The Carolina Asia Center will host "Korean Cinema: The Work of Bong Joon-Ho," a Zoom discussion event, on Wednesday. University of California, Irvine professor Joseph Jonghyun Jeon and Chapman University professor Nam Lee will discuss the work of Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho during the event.
An Academy Award-winning director and screenwriter, Bong is known for films including "Parasite," "Snowpiercer," "Mother" and "Okja."
Wednesday's discussion focusing on Bong's work is the first of a series this spring that revolves around Korean pop culture. Later events will focus on K-Pop and K-Beauty.
Ji-Yeon O. Jo, director of the Carolina Asia Center and associate professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, said she plans with her team each year in order to provide critical programs that highlight different topics.
"Carolina Asia Center is one of the leading Asian centers in southeast United States," Jo said. "Our mission is to promote the academic and cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Asia."
Last semester, the CAC collaborated with the Korean Economic Institute of America to discuss the implications of the Korean War on the country and the world as a whole.
This year, the center will be focusing on Korean pop culture, which has seen increased engagement from audiences worldwide recently, Jo said.
“Because of the synergy created from 'Parasite,' 'Minari' and BTS during the global pandemic, there has been a lot of interest in Korean pop culture,” Jo said. “We thought it would be a great time to have some scholarly perspective on Korean pop culture as well.”
Lee, who will speak at Wednesday's event, said that exploring film culture and content opened a door for her to pursue a career in film academia.
Before coming to the U.S. in 2000, Lee was a journalist and film critic in South Korea. During this work, she witnessed a period when Korean filmmakers were rising in prominence.
Now at Chapman University, Lee focuses on film studies — and specifically Korean cinema, Asian cinema, women's filmmaking and transitional cinema.
“For the last five years of my career in journalism, I covered cinema,” she said. “I interviewed filmmakers and wrote feature stories. I wanted to be an expert and was seriously interested in films.”
Lee described Joon-Ho as a “filmmaker sociologist": an individual who is able to effectively portray Korean realities in the form of popular cinema rather than documentaries or art cinema.
In 2011, she said she was able to meet Joon-Ho at Chapman's Busan West Film Festival. And in 2020, she published a book on his films, titled "The Films of Bong Joon-Ho."
“I was really impressed by the way he went about researching and making films," Lee said. "His films were very popular with my students at Chapman Film School, so I decided to write about him."
At the speaker series, she will present on a comparative analysis she wrote, titled "Class Polarization and Catastrophic Imagination in Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer (2013) and Parasite (2019).”
Jeon, the director of the Center for Critical Korean Studies at UCI, will present "Parenting Fails: Bong Joon-Ho’s The Host (2006) and Mother (2009)," which focuses on pieces from earlier in Joon-Ho's career.
“My general conception about the arc of the first half of Bong Joon-Ho’s career (is that) his earlier films are about the encroachment of global modernity on South Korea, so it’s sort of an external threat in a lot of cases, such as in 'Memories of Murder,' which is about a serial killer,” he said.
Jeon said he has been working to connect the Center for Critical Korean Studies to wider community engagements and fund graduate students. He said the approach he takes with all of his work is transnational.
Jeon became interested in this type of work while studying at the University of California, Berkeley, because it pertained to an important global transformation and the emergence of a geopolitical relationship between the U.S. and other Asian countries.
“The book I wrote is about the economic relationship between neoimperialist U.S. power and what’s often referred to as a client state of South Korea at a moment where the U.S. empire begins to decline,” he said.
Wednesday's discussion with Lee and Jeon is free and open to the public.
Also a part of the series, on April 7, the CAC will host another Korean pop culture event focusing on Korean beauty. The event will feature New York University professor S. Heijin Lee and Hye-Kyoung Kwon, a visiting lecturer in the UNC Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.
“I have multiple objectives," Jo said. "One is to raise awareness of Korean popular culture. A second is to provide diverse perspectives on how we understand Korean popular culture — not in a superficial way but in a more in-depth, scholarly way.
"We do not consider Korean pop culture as a trend or hype but as a topic worth investigating and studying."
Those interested in attending CAC events can find more information on the center's website.
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