AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 264

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Session 264: Tran-Asia Cinemas II

Soo Yong (1902-84): Hollywood Star and Cosmopolitan of the Asian Diaspora
Yunxiang Gao, Ryerson University, Canada

Audiences settling into their seats for the highly anticipated performances of Mei Lanfang during his six-month tour of the United States in 1930 first encountered Soo Yong, a lovely actress of Chinese descent. If Americans flocked to see Mei, acclaimed as king of Chinese actors as the star of the Peking Opera, Yong shaped their understanding of the shows by crisply-delivered translations of plot summaries. Already in her mid twenties and a veteran of several Broadway stage shows, Yong was at the cusp of fame in a seven-decade film and stage career in which she created a marketable understanding of Chinese culture to mainstream American audiences and thereby enabled a shift in American consciousness about China. This paper cut across and form ties between several interpretations of Chinese American history. It reintroduces Yong’s vibrant stage, film, and television career that spanned from the 1920s until the early 1980s. Born in Hawaii, Yong traveled and lived throughout the United States and eventually visited many parts of the world, including China. Second, Yong’s fame and influence dispels the shadow cast by Anna May Wong’s immense and controversial persona. Whereas Chinese people criticized Wong because of the stereotyped roles she performed in Hollywood films, Yong sustained a cultivated conversation between Americans of Chinese descent, such forces of western acculturation as education, religion and the arts, and American society. Third, my exploration of Yong’s long life enables a nuanced appreciation of the process of becoming Chinese American in a dynamic tension between China, Hawaii, and the mainland United States.

Reimagining Vietnam War: History, Memory, and Victimhood in New Korean Cinema
Mina Shin, Michigan State University, USA

This paper discusses the contemporary Korean films set in Vietnam War such as R-Point (Kong Su-chang, 2004) and Sunny (2008, Lee Jun-ik). Korean participation in Vietnam is known as Korea’s “forgotten war.” From 1965 to 1973, Park Chung Hee government dispatched over 310,000 Korean soldiers to Vietnam. The fact that Park regime received U.S. government’s economic payoffs through assisting U.S. war efforts and, as a result, he stabilized his dictatorship, has been a taboo and hardly discussed in a state-written official history as well as in Korean cinema. R-Point and Sunny bring up the controversy on screen through the innovative genre bending – war horror and war music drama, respectively. Such genre bending allows these two films subtly negotiate whether or not Korea was perpetrator or victim of the Vietnam War and revision its place in Vietnam in particular and South Asia in general in which Hallyu has a strong foothold. By examining these films, this paper will look at how Korean society attempts to grapple with the nation's painful history and memory.

Mirror, Train, and Screen in Korean Cinematic Modernism
Hyun Seon Park, Yonsei University, South Korea

Mirrors, windows, screens, train stations, stairs, and doors are recurring motifs in modern Korean literature and film. They spatialize the liminal threshold between two different world and often engage in the modern subject's reflexivity. I am drawn to the problematic relationship between the interior space and the outer political landscape. It argues that these modern objects are presented as less the commodified or symbolic object of modernity than as the aesthetic and metonymic signs of the self. My analysis includes three modernist moments; colonial-era classic Yi Sang's poems and short story (including "Mirror" and "Wings"; pro-Japanese colonial films such as Spring of Korean Peninsula by Lee Byung-Il (1941); and a postwar film text, Confession of An Actress by Kim Su-Yong (1967). These modernist texts in literature and film articulate how the seamless conceptualization of self-reflexivity, which is characteristic of the Western modernist discourse, can be revised through the opaque and unstable presentation of self-reflexivity. By focusing on the abundant use of images of mirror, train, and screen, this paper will seek how these motifs alter the very notion of the self and space through the asymmetrical reflection of the world. As the origin of Korean modernity could not separate itself from the experience of colonial modernization, the collision of two different experiences had resulted in the problematic inversion between the interiority and the exteriority. That is when we see a colonial subject becomes tremendously anxious of his alter-ego in the mirror (in Yi Sang), how the trains connect two distant cities, Keijo and Tokyo (in colonial period films), and how film screens became the site of postwar memories and bodies (in Shin's film about the postwar film industry). They will illuminate how Korean modernism embodies the radical rupture of modern history and culture.

Tokyo as a Postcolonial Imaginary in Recent East Asian Cinemas
Jiwon Ahn, Keene State College, USA

While representations of Tokyo by non-Japanese filmmakers have hardly been homogeneous, categorizing those films within international auteur cinema calls for revisiting the question of Orientalism. Key questions include: is the Western gaze toward Japan inherently Orientalist in that it objectifies and mystifies Japan despite the filmmakers’ intentions? Can Japanese (post-)modernity be rendered without being otherized in a non-Japanese filmmaker’s work? Is there any possibility of representing Japan without repeating the same clichés, ranging from a futuristic technotopia to a haven for perverse desire? For answers, this paper looks at representations of Tokyo in the works of Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Bong Joon-ho, in order to explore alternative ways of filming Tokyo as a site for new postcolonial imaginaries. By examining works by the two filmmakers from former colonies of Japan, the paper argues that the sense of alienation in Tokyo commonly found in their films can be interpreted as recognition of the colonial trauma embedded within the everyday fabric of the city. Using Stuart Hall’s notion of “new ethnicities,” the paper suggests that the recognition of colonial trauma through the representation of alienation in Tokyo functions as a discourse of reconciliation. In other words, the paper argues, by acknowledging the common experience of alienation both at home and in Tokyo, the films represent Japan as sharing and still struggling with the troublesome memories of colonial history. The paper concludes by discussing Hou and Bong within international auteur cinema and considers the significance of their status in the formation of postcolonial imaginaries.

Underground Japan: Tokyo and the Subcultural Imagination in Western Cinema
Martin D. Roberts, Independent Scholar, USA

Japan today occupies a privileged position within what might be called the Western subcultural imagination. Western media routinely report on Japanese social, cultural, and sexual practices considered deviant, excessive, or transgressive in Western societies, from carnivalesque street style to “underground” movies and music. This only makes them all the more desirable to Western youth whose social identities are increasingly structured by subcultural ideologies, forever in search of ways to position themselves against the dominant culture of their own society. Tokyo - often conflated with “Japan” in general - is the epicenter of this subcultural imagination. How has this happened? This paper explores this question by considering the increasing fascination with Japan and Tokyo of Western avant-garde filmmakers in recent decades, from the documentaries of Chris Marker and Wim Wenders to the more recent work of Jean-Jacques Beineix, Sophia Coppola, Olivier Assayas, Michel Gondry, and Leos Carax. In the works of such directors, Tokyo is typically figured as a subcultural space, a mysterious yet desirable underworld in some ways reminiscent of Africa’s role in earlier, modernist Western imaginaries as the “dark continent” of the unconscious. This subcultural imaginary of Tokyo is literalized in the fascination of several directors with the city’s subterranean spaces, an underground which embodies the city as a metaphorical underworld in relation to the West. The Western cinematic projection of “Japan” as its own subcultural Other, the paper concludes, thus makes it a particularly intriguing example of the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of subcultural identity in today’s globalized world.

Forbidden Pleasure: Porn, Erotica, Technology & Desire
Taeyun Yu, University of the Philippines, Philippines

Just as Jean Baudrillard predicted that a new era would arrive wherein sexual desire would emerge, the late ’90s in Korea were marked as the fin-de-siècle of sexual explosion that had been suppressed by Confucian ethics along with Christianized Westernization. Sex and nudity have become prevalent themes in popular culture and film as a window onto the world also joined this parade by equipping its products with erotically provocative visuals and transgressive texts. One of the most controversial films was Gojitmal (1999) directed by Sunwoo Jang, instantaneously regarded as blame-worthy texts by conservative sectors due to its use of sadomasochism as its visual and narrative themes. Consequently, it was evaluated as perverse material regardless of its actual messages. This study will aim both to deconstruct such prevalent negativism and to shed light on the social meaning of sadomasochism by viewing the film as an expression of power relations (dominance/submission & discipline/punishment) within the larger social schema. For this objective, the perspectives of Foucauldian thinkers as well as Mikhail Bakhtin's notion of carnivalesque along with feminist theorists that allow the radical reconfiguration of auteur structuralism and psychoanalysis will be employed to delineate the dynamics between power and the self that are projected in Gojitmal.