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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Memories of Murder: Part VI - Psychoanalysis and Scarred National Identity

"The difficulty of separating the ego instinct (which he [Freud] equated with death) from the sexual instinct (which he equated with life) is attributed to their critical link commonly bound to the libido that is surely sexual, while also "operate[ing] in the ego"."

Freudian analysis of the emasculated males in South Korean cinema is necessary to understand the motivations of their actions within their respective narratives.  From Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud states "[The sexual instincts] are the true life instincts.  They operate against the purpose of other instincts, which leads, by reason of their function, to death".  As Freud states that the life and death instincts are inextricably linked, we can see that this is central to South Korean cinema.  Kyun writes "The death drive and the reconstitution of the elusive phallus posit an inevitable goal of many narrative movements", characters in films such as Peppermint Candy (1999) for example, demonstrate this clearly by positioning self destructive characters on a journey to regain their male subjectivity, often this is exemplified through phallic symbols and more overtly through fleeting sexual union.  In Memories, the life and death instincts abide in a very tight circle and unite paradoxically though incongruous character relationships.  Take Detective Park, the good guy, as stated before he is in search of his male subjectivity, even though he may not be fully conscious of this journey until much later in the film, but his duty throughout the narrative is to tail and catch a serial killer.  Therefore he is following death and his very motivation for actions and subsequently recuperation is an overt path of destruction that we, the audience, know from the start is doomed to failure.  Life will not be gained on his journey; it will only end in various instances, brutally and without explanation.

The image of corpse smash cuts to...
On the other hand, there is the serial killer, whom, while not present physically in the narrative (or at least never proven to be so), is a spectral presence in the film.  While he goes on his rampage of murder, he is in a way following the life instincts. He is also trying to reconstitute his elusive phallus and he does so by raping women, it is a perversion of the sexual instinct but nonetheless it shows a recognizable effort to recuperate.  However, the subsequent murder of his rape victims seems to contradict this, it is as though his path, like all other males in this area of cinema, is doomed to failure.  He engages in an act of violent and un-consensual sexual intercourse but fails to recuperate his male subjectivity.  Therefore his predetermined role as an emasculated male must become true and the narrative forces him to commit murder and draw ever further away from his goal.

...raw meat
However, back to the life and death instincts, it can be stipulated that any serial killer narrative (at least any that involves serial rape) offers a complex reversal of life and death roles.  Memories uses this genre for its own purpose and forces certain conclusions about the remasculinization of Korean males.  South Korean horror films in general have managed, very successfully, to subvert generic codes most commonly associated with Hollywood.  For instance there are a number of female serial killer protagonists that disrupt narratives by littering the screen with objectified male corpses, instead of attractive females.  Kyu Hun Kim, in his examination of Tell Me Something (1999) states that it "draws its horrific power partly from subverting and disrupting male-oriented scopophilia and the objectification of the female subject".  Memories does not reverse the gender roles but it does engage with scopophilia by challenging it.  The victims are for the most part very attractive women but we never see them while they are alive, save for a middle-aged women who is dressed down and a child, we only see their grotesque corpses which are pallid, bruised, contorted, and bug-ridden.  To make matters even worse for us sly editing techniques are used to throw us off balance.  In one case, after having examined the third victims’ gruesome body on the operating table we end on a very graphic and visceral close-up of the corpse only to immediately cut to a similarly framed close-up of blood red meat being thrown onto a red hot grill.  The sight of the corpse of a young child further into the narrative also serves to destabilize us; it even upsets the central protagonists who are meant to be hardened detectives.

Riots break out during a presidential visit
In terms of turning the lens on Korea there are a couple of elements that identify the killer as a symbol of a generation (a very violent one but perhaps not altogether singular).  The man that the narrative identities to us as the probable suspect is only a recent resident of the area.  He came from Kwangju, site of the infamous massacre of thousands of innocent civilians by the military, who reputedly "bayoneted students, flayed women`s breast, and used flamethrowers on demonstrators".  It is no accident that he comes from that particular area.  In addition the film is set in 1986, which was only a few years alter the incident that is viewed as one of the most traumatic for the country and is the lynchpin of the military dictatorship's regime in the 1980s.  Thus we can assume that this suspect is heavily traumatized and,  since he is very young, the massacre was probably the most influential moment of his life.  On the day of the massacre, the students and activists who were targeted, many of whom were women, were dressed in red.  The killer exclusively strikes victims dressed in red and only in the rain (it rained heavily during the Kwangju massacre). The sight of red sets him into a frenzy as he cannot erase the memory from his mind, he can only re-enact it again and again.  Other scenes in the film hint at this possibility, like the civil defense drills at night and in the schools where the children do not take them seriously, but most importantly during the brief presidential visit where riots break out.  The rioters are brutally beaten and Inspector Jo is among the oppressors as he violently attacks women on the street.

Inspector Jo attacking a woman
Joʼs position within the story becomes very interesting when he is later reprimanded by the superintendent for his excessive use of force and goes and goes to get drunk in Baek's family restaurant. It is here that his anger exhibits itself in its most violent manifestation as he brutally attacks the patrons of the bar and even seems to target the women.  He is clearly a part of a system which has compromised him and left him with very little direction but violence; he has become completely indoctrinated.  When he is once again reprimanded for his actions the superintendent kicks him down the stairs.  It isn't the violence that bothers the chief but how his reputation will be affected if the media finds out.  What seems to set Jo off in the bar is a female patrons' response to a news item on television about the investigation of a Detective for police torture and sexual assault when she says that "all detective's dicks should be cut off".  Jo is unable to control himself in light of this implicit attack on his phallns and loses control.  While not a sympathetic character like Detective Park, Inspector Jo does shed some light on what could have caused soldiers to become so violent in suppressing demonstrations in Kwangju. He is a character that has been manipulated so badly by the government that he can no longer control his own emotions and actions.



1 comment:

  1. HEy man awesome paper. Id give you an A. Its one of my favorite movies too great analysis. If you want to talk about wierd korean and japanese films email me at tatagu14@yahoo.com

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