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Family Pictures: Representations of the Family in Contemporary Korean Cinema



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An, Ji-yoon 


The family has always been a central narrative theme in cinema. Korean cinema has been no exception, where the family has proved to be a popular subject since its earliest days. Yet Western scholarship on Korean cinema has given little attention to this dominant theme, preferring to concentrate on the film industry's recent revival and its blockbusters. Scholarship in Korea and in the Korean language, on the hand, has continuously discussed some of the major cinematic works on the family. However, such literature has tended to be in the form of articles discussing one or two particular works. A comprehensive study of the family in contemporary Korean cinema therefore remains absent both in Korean and in English. This thesis is an attempt to provide such a work, bringing together films on the family and writings on them in both Western and Korean scholarships, as well as filling the gaps where certain trends and patterns have gone undetected.

How are the changes in the understanding of the family or in the roles of individual family members reworked, imagined, or desired in films? Taking this question as the starting point of the research, each chapter explores a separate theme: transformations in the structure of the family; faltering patriarchy and fatherhood; motherhood and the extremity of maternal love; and certain children's experiences of the family. The first chapter detects a general move away from the traditional patriarchal nuclear family and an interest in depicting alternative families, exploring shifting family forms in contemporary society and the public discourses surrounding them. The second chapter highlights the contradictory ways that the father has been illustrated in films during and after the IMF crisis. The third chapter explores a branch of recent thrillers that depicts mothers as dark and dangerous characters, offering an interesting cultural framing to the multiple perceptions of the mother figure in contemporary society. Finally, the last chapter aims to extend representations of the 'Korean family' to include films by/about those currently living outside of Korea, namely Korean emigrants and adoptees.




Morris, Mark


Korea, Korean cinema, Film, Cinema, Asia, Asian cinema, Korean society, patriarchy, fatherhood, motherhood, thriller films, thrillers, IMF crisis, nuclear family, contemporary Korea, diaspora, diasporic filmmaking, Korean-American, international adoption, adoption, children, family, compressed modernity, South Korea, South Korean cinema, Korean films, world cinema, international cinema


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
The doctorate was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Fieldwork in South Korea was funded by the Korea Foundation (KF).