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In Session: Questioning Korean Cinema’s Foreignness in the 21st Century
1: Neither Foreign Nor Native: The Representation of Ethnic Chinese and Korean Chinese in Contemporary South Korean Films
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
So Hye Kim
Northwestern University, United States
This paper examines the trope of ethnic Chinese descendants in Korea paired with Korean Chinese returnees in recent South Korean blockbuster films. The history of Overseas Chinese—or huaqiao—in Korea traces to the late 19th century. However, due to the South Korean government’s legal restrictions and social prejudices, a considerable number of huaqiao in Korea have embarked on an exodus, and the social status of those who remained was further marginalized. Whereas huaqiao have been almost invisible in South Korean media for several decades, recently they have become a near staple of Korean blockbuster films, appearing alongside Korean Chinese, or Chosŏnjok, characters. Huaqiao and Chosŏnjok are represented in noir and comedy films through ambiguous ethnic and cultural identities that are exploited through genre tropes. To be specific, compared to Korean Chinese characters, huaqiao counterparts are presented as better assimilated in Korean society and symbolically affiliated with state power as police officers. Nevertheless, their Chinese heritage destabilizes their status and makes them oscillate between foreignness and nativeness.
This paper analyzes New World (2013) and Extreme Job (2019) as main texts, exploring the reconceptualization of the foreignness of diasporic populations in contemporary Korean films, by focusing on the dynamics between performing foreignness and passing as Korean. Here the paper illuminates how ethnic Chinese in Korea reemerged opposite Korean Chinese returnees in genre conventions of equivocal foreignness arousing anxiety, and how the diasporic historicity of both groups is decontextualized and reframed in this dichotomy between foreignness and Koreanness.