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Abstract

This dissertation examines the ways in which contemporary Korean diaspora films are introduced and integrated into South Korean cinema, how they negotiate with the formation of national culture in the homeland and in turn, how they uncover new forms of transnational practices through cinematic imagination and spectatorial experience. By locating Korean diaspora films within the history of East Asian cultural production during the long twentieth century, my thesis contextualizes the cinematic mobility of Korean diaspora in the post-Cold War era and interrogates the ways in which Korean diaspora films affect, subvert, and transform both the national and transnational imagination of Korean cinema. Based on historical research and textual analysis, my dissertation first addresses how the Korean diaspora in East Asia has historically been situated both in and outside the representational and industrial boundaries established by Korean cinema. Second, it examines how Korean diaspora films have challenged and reconfigured notions of Korean cinema’s transnationality on several levels, from cultural policy and financial funding to public discourse on multiculturalism. It focuses on the contemporary films of second- and third-generation Koreans who reside either in Japan or in the People’s Republic of China, namely, Sai Yoichi and Yang Yonghi in Japan, and Zhang Lu in China. By scrutinizing both the sociohistorical context and text of these Korean diasporic filmmakers’ return to South Korea, this thesis explores the implications of the homeland and of homecomings in their films, the filmmakers’ displaced history inscribed into the film texts, and an emergent transnational vision of the films. Chapter One, titled “Histories of Korean Diaspora in East Asia,” presents the history of the Korean diaspora’s dislocations and homecomings in East Asia and the continuous process of making and unmaking a homeland of two nation-states in the ancestral homeland. Chapter Two, “Cinematic Representation of Korean Diaspora in South Korean Films,” analyzes the history of cinematic representation of Korean diaspora in South Korean films from the Cold War period to the recent post–Cold War era, with particular attention on the emergence of the diaspora as a cinematic subject in South Korean films in the 2000s that is deeply connected with the transformation of the Korean film industry and reconceptualization of the national cinema since the late 1980s. Entitled “The Divided Nation and Zainichi Filmmakers’ Bittersweet Return,” Chapter Three is centered on works by ethnic Korean filmmakers active in Japan that either feature the issue of homecoming or were produced in South Korea. This chapter explores the filmmakers’ unstable and shifting positions between the host country, Japan, the home country, the divided Korea, and spectatorship in respective countries. The fourth and final body chapter investigates a third-generation Korean Chinese filmmaker Zhang Lu’s engagement with South Korean cinema. The chapter, entitled “Crossing the Border to the Audience: Zhang Lu’s Cinematic Return to South Korea,” closely analyzes the internalized border in his films made in South Korea, both in narrative and cinematic form. The cinematic returns of Korean diaspora, I argue, critically revisits the transnationalism of Korean cinema beyond the current celebration of its supranational flow, by harking back to the inevitably transnational history of East Asia embodied in both lives and films, and illuminates the mutually constitutive and dialectical relationship between diaspora film and South Korean cinema, and between filmmakers and spectatorship.

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