The Han and Cinema
October 27, 2008 9:47 AM   Subscribe

The Han and Cinema I am working on a paper on the Korean concept of Han and how Han is communicated directly or through the use of trope in film and television. Of particular interest are films and television from East Asia, those which feature East Asian actors, and those which are set in East Asia. The definition I am seeking to support or reject is the idea of Han as: The pain of victims that has festered in their hearts for a long time. My ideas thus far: The West Wing (2003) Episode 504 - entitled Han. The Good Earth (1937) In addition to the plot of the film of interest is the fact Anna May Wong was passed over for the role of O-Lan and the pain and woundedness and the sense of "Han" she experienced. M*A*S*H (1972-1983) set in Korea but not focused on Korea. The Korean people are merely a silent witness in the series, they have no voice. If you have any suggestions I would greatly appreciate it.
posted by the_binary_blues to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you watched the first thee seasons of MASH, you may change your opinion.

If you've only seen the 4th season and on, then I would agree with you. MASH became just another horrible formula sitcom after the third season.
posted by Zambrano at 10:42 AM on October 27, 2008

Best answer: If you're gonna talk about Han at all, I'd suggest that you look at older Korean cinema, either silent or dubbed-over, not the contemporary kind. I'd argue that the sense of Han is intrinsically linked to economy and poverty -- so the more contemporary you get, the depictions of such 'Han'-ish longing become less apparent. Or at least -- those generations who remember hardship have been replaced with a newer generation living in the midst of (relative) affluence and political stability and thus less likely to dwell on such themes.

The West Wing and MASH, I'd say, aren't very good avenues of approach, not just because they're created by Western minds and for Western audiences, but because I don't think they really deal with Han at all. The notion of suffering implied by Han, IMO, is ultimately a personal and individual one based on a reaction in the face of massive hardship. An 'exterior' viewpoint wouldn't really render this concept justice. Nor is this notion of Han-suffering just an existence as a silent witness.

And The Good Earth, first and foremost, is based in China, not Korea. I mean, if you're trying to make the case for a inter-cultural concept of Han, that's totally fine, but unless that's your explicit concept, I think it's a bad source. Especially if the "victimization" that the feeling of Han arises from has to do with clashes between China-Korea as well as Korea-and-Japan, perhaps even motivated by a resentment towards Chinese military forces who were involved in the Korean War...

I mean, the Wikipedia article on Cinema of Korea has a lot of info about Korean silent/dubbed films. I mean, look at the posters -- those faces aren't exactly happy, there. Any number of the films mentioned could probably be analyzed in the light of political occupancy and liberation politics, using an expression of Han as a device to advocate these political values..
posted by suedehead at 1:07 PM on October 27, 2008

Response by poster: @suedehead: Thank you so much for your suggestions. The concept is still very new to me and I am doing as much reading as I can and I am a very visual person and I love cinema so to me it is important to make the link between the concept of the Han and Cinema. I will look into the films on the wikipage. Are there any specific ones that stick out to your or you think would be tantamount to look into?
I am off to netflix and the library to see what I can find.
posted by the_binary_blues at 2:54 PM on October 27, 2008

I know noting about Han, but it sounds like Tae Guk Gi might be of interest. I got it from Netflix a few years back.
posted by QIbHom at 3:50 PM on October 27, 2008

As mentioned in my comment here (and it's something I've written a fair bit about elsewhere, as well), I think getting a clearer understanding of han is greatly enhanced by developing some feel for it in the contect of the other fundamental hard-to-translate concepts of Korean self-concept and social interaction : chemyeon, neunchi, kibun, bunuiki, and jeong.

To get a feeling for how alive it is in contemporary culture, just watch an evening of Korean TV. There are literally people weeping abjectly -- almost always women, of course -- every 5 minutes. It is a slightly odd thing for non-Koreans. Han is not purely the preserve of women, of course, but with the changes in the culture in recent decades, it is most often manifested in popular media by women.

The major Korean TV networks are MBC, KBS, and SBS. All of them can be found at the appropriate URLs, and all of them offer streaming video and video on demand. There's a rich seam of material there, if you're willing to look beyond just film.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:56 PM on October 27, 2008

Also, I strongly recommend that you do not seek any real understanding of these things from media produced by non-Koreans for a non-Korean audience (like MASH or The West Wing (although I am unfamiliar with that program)).

Non-Korean takes on deep Korean issues are, in my experience, almost universally off-base, and often based (ironically, much as Korean takes on non-Korean culture are) on stereotypes and faulty assumptions.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:00 AM on October 28, 2008

Or, what suedehead said.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:01 AM on October 28, 2008

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