The Good, the Bad, and the South Korean:

Robert L. Cagle

in Horror to the Extreme

Published by Hong Kong University Press

Published in print June 2009 | ISBN: 9789622099722
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9789882207028 | DOI:
The Good, the Bad, and the South Korean:

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This chapter analyzes the issue of violence in recent South Korean “extreme” films, and focuses on three films: Oldboy (2003), H (2002), and A Bittersweet Life (2005). It questions the simplistic dichotomies of “us” (or “US”) versus “them,” “good” versus “evil,” and “sane” versus “sick.” It compares the three films with Hollywood melodrama and notes how a “threat” to social order propels the narrative in both South Korean “extreme” films and Hollywood melodrama, yet the “threat” functions differently in that the moral good is never fully restored in the former. It argues that such narrative structure is attributed to the recent history and national traumas of Korea, and that violence in Korean extreme films provides a revelatory moment, in which the sustained moral structure is reversed; the protagonist recognizes the “other” in him or her, dissolving the binary moral opposition between good and evil.

Keywords: extreme films; Oldboy; H; A Bittersweet Life; good; evil; sane; sick; moral good; national traumas

Chapter.  8310 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Film

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