Arirang, and the making of a national narrative in South and North Korea

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Among the number of films that portrayed the reality of colonized Korea, Arirang (1926) is widely considered to have especially evoked the fervour of Koreans for independence. This silent film was written and directed by Na Un Kyu, whose groundbreaking directorial and acting techniques contributed to the early development of Korean cinema. However, the eight-decade-long discussion about Arirang and its director reveals the strikingly ambiguous readings of those cultural texts that have been picked up by nationalist ideologies. On the one hand, there is no trace of the original text — the film has been lost since 1950. On the other, despite this textual inadequacy, the pre-emptive designation of Arirang as minjok yŏnghwa (nationalistic cinema) places it squarely within the nationalist paradigm. The politically construed genre of minjok yŏnghwa, applied by both North and South Korea, not only eliminates the possibility of looking at Arirang within the context of the cultural discourse of the period, it also legitimizes the textual status of the film, stifling questions under the heavy guard of institutionalized cultural policy. In short, a ‘politicized’ historical memory has been imposed upon a crucially significant cultural text.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-43
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Japanese and Korean Cinema
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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