the courts. We can essentially date these processes to the king’s call for judges to get involved in sorting out the post-2006 election political crisis, when the Democrat Party and several smaller parties boycotted an election as PAD demonstrated against the Thaksin government. Following the king’s advice, judges hastily convened, annulled the election, and jailed election commissioners. This royal intervention inevitably led to the 19 September 2006 coup and made the judiciary a locus for the conservative opposition to pro-Thaksin governments and supporters. The conviction of Yingluck by the Constitutional Court on a charge of having unfairly transferred an official quickly led to the 2014 military coup (The military junta that seized power in 2014 has transferred dozens of senior officials).

The judiciary’s politicization has institutionalized a political bias that pro-Thaksin red shirts have identified as “double standards.” In addition to the politicized rulings on Yingluck, red shirts have seen the Constitutional Court prevent any constitutional change, riding roughshod over parliament’s constitutional mandate on amendment, throw out prime ministers and a government, dissolve several pro-Thaksin political parties in 2007 and 2008, and ban more than 200 politicians associated with those parties.

It is not just the Constitutional Court that has been politicized.

Decisions by other courts on, for example, lese majeste charges have been legally dubious and deeply biased, with constitutionally guaranteed rights on bail and public trial brushed aside. One of the few agreements in Thailand’s contested politics is that the judiciary is a reliable ally of the royalist side. These events are noteworthy for the lesson that supposedly independent institutions can be captured and subverted. Whereas the royalist elite accused Thaksin of capturing the electoral process, that elite


that underpinned Thailand’s democracy and rule of law, laying the foundations for the military coup in 2014 and the repression that has followed.

Lesson 4: Inequality and political mobilization Lesson 4: Inequality and political mobilization Lesson 4: Inequality and political mobilization Lesson 4: Inequality and political mobilization Lesson 4: Inequality and political mobilization

The final lesson is about inequality. A consistent narrative of the decade of protest has been of relatively poor, rural-based, pro-Thaksin red shirts opposed by relatively well-off and urban-based royalists. As mentioned, there have been some academic studies that have sometimes cast doubt on this characterization. Debates have raged over whether red shirts are “poor” or just “lower middle class” or whether they are ambitious farmers trying to do a bit better, and so on (Walker 2012).

These debates about socioeconomic status are narrowly conceived, and try to deal with the question of whether Thailand’s decade of protest has been a rich versus poor “class struggle.” Conceived more broadly, the available national data point to a class element in the political conflict (Hewison 2012). Yet these debates also miss a potentially important political point. Moving attention from incomes and expenditure-driven assessments of socio-economic status to economic inequality reveals a political lesson.

Thailand is one of the most unequal societies in Asia. It has had this status since at least the mid-1960s. While the country reduced poverty very substantially since that period, inequality has remained pretty much unchanged. These high levels of inequality and the impacts these have had for a range of outcomes in health, education, and other arenas has been documented by a range of analysts.

Recent theoretical and statistical assessments conclude that while political democracy is usually assumed to prioritize redistribution and reduce inequality, when the political system is captured by the rich or caters to the preferences of the middle class, inequality may be exacerbated (Acemoglu et al. 2013, 1). In Thailand’s case, the data suggest that there has been little or no redistribution despite decades of rapid economic growth. Despite this, there has been little political mobilization associated


with economic inequality. This changed with the 2010 red shirt demonstrations that began a process that politicized inequality. This process was associated with the red shirt mobilization of hundreds of thousands of people beginning in March 2010 and the rise of red shirts in print, television, and digital media.

On its rally stage and in its media, UDD messages highlighted a range of economic and political inequities. This included attacks on double standards and the identification of the red shirt struggle as being between aristocrats (amart) and commoners (phrai). Disparities of wealth and opportunity became powerful political shibboleths, with the UDD calling for “a free and just state,” where the “gap between the rich and the poor is reduced.” It also decried Thailand’s situation as being a “backward country that is totally controlled by conservative oligarchs…”. The UDD wanted a

“country of free people with national pride, freedom and equality” (UDD 2010, 5).

The red shirt street protests were crushed by the military, but the political response was a landslide election victory for Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party. However, the polarization deepened as the vote was spatially segregated. The royalist elite response to this electoral victory was further street demonstrations and the 2014 military coup. The 2014 military junta has also responded to the rhetoric and mobilization of inequality. Coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha stresses hierarchy and order, with one blogger suggesting this as a return to the “despotic paternalism” of the Sarit Thanarat regime of the late 1950s (Political Prisoners of Thailand blog, 7 July 2014). Prayuth told the nation, “My principle is that superiors have to look after their subordinates, not the opposite.” He emphasized hierarchical command structures, “The operation of all agencies and organisations must be integrated according to a chain of command, involving commanding officers, colleagues and subordinates.” Prayuth’s vision was a society with a military-like structure. He added, “My principle is for the state to look after people of all ages – be they children, youths, adolescents, adults, and elderly people, in an equal and comprehensive


manner.” His nation was one that would “create a sense of conscience and ideology of nationalism.” The paternalism of the junta, where superiors know what is best, had to be trusted, and it was the nation that created oneness.

The lesson is that high rates of inequality do not mean political rebellion will necessarily follow. Rather, inequality has to be politicized;

or in the case of the junta, depoliticized. When it is politicized, it is a highly combustible fuel for political dissatisfaction and requires enlightened public policy embedded in notions of universalism if it is to be kept under control. At the same time, the military coup demonstrates that inequality can also be depoliticized by repression and force of arms.

Conclusion ConclusionConclusion Conclusion Conclusion

Street protests since late 2005 have only ended because of a military coup, Thailand’s second in a decade. The lessons to be found amongst the many factors associated with this often unruly and uncivil political contestation are many, and this paper has concentrated on just four: (i) the political intransigence of a conservative and royalist elite unwilling to allow electoral democracy to take root; (ii) the failure of the middle class as a ballast for democratization; rather, it is a class that has been easily attracted by authoritarian politics; (iii) independent institutions created as checks- and-balances can be politically captured and subverted; and (iv) high rates of inequality do not mean political rebellion will necessarily follow;

inequality has to be politicized.

(This article was based on a lecture at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines Diliman on 14 July 2014—Editor)



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A Critical Consideration of the Use of Trauma as an Approach to Understanding Korean Cinema

Ju-Yong HA

Associate Professor, Inha University Joel DAVID

Professor, Inha University

A b s t r a c t A b s t r a c tA b s t r a c t A b s t r a c tA b s t r a c t

A number of reasons have been forwarded to explain the emergence and current dominance of the Korean Wave in film, as well as the larger phenomenon of Hallyu, the term by which the popular-culture Korean wave has been known. Most of these accounts for the New Korean Cinema, the filmic equivalent of the Korean Wave, are tied to attempts to understand other national cinemas in Asia in terms of their respective countries’ encounters with modernization. This paper attempts to (1) provide a historically grounded perspective on why and how film is currently being used in Korea to recapture and revaluate traumatic experiences on the part of both filmmakers and audiences, and (2) to suggest ways in which these uses of trauma may be shifting or eroding.

Keywords: Korean cinema; trauma; psychoanalysis; realism; auteurism;



IN AN ASSESSMENT OF the 60th anniversary of the Korean War undertaken in 2010 as a joint project with the Korea Institute of Public Administration, the Korea Times ascribed the emergence of the Korean popular-culture wave, or Hallyu, to the country’s decision to move away from the “absolute primacy on economic growth” enforced by authoritarian regimes both within and outside Korea, to a new development paradigm (Salmon 2010, n.p.). The shift was articulated as a critique of the “Asian values” framework propounded by such rulers as Kuan-Yew Lee of Singapore and Mohamed Mahathir of Malaysia.

“Asian values” was a tactic regarded as a coded justification for anti- Western authoritarianism. Two factors made possible the production of popular cultural material that “combined slick production with professional marketing, underpinned by a key local ingredient—the raw emotion Koreans express so passionately” (Salmon 2002). These are (1) the increasing numbers of Koreans exposed to Western countries and (2) the opportunity for new corporate players and renewed interest in the content industry as one of the reactions to the economic upheavals of the late 1990s. By looking at the specific medium of film within the context of this pop-culture wave, this paper aims to provide a closer understanding of the historical origins of the aforementioned “key local ingredient,” and an explication of how it had been internalised and expressed in the cinematic component of Hallyu.

The attempt to explicate a complex socioaesthetic phenomenon is always a tricky undertaking—not so much because social phenomena are inevitably overdetermined—as mainly because people will always rely on a handle. People need ways by which they can understand whatever is happening to them at any given moment. In general academic practice, European modernity would be the umbrella category by which popular media in Asia are elucidated, inasmuch as both media and modernity are Western-sourced phenomena (A recent example that demonstrates this principle would be the 2002 anthology edited by Jenny Kwok Wah Lau, fully titled Multiple Modernities: Cinemas and Popular Media in Transcultural East Asia).


At the same time, the need to look more closely into Korean cinema is premised on the fact that it has moved beyond being an object of curiosity for cinephiles; it has become the latest major player among East Asian countries after the initial interest in Japanese and later in Chinese cinemas on the part of the major European film festivals.1 In fact, the successful participation of Korean film practitioners in Western events arrived later than, and may be seen as influenced by, the impact they had in the immediate Asian region.

Inception issues Inception issues Inception issues Inception issues Inception issues

When the current film wave in Korea attracted the attention of international observers, one of the first responses of Koreans themselves was wonder. What was so special about their current film output when their country had been producing films for as far back in the past as anyone could remember? Casual observers of global trends may have felt that it was probably the Koreans’ turn to be fetishized for their pop culture, after Westerners presumably grew tired of their fascination with things Japanese, Indian, and Chinese. The regard for Korean film culture as an object of fetishisation, immediately succeeding Hong Kong cinema’s previous domination, is foregrounded as early as the subtitle, The New Hong Kong, of Anthony C. Y. Leong’s best-selling, fans-oriented volume Korean Cinema (2002). Leong’s position is further reflected and amplified through an acknowledgment of generational innovation in the introductory essays in the collection edited by Justin Bowyer and Jinhee Choi, titled The Cinema of Japan and Korea (2004).

That early response, a combination of unease and bemusement, is evident once more in the response of residents of Chuncheon City in Gangwon Province to the influx of foreign tourists eager to stage a pilgrimage, as it were, to the locations of one of their favorite televised drama series, Hyeong-min Lee and Seok-ho Yun’s Gyeoul yeonga [Winter Sonata] (2002).

Considered the first sample of the phenomenon that eventually was labeled Hallyu (literally Korean Wave), Gyeoul yeonga’s remarkability derived in


large part from the fan culture it engendered among residents of Korea’s former coloniser, Japan (Onishi 2004).2 The phenomenon of foreigners travelling all the way to Korea to visit the setting of their preferred series has since been replicated on Jeju Island, location of Byeong-hoon Lee’s Dae Jang-gum (2003); and on Sugi Beach on Si-do or Si Island, Incheon, site of Min-soo Pyo’s Pool ha-woo-seu [Full House] (2004). In fact, the Korea Broadcasting System recently opened its studio locale in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province to visitors interested in visiting sets and in viewing location shoots of its TV dramas (Gyeong-Gi Do n.d.).

Among standard explications for the origin of Hallyu, three competing (though overlapping) versions have emerged, delineated according to their relative stances: “neoliberal thinking, cultural nationalism, and the culturalist position” (Cho 2002 and Paik 2005; quoted in Keehyeung Lee 2008, 181). The first, so-called mainstream view, regards Hallyu as evidence of the comparatively high market value of Korea’s culturally innovative products; the second, still-dominant perspective, argues that the highly attractive output of the country has resonated with a set of shared Asian values in neighboring places; the third, least conventional one, acknowledges the rise of popular culture as a state priority alongside the local economy. But it rejects the state-centrist nationalist discourses by focusing on the hybridity and Western-sourced inflections that raise “the possibilities of cross-cultural or transborder dialogues from below that can be mediated through [Hallyu] texts and their audiences in various geopolitical regions” (Keehyeung Lee, 181–85).

On the question of the current creative burst in Korean cinema, which we shall term the New Korean Cinema,3 a few frameworks have also been proffered. Some of the better-known English-language approaches deal separately with issues of North-South reunification (cf.

Hyangjin Lee’s Contemporary Korean Cinema[2000]), as well as gender roles (cf. Kyung Hyun Kim’s The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema [2004]). Additionally, a recent study by Kwang Woo Noh (2009) claims that contemporary trends in Korean cinema derive from a “motivation to


re-examine the past.” This is evidenced in titles that focus on historical and political events, as well as personal stories from the period of robust economic growth (1960s to the 1990s) that provide “not only retrospection of the rapid transformation but also nostalgia for the past” (Noh 2009, i–


It is not the intention of this paper to contest these viewpoints, inasmuch as they have proved workable for their respective volumes.

In fact, it may even be possible to arrive at a perspective wide enough to accommodate existing frameworks and useful enough to account for the existence of the New Korean Cinema and suggest its future shapes and directions. This can be done by the relatively simple procedure of first looking at which film samples and practitioners constitute the said wave, and then focusing attention on the range of material covered by the films and the manner in which the materials are handled. This paper will therefore proceed contemplatively, in the sense that relevant cultural studies texts will be raised alongside a consideration of the condition of contemporary Korean film texts. The deconstructive critical method will also be deployed in instances when textual and historical aporia are encountered in order to arrive at possible useful scenarios for the future.

History as determinant History as determinant History as determinant History as determinant History as determinant

In considering a viable context for the study of the New Korean Cinema, the history of film in Korea would constitute an appropriate and useful starting point, inasmuch as a nation’s cinema has the ability to embody its culture’s prevalent ways of thinking and structures of feeling. Such an assumption underlies the writing of Gilles Deleuze’s twin volumes on film (1986 and 1989), where he concludes, “[We] must no longer ask ourselves,

‘What is cinema?’ but ‘What is philosophy?’ Cinema itself is a new practice of images and signs, whose theory philosophy must produce as conceptual practice. For no technical determination, whether applied...or reflexive, is sufficient to constitute the concepts of cinema itself ” (1989, 280).


What may be termed a standard version, part of the Korean Studies Series, is aptly titled The History of Korean Cinema (Lee and Choe 1988). The book’s authors maintain that, because of its technology- dependent and capital-intensive qualities, film in Korea has been more marked than other cultural forms by the various sociohistorical upheavals in the past century. One could take any such period and draw a direct correlation with developments in local cinema, such as the popularity of nationalist-themed films during the Japanese occupation or the rise of documentary and war film production during the Korean War. The book also helps explain certain stylistic qualities that continue to characterise Korean films, notably the insistence on a dramatic realism that directly, and rarely ironically, acknowledges the audience. What may well be the first major Korean blockbuster, Woon-kyu Na’s Arirang (1926), functioned as a metaphor against Japanese colonisation and made effective use of direct address during its climactic moment (Lee and Choe 1988, 42–43).

Although The History of Korean Cinema ends right before the 1990s, on the eve of the transition to a democratic dispensation, its observations regarding the stylistic tendencies and thematic concerns of predemocratic Korean cinema appear to have persisted to the present. Several of its observations have been confirmed, upheld, or modified by an anthology sponsored by the Korean Film Council and titled Korean Cinema: From Origins to Renaissance (Kim 2006). In fact, in a short but cogent summation of the Hallyu phenomenon, Doobo Shim implicitly acknowledged such distinctive and exceptional cultural qualities—possibly relatable to the native concept of han, an ultimately untranslatable quality that roughly refers to sorrow or resentment derived from suffering or injustice (Bannon 2008, n.p.); the most prominent filmic example of this value would be the early-1990s’ all-time blockbuster, Kwon-taek Im’s Seopyeonje. In recognition of the need to bridge several periods marked by extreme variations in sociopolitical systems (colonisation, war, dictatorship, democracy), Shim recommended the use of an analytical approach that

“comprises discourses that identify cultural hybridity and investigate power


relations between periphery and centre from the perspective of postcolonial criticism” (2006, 27). The approach is premised on the paradox that

“globalisation encourages local peoples to rediscover the ‘local’ that they have neglected or forgotten in their drive towards Western-imposed modernisation” (ibid.).

How all these developments relate to the present may be the key to understanding what is going on in Korean films. From 1910 to 1987, the country had been continually wracked by diverse forms of violence by sources both outside and within the nation. Historians have duly taken note of the overt, physical, and often fatal sufferings of the population during the protracted militarised periods, whether the troops involved were foreign or local.4 Less visibly dramatic but still distressing in its own way were the periods of apparent quietude. These were times when the quest for sovereignty and self-determination during the Japanese and American occupations, as well as the pursuit of developmental goals during the military dictatorships, resulted in a largely unreflective willingness on the part of Koreans to submit to arbitrary and punitive disciplinary measures. These include curfews and rules delimiting maximum hair and minimum skirt length. The paradoxical relationship between repression and development was reflected even in film-related laws, as summarised in Sang-hyeok Im’s account of film censorship in Korea.

For a long time, the public was deprived of any opportunity to even discuss freedom of expression and films under colonial rule and military governments. Films were reduced to a means for the government’s promotion of ideology and preservation of order. Yet, the film-related laws evolved in a legitimate way through the rulings of the Constitutional Court. (Im 2006, 101)

For now, one can surmise that the population acceded to these intrusions on individual preferences for a complex of reasons. Each is inadequate in explaining a compliance that might seem unusually and


possibly pathologically uncritical to today’s generation of young Koreans.

First, any previous period of brutalisation may have inured the citizens to less physical demonstrations of authority by whatever regime happened to be in power; second, people may have willingly accepted controls on their freedom as a way of hopefully forestalling future disasters by their display of good behavior (regarding which, cf. the later discussion of the concept of behavioral self-blame); and third, in line with Foucauldian precepts, the regimes themselves held forth claims to long-term benevolence in the form of economic prosperity through modernisation.

Regarding the third cause, wherein the powers-that-be would promise development in exchange for the surrender of certain basic freedoms, conventional wisdom accepts that each patriarchal order during the past century—the Japanese, then the American, occupational forces, as well as the local military dictators—was at least earnest about making such a claim.

The local militarists actually succeeded in ushering the nation through its still-enduring period of industrial prosperity. From this perspective, even both sides of the protagonists during the Korean War (Communist North, as well as free-market South) can be regarded as competing as to which of their governmental and economic models would be more beneficial to the already sundered nation.

Discontinuities DiscontinuitiesDiscontinuities DiscontinuitiesDiscontinuities

Within such a dominant and now admittedly facile framework, the presence of the New Wave of Korean filmmaking suggests ruptures in the historical fabric. For if the narrative logic of the Euro-American model of advanced industrial development were to be observed, then the Republic of Korea has finally achieved its happy ending and would now be entitled to the proverbial sleep of the weary. If we look at the experience of some of the once-prominent national cinemas in Asia, and read up on the discourses on their film-texts vis-à-vis their respective projects of nationalist development, we could arguably state that film served the function of articulating its viewers’ desires and anxieties during the unavoidably long-


drawn-out industrialisation process. If we draw from the experience of Japan, whose cinematic vibrancy was at its peak a few decades ago,5 such a thesis would allow us to similarly remark that the glory years of Korean cinema should have coincided with the periods of military dictatorship, from the 1960s through the late 1980s; this was a period when the contradiction between economic growth and individual freedom was at its most intense.

So the question would be not only Why the New Korean Cinema?

but also Why only now? A clue may lie in the self-understanding of Koreans themselves. A relatively recent empirical study of the population describes the respondents as engaged in a “dichotomised mode of social relations.” Members of the oppressed class find comfort in all types of religion that “are essentially this-worldly in orientation,” thereby throwing into doubt the spiritual claims of local religious practice (Kim 1999, 214–15).

What this suggests is similar to Sigmund Freud’s classic description of a reality principle, where the subject’s originally all-inclusive ego eventually “separates off an external world from itself ” (1961, 15). Freud concludes his discussion of the distinctions between the pleasure and reality principles with an acknowledgment that “oceanic” feelings, which seek the “restoration of limitless narcissism,” traceable to “infantile helplessness,” become regarded as the source of “the religious attitude”

(1961, 19). In developing further this concept, Freud advances an intriguing analogy, one that might be unexpectedly useful to the present discussion: he describes the maturation of consciousness as similar to the evolution of a once-ancient city, so that the challenge for the psychoanalyst is to visualise in the present the structures that might have once been there in the past but are now no longer visible (Freud 1961, 16–18).

In considering then the question of why an urgent and vital national discourse is ongoing in Korean cinema, we get to understand, first and


foremost, that this discourse could not be conducted in the past for two reasons. Critical thinking was prohibited, and the (sometimes monstrous) enormity of social suffering precluded any attempt at reflection and resolution. The severity of successive traumas that accompanied the Korean experience of modernisation could help suggest why the nation has turned to a Western-sourced and technology-based medium to articulate issues in its past. The tension between non-Western nationalism and Western- style modernity is articulated in relation to film practice in Ian Jarvie’s

“National cinema” essay. In contrast with the Korean response, which was to engage with cinema as a means of discourse articulation, Jarvie points out how some elements in other parts of the world “have in the past called for the prohibition of movies altogether” (2000, 83). Since the nation wrested for itself a crucial amount of democratic space with the onset of the 1990s, one might be able to provisionally say that its current use of film as repository of traumatic discourses indicates that it accepts the fruits of development as much as it desires to question the price it had to pay for it.

Again, a startling insight from Freud suggests this much when he avers that the most perfect response to the regard for “reality as the sole enemy and as the source of all suffering” is to do one better than the hermit, who “turns his back on the world” by “[re-creating] the world, [building] up in its stead another world” (Freud 1961, 28). Freud ultimately recommends the rejection of this option as belonging to the province of madness; still, we can realise how a project, which consists of externalizing one’s trauma and inscribing it onto a medium upon which it can be shared discursively with others marked by the same set of experiences, could promise some therapeutic relief. As to whether this relief will have the capacity to fully exorcise the painful memories of the historical past, only the future will be able to tell.

Ne NeNe

NeNew Kw Kw Kw Kw Korororororean Cinema and its discontentsean Cinema and its discontentsean Cinema and its discontentsean Cinema and its discontentsean Cinema and its discontents

Although trauma had been a feature of life in America since its encounter with European modernity, it was the admittedly and exclusively


grim associations with inexplicable tragedies such as the Holocaust or 11 September 2001 attacks that prompted several discussions regarding the experience of trauma in American intellectual culture (Some recent representative examples comprise LaCapra [2001], Walker [2005], and Kaplan [2005]. Butler [2004, 1–18] similarly ascribes its raison d’être to the aftermath of the experience of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the US—on which more will be discussed later). The reason for the delayed introspection may be gleaned from Elizabeth Wright’s perceptive comment, that

Psychoanalysis explores what happens when primordial impulse is directed into social goals, when bodily needs become subject to the demands of culture. Through language, desire is constituted and

“subjects” come into being, yet this language cannot define the body’s experience accurately. What is of peculiar interest to psychoanalysis…is that aspect of being which is ignored or prohibited by the laws of language. Words fail to catch it but it is real none the less. (1998, Introduction)

As mentioned earlier, the self-repression imposed on earlier Korean generations underwent an internalisation brought about by the bludgeoning effects of overt, or macro violence. This violence was reinforced by the punitive disciplinarian exercises, a form of micro violence, enforced by authoritarian systems of government. Only with the lifting of controls on freedom of expression did it become possible for people to speak out; and since the advent of free expression coincided with the country’s attainment of economic prosperity, one might be allowed a fairly reductive materialist explanation to account for the emergence of the New Wave. Leong, for example, ascribes the phenomenon to a combination of “relaxed government censorship, investments in infrastructure, entrepreneurial zeal, and an iconoclastic attitude” (2002, 10). Not surprisingly, most popular accounts available to Western readers seem to agree that the movement started after 1995 (Leong 2002, 11; see also Paquet n.d.).


While the concept of trauma may still prove insufficient to accommodate some exceptions, we can see at this point how it could encompass all the major recurrent themes that typify the New Korean Cinema: the North-South division and the ambivalent attitude toward socialism; the concern for workers’ welfare and the right of labor to unionise; the heroism of participants in the student movement in the struggle against militarist dictatorships; the excesses of the rich and influential, including past government and military officials, and their resort to repressive measures against popular uprisings such as that of Gwangju in 1980; and the disaffected and sometimes violent handling of personal relationships, often extending to familial affairs and sexual liaisons. This calls to mind the insight formulated by Jean Laplanche (Caruth 2001, par. 49), in discussing the relations that bind trauma, sexuality, and narcissism, to explain Freud’s observation that traumas develop sexual excitement as a way of allowing the subject to cope with the experience of suffering.

The association (among modern readers) of wartime imagery with spectatorial excitability has been tracked by Susan Sontag from its origin in journalism through the surrealist impulse that emerged roughly in the previous mid-century.

Conscripted as part of journalism, images were expected to arrest attention, startle, surprise...The hunt for more dramatic (as they’re often described) images drives the photographic enterprise, and is part of the normality of a culture in which shock has become a leading stimulus of consumption and source of value. “Beauty will be convulsive, or it will not be,” proclaimed Andre Breton. He called this aesthetic ideal “surrealist,” but in a culture radically revamped by the ascendancy of mercantile values, to ask that images be jarring, clamorous, eye-opening seems like elementary realism as well as good business sense...The image as shock and the image as cliché are two aspects of the same presence. (16–17)


In this wise, most of the major New Korean Cinema films can be categorised according to their functions within specific forms of violence.

A sampling of films that exemplify politically inflected concerns would include, in chronological order, Kwang-su Park’s Joon Tae-il [A Single Spark] (1995); Sun-woo Jang’s Ggotip [A Petal] (1996); Je-gyu Kang’s Swiri (1999); Chang-dong Lee’s Bakha satang [Peppermint Candy]

(1999); Chan-wook Park’s Gongdong gyeongbi guyeok JSA [JSA: Joint Security Area] (2000); Woo-suk Kang’s Silmido (2003); and Je-gyu Kang’s Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo [Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War](2004).

The relatively more internalised for ms of violence may be apprehended in films such as Sang-soo Hong’s Daijiga umule pajinnal [The Day a Pig Fell into the Well] (1996); Neung-han Song’s No. 3 (1997); Chang-dong Lee’s Chorok mulkogi [Green Fish] (1997);

Kyung-taek Kwak’s Chingoo [Friend] (2001); Joon-Hwan Jang’s Jigureul jikyeora! [Save the Green Planet!] (2003); Joon-ho Bong’s Salinui chueok [Memories of Murder](1993); and Ha Yu’s Maljukgeori janhoksa [Once Upon a Time in High School] (2004). Aimlessness compounds the main character’s or characters’ disaffection, a form of inwardly directed violence, as manifested by characters in Cheol-su Park’s 301, 302 (1995); Je-yong Lee’s Jung sa [An Affair] (1998); Sang- soo Hong’s Kangwon-do ui him [The Power of Gangwon Province]

(1998), Oh! Soo-jung [Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors] (2002), and Saenghwalui balgyeon [On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate] (2002); Sun-woo Jang’s Gojitmal [Lies] (2000); and Chan- wook Park’s Oldeuboi [Old Boy] (2003).

Differences Differences Differences Differences Differences

The New Korean Cinema shares with the Hong Kong New Wave the quality of operating within the parameters of popular film production and reception, if we allow a liberal application of such terms. This contrasts with the avant-gardist aspirations of New Wave practitioners in other


national cinemas, including that of Japan (where, as an example, David Desser [1988] had valorised Nagisa Oshima, among other filmmakers, precisely for the latter’s avant-gardism). But what distinguishes the New Wave of Korea from those of other countries, including Hong Kong, is a certain hesitation, a respectfulness if you will, toward the depiction of violence, including sexual excess.

This is not to mean that contemporary Korean movies, especially the more generic samples, do not indulge in the commercially dictated staples of scenes of sex and violence. But whether the violence is indulged or restrained, the presentation can be seen as always managing to implicate the film viewer in one way or another toward the idealised attainment of catharsis. In discussing the role this type of viewer (or listener) plays in allaying the experience of violence, Ellie Ragland refers to trauma specialist Cathy Caruth (1995) in maintaining that “the Other – the social order – must hear what is actually being said…such that a representative listener…believes the truth that seeps through the imaginary dimensions of a narrative” (Ragland 2001, par. 11).

Caruth in fact articulated a workable configuration of trauma as, pace Freud, consistent with the fact that

the wound of the mind—the breach in the mind’s experience of time, self, and the world—is not, like the wound of the body, a simple and healable event, but rather an event that…is experienced too soon, too unexpectedly, to be fully known and is therefore not available to consciousness until it imposes itself again, repeatedly, in the nightmares and repetitive actions of the survivor…. [Trauma] is not locatable in the simple violent or original event in an individual’s past, but rather in the way that its very unassimilated nature—the way it was precisely not known in the first instance—returns to haunt the survivor later on.

(1996, 3–4; emphasis in the original)

In “The Aftermath of Victimization,” Ronnie Janoff-Bulman (1985, 16–17) further described how the manner in which the traumatic


event returns can be distinguished from other forms of recurrence (i.e.

normative accounts of memory); the visitations of the original event, usually in the form of dreams, are attended by a reduction in the victim’s responsiveness to current reality (1985, 29–30); the historically significant qualifier in this instance is that among various possible origins of trauma, those induced by other humans is far more psychologically distressing than all other sources (1985, 20).

An even more practicable aspect is a specific coping strategy that Janoff-Bulman terms “behavioral self-blame.” Here, the victim blames her or his own behaviour as a way of dealing with the stressful re-living of the traumatic memory. One paradox of behavioral self-blame can also be seen in the way the Korean cinema’s primary audience (synonymous, in this instance, with the Korean people) opts to accept historical traumas as owing to its own error, thus providing the aforementioned cultural peculiarity of han; the other paradox, of course, is that “victims are generally not to blame for their victimisation” (Janoff- Bulman 1985, 30). Nevertheless, the adaptive potential of self-blame, the reason why it is considered “a predictor of good coping” (29), is that the victim becomes capable of resolving to take charge of her or his own fate; in doing so, she or he convinces the self of the value of strategising in order to develop her or his invulnerability, provide meaning to a previously irrational and unjust existence, and restore enough self- esteem to resume a productive life and, subsequently, to avoid possible future instances of trauma.

Interpretive Principle Interpretive PrincipleInterpretive Principle Interpretive Principle Interpretive Principle

Within the terms of the reality that the depiction of historical suffering in Korean films had been experienced by its filmmakers and audiences (occasionally literally), we can herewith identify Korean cinema’s contribution to film realism; it attempts to make sense out of historical traumas by drawing from collective experiences rather than fabricating new ones or adopting foreign accounts. The strategy is in a sense circular,


in that this is the means—one might even argue that this is the only means—

by which film artists can effectively manage to connect with the local audience.

Through a borrowed medium, history makes its presence felt, sometimes by literalising itself onscreen, more often by infusing or haunting, as a phantom would, the spectacle that spectators are invited to participate in. This is literalised most starkly in another all-time blockbuster, Je-gyu Kang’s Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo [Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War], where each of two brothers finds himself fighting for one side of the Korean War against his much-beloved, long-lost, and momentarily unrecognizable sibling. Because of its applicability in formal and narratological ter ms, such a contribution recalls the achievements of earlier global film trends, especially the ones in Third and Third-World cinema (cf. Armes 1987; and Pines and Willemen 1989).

Consequently, it will arguably have a capacity to endure in spite of the formation of a backlash against Hallyu, the larger wave of Korean popular-culture that had made its mark not just in Asia but also in the rest of the world.6

By asserting the presence of the traumatic in the output of the New Korean Cinema, one might be misconstrued as stating that all its products are autobiographical. This line of argument may be redundant in a sense, if we hark back to the auteurist dogma that all film products are always- already inscribed by their respective filmmakers’ personal narratives. But what might be useful at this moment is the notion that the use of such a popular medium in articulating the discourse of the experience of violence may be akin to seeking what has been called an alternative jurisprudence.

Here, what remains historically unresolved might now have a chance of attaining closure. Leigh Gilmore (2001, 143) ascribes this idea to Michel Foucault’s insistence on anonymity in one of his interviews, ironically so that he could be heard once again in the same way before he became famous, in the hope that both subject and reader could “risk transformation.”


In extending this argument to film practice, we could say that, because of the “oceanic” or all-enveloping reality effect, authorial anonymity always-already accompanies the viewing experience. Note also another “limit” of trauma discourse in psychoanalysis (which serendipitously fulfils our study of the New Korean Cinema) in its association of the production of art with the condition of neurosis (Rose 1987, 2). While it may be too reductive to state that the considerably high concentration of artistic achievement in the New Wave is traceable to the neurosis induced by historical trauma, the obverse argument—that none of the actuations of Korean film talents and audiences is ascribable to the mechanisms of historical memory—would ring just as false. Therefore, the condition of possibility of history impinging on Korean film activity might be more of an always-already present, if not always fully conscious, aspect of everyday cultural reality.

In considering how much further the New Korean Cinema can travel on the fuel-strength of historical trauma as an interpretive principle, we could consider the prescription of Susan Hayward (2000, 101) in her essay “Framing national cinemas.”

This writing of a national cinema is one that refuses to historicise the nation as subject/object in and of itself but makes it a subject and object of knowledge. This (ideal) writing of a national cinema…is one which delves deep into the pathologies of nationalist discourses and exposes the symbolic practices of these forms of enunciation. Finally, this framing of national cinemas is one which perceives cinema as a practice that should not conceal structures of power and knowledge but which should function as a mise-en-scène of scattered and dissembling identities as well as fractured subjectivities and fragmented hegemonies.

Here, we can see how the “framing” described by Hayward would not have to be a still-to-be-implemented formulary in the case of Korean cinema, since its implicit recognition of the role played by trauma had already been (and is still being) foregrounded in the major output of


TABLE 1 : Some China-Funded Projects
TABLE 2:  High Level Visits between Leaders of the Philippines and China
TABLE 3:  Agreements between the Philippines and China

Mga Sanggunian


A former contributor of social and political cartoons to Asahi Shinbun, whose cartoons were at the time appearing on the alternative news website The News, in the cartoon magazine

Baviera’s children for giving the Asian Center permission to reprint and reformat these articles, and for sharing with us the photo that now graces the cover of this issue.. Thanks also