Josie SOHN

Thesis: 24 frames a second the cosmopolitan cinephilia of South Korean college students (2012)


This dissertation is an interdisciplinary ethnography of the culture of young cinephiles in South Korea where I conducted research in 2008-9. The ethnographic heart of my work is a university film club (tongari ) located in Seoul. I also observed a student-run film magazine as well as major and minor international film festivals. Demographically, the age cohort of university students represents the most active users of film in South Korea which boasts the fifth-largest film market in the world. I have approached the film club as a speech community from which I collected a group discourse on film and spectatorship as an intimate window on the culture of local cinephiles. Based on my fieldwork, I make a central argument that cinephilic culture as exemplified by the film club is largely cosmopolitan in nature, reflecting the enormous circulation of international movies and film scholarship across national borders. The opening chapters first discuss how cinephiles have come to share cosmopolitan tastes through various means such as art houses in Seoul; the tradition of watching canonical films and studying film theory in university film clubs that emerged on university campuses in Seoul in the 1980s; and the Internet and personal computing technologies. The core chapters examine precisely how (close reading) and why (affective and personal experience) young cinephiles watch global cinemas that they encounter through theaters, friends, and the Internet. In these chapters, concomitant to my observation that the culture of South Korean cinephiles is largely cosmopolitan, I illustrate how the culture of studying American film scholarship as well as consuming Western classics and art films does not necessarily sustain the traditionally unequal power relationship implicated in cross-border cultural transactions. The last chapter, moreover, situates cosmopolitan cinephilia within the contemporary social and cultural context of South Korea, which is most notably marked by neoliberal and multicultural politics.