Academic journal article CineAction

South Korean Film Genres and Art-House Anti-Poetics: Erasure and Negation in the Power Kangwon Province

Academic journal article CineAction

South Korean Film Genres and Art-House Anti-Poetics: Erasure and Negation in the Power Kangwon Province

Article excerpt

At the end of Les Mots et les choses, his breathtaking tour through four centuries worth of epistemological structures and institutional practices, Michel Foucault ruminates on the possible outcome of the modern episteme. Since the nineteenth-century, "man" has been veering inexorably towards an ontological crisis in which his status as biological, economic, and philological actor has become obsolescent, eclipsed by the organizing principles comprising objective language. Just as the various classificatory schemas undergirding the rule-bound "soft sciences" (psychology, sociology and cultural history) reconfigured the vestiges of earlier epistemological structures, from the resemblance systems of Renaissance thought to Classical modes of representation, so too is knowledge "as we know it" faced with its own imminent negation. The final paragraphs of Foucault's text thus recast his earlier arguments about the recent invention of "man" in a grim, premonitory pallor, and speak of humankind being erased "like a f ace drawn in the sand at the edge of the sea." (1) Near the beginning of Hong Sang-soo's cryptic film The Power of Kangwon Province (1998), a seemingly trivial scene lends visual texture to this idea of erasure. Not long after her arrival to the Korean seaside resort Kangwon-do, Chi-suk, a twenty-two year-old college student, accompanies her schoolmates to a beach where she bends down and casually draws something in the sand. Perhaps her sketch is a message, a signature, maybe even a Foucauldian face awaiting its salty demise. Or perhaps it is simply an empty gesture, a mindless doodle to kill time. The ambiguity of her textual inscription is left intact thanks to the static camera's emphatic detachment from the proceedings. Should we construe this mark, this semiological riddle, as a new wrinkle in the fabric of post-structuralist subjectivity, an already poignant if quietly understated beach scene is unexpectedly imbued with significance--manifesting some of the textual and industrial tensions unique to a n ow-internationally acclaimed and generically promiscuous South Korean cinema through an act of erasure. Before the breaking surf rolls in to dissolve the sand-script, Chi-suk wipes away the image, robbing the spectator of a glimpse into this character's troubled psyche while setting an early precedent for other enigmatic, quickly erased compositions throughout the film.

This essay proposes a set of hypotheses around this fleeting moment in The Power of Kangwon Province, which not only foregrounds erasure as a kind of self-effacing authorial prerogative but also highlights an ostensibly non-generic "art-house" film's implicit connection to genre. Indeed, taken as an example of the categorical impetus and imagery undergirding Foucault's text (tables, grids, classificatory charts, etc--all of which contribute to the experience of order, which is "the writing of history itself"), The Power of Kangwon Province offers an illuminating case study of generic inversion at the end of the twentieth century. After contextualizing the film with reference to the industry's millennial drive toward genre diversification, I examine the many instances of erasure (both literal and figurative) throughout the film in hopes of pinpointing some of the thematic preoccupations of Hong Sang-soo. Hong is a filmmaker whose own authorial inclination throughout his seven-year directing and screenwriting c areer appears to be linked to graphological tropes (retracing and erasing) and the questioning of empirical knowledge, as well as the possibility of rendering positive the power of negation. Running parallel to the frequent moments of literal erasure in his films is the director's gravitation toward the "rubbing out" of generic taxonomies. By sprinkling semantic cues and iconographic elements throughout his texts only to blot them out in the end, Hong is able to subtly demonstrate the presence of absence (and vice-versa).

At first glance, the four films thus far comprising Hong's oeuvre have little in common with South Korea's mainstream, genre-based productions. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.