Disaster Narratives in the South Korean Cultural Imaginary
(Vol.55. No.3 Autumn, 2015 pp.8~29)
Joanna ELFVING-HWAN
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abstract
The modern South Korean cultural imaginary has been marked by a curious lack of large-scale, naturally occurring, apocalyptic disaster narratives. This absence becomes significant when mapped against narratives of manmade disasters that are typically juxtaposed with depictions of solid and unchanging physical land, within which the hyangto (home soil) frequently emerges as a comforting signifier for the cultural continuity of the Korean nation in the face of social and political disasters. This article will discuss the significance of this representational insistence of safe land, and why the physical soil of the Korean peninsula itself takes such a central stage in narratives of national (but very rarely natural) disasters. To foreground a reading of the only Korean natural disaster blockbuster film to date, Haeundae (Tidal Wave, 2009), as an example of how disaster narratives have been integrated into wider political discourses of communal or even national identity, this article will highlight a clear resistance to the mere possibility of nature turning on human beings in the modern Korean cinematic imaginary. This approach, in turn, reveals a strong symbolic link between the grand narrative of the Korean people and culture as being inextricably entwined with the unchanging nature of the physical soil itself.
Keywords:
South Korean cinema, natural disasters, national identity discourses, authentic Koreanness, hyangto (home soil), disaster movies
 
Types: Articles
 
Subject: Korean Studies , Cultural and ethnic studies
 
About the author(s)
Joanna ELFVING-HWANG is Associate Professor of Korean Studies at the University of Western Australia. E-mail: joanna.elfving-hwang@uwa.edu.au.