chapter  8
Dividuated Korean Cinema
Recent Body Switch Films in the Overwired Age
ByKyung Hyun Kim
Pages 24

Photographs play essential, if not central roles, in two of the best-known Korean films of the New Korean Cinema movement of the past fin-du-siècle. In Pakha sat’ang (Peppermint Candy, Yi Chang-dong, 1999), protagonist Yông-ho, barely 20, while on a picnic reveals to Sun-im, the woman he had been fancying at work, that his dream is to photograph “nameless wildflowers.” Set in 1979 when this picnic episode takes place, Yông-ho’s dream of capturing nature’s beauty with a camera could only be just that: a dream—for the prohibitive cost of ownership of a camera is too great for it to become a reality for Yông-ho, who is just a menial factory worker in a country that has yet to be freed from the shackles of a Third World dictatorship. If ownership of a camera is an explicit emblem of a First World hobby that is totally out of reach for the working class during this period, mired still in postwar poverty and intense industrialization, it is the psychological trauma that disallows Yông-ho from accepting a camera in the form of a gift 20 years later. Contemplating suicide in the episode that is set in 1999, Yông-ho no longer wishes to leave a trace of him as he not only sells the camera at a pawnshop, but also trashes the film that was kept in the camera without having it developed. The hobby of photography will not help a young man advance his career nor will it avert the traumatized middle-aged man from committing suicide (Figure 8.1).