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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Memories of Murder: Part III - The Evolution of the Post-Traumatic Male

"Either physically handicapped or psychologically traumatized (sometimes both), many of the characters emblematized the period's frustration when protest against the military government was disallowed." 

Waiting for the inevitable force of time and society
There is an evident progression of character representation if we trace the relevance of this statement from the start of the New Korean Wave, through its end and into modern Korean cinema. At the start, characters that fit this description were either college students or working class protagonists who had no chance to engage positively or successfully with society. Both of these character types, while worlds apart, suffered from an inability of expression and were both systematically oppressed by a government which tolerated nothing but uniformity and obedience. 

This began to change over time and in the year 2000, Peppermint Candy, arguably one of the last New Korean Cinema films, was released.  In this narrative we follow a character's entire life story, although we do not engage too much with him personally as he is more of a window to see certain political events through. The trauma that his character suffers from emblematizes the many consequences of the social ills committed during the periods highlighted in the film. What is important, regarding the previous quote, is that he starts off with artistic and optimistic aspirations for the future but as his life becomes consumed and destroyed by the government and military  he is eventually forced into civil service, where he becomes a detective and is broken down to become part of the system as he begins to reign his own oppression by beating people senseless under the guise of the law. Only in the end of the narrative (the start of the film as it plays in reverse chronological order) does he recognize what society has done to him and what he has become. At this point he removes himself from the tarnished society he admits to living in and being a part of. In Peppermint Candy the suicide of the principal protagonist at the beginning of the narrative very clearly spells disaster, when the character puts himself on the road (more specifically a train track here) and waits for the inevitable force of time and society to finish off his chronological narrative. His induction and subsequent denial of society left him with the knowledge that he had no home to go to and any attempt at recuperation would have been impossible. What  happened in this narrative is that a character that started off by "emblematizing a period's frustration" with the government ends up with him becoming a part of it. 

Back at the original scene of the crime
The natural progression of this logic bings us to Memories of Murder which places the emasculated male as a part of the civil service (again a detective) right from the start and we are never given a clue  about his background or why he may have joined the police. We do not necessarily see him as an oppressive agent, although he is certainly not wothy of much praise, but he is part of the system and  he has no understanding of the consequences of most of his actions although to a cetain extent he learns to deal with this throughout the narrative. By the end, after suffering dificult psychological trauma he leaves the force (we do not know when or exactly why, although we can guess) to become a civilian. He becomes a travelling salesman, permanently doomed to travel the roads of South Korea. We last see him exactly where he started, still trying to make sense of something that has no easy answers on a road that seems long and narrow and may not lead anywhere at all.

"The depictions of emasculated and humiliated male subjects set the stage for their remasculinization", this may not necessaily be true of this narrative but by rejecting his image as a civil servant or pawn of an oppressive government he has to some degree become engaged with his own narrative. He understands the society he lives in that much better and sees how he relates to it however,  he is still far from recuperating his own male subjectivity, to quote Kyung "The dawning of a new modern era is normally punctuated by hope and optimism, but the weight of intense history and its attendant violence loomed so excessively large that it ended up traumatizing, marginalizing and denaturalizing men". The government and the history which it created was so vast and oppressive that, coupled with the pre-existing historical traumas from the rest of the century, it became impossible for post-traumatic males to be given any chance to heal their psychological wounds, within or without the civil service and the society it dominated.

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