Chung-kang KIM

Thesis: South Korean golden-age comedy film: Industry, genre, and popular culture (1953 -1970) (2010)


This dissertation, “South Korean Golden-Age Comedy Film: Industry, Genre, and Popular Culture (1953 -1970),” examines the socio-cultural and political aspects of comedy films made in South Korea in the 1950s and 1960s, the era in which the South Korean nation mobilized in the name of “development” and “progress.” Comedy film enjoyed particular growth and popularity during the post-war reconstruction movement (late 1950s) when the film industry began to take shape; the democratic social atmosphere in the aftermath of the April Revolution (1960) enveloped the whole society; and the government-centered film industry waned with the dawn of Yushin, President Park Chung Hee’s drastic measures to control the society (1971). While operating at a far remove from the depressing images of post-War devastation and the propaganda images of the South Korean totalitarian regime, comedy film was both incredibly popular, and can be appreciated as a politically maneuvered genre. I trace the socio-political and industry origins of the production of the comedy film genre, and examine its cultural contexts and effects through the Syngman Rhee regime (1948-1960) to the April Revolution, and into the pre-Yushin Park Chung Hee era (1961-1970).

I argue that structural changes in the South Korean film industry, especially its highly gendered and state-orchestrated consolidation, were critical to the image production, film language, and frame and narrative structures of comedy films. On the other hand, the style of comedy film–distinguished by its remarkable generic hybridity and considerable transnational circulation–appealed to the Korean audience. The comedies combine colonial popular performance (e.g., akkuk, a Japanese-influenced, Korean style vaudeville), the visual techniques and mise-en-scène of Classical Hollywood film, and the star-power of comedians. Transnational and cross-cultural fantasy, I argue that, is disjunctively combined with didactic/state-centered descriptions of family and gender, and thus, comedy films both satisfied and disciplined the industrial, national, and popular needs of immediate post-colonial South Korean society as it struggled to cultivate a modern developed nation.