Screening Korea
Question: How the films of 20th century and the films of 21st century in South Korea demonstrate the different feeling of nationalism?
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Qilin Cai (Jacky)

Professor Jina Eleanor Kim

Screening Korea



The Nationalism of Korea


Human being and other creatures can increase their opportunity to survive by being part of a group. So, our ancestors will create a group, like tribe, to survive and reproduce. Human also need the mental power and belief to live. Our ancestors were tribal, and a nation is just a bigger tribe. And the mental power, people call it “Nationalism”. The definition of nationalism is “spirit or aspirations common to the whole of a nation” and “the love, devotion and loyalty of country and the desire for national advancement.” In Korean national cinema, there are lots of films express the feeling of nationalism to encourage and remind people about the feeling of nationalism. Why nationalism is emphasized and be a core in Korean history. “This han-factor can provide insights and answers for certain somewhat puzzling Korean behavior, both nationally and personally, both historically and immediately, both in international relations and in personal interactions. There are many colonial relationships, Japan built extensive cultural capability in Korea while attempting to clear traditional Korean culture (1910-1945). Japan ended the 518-year rule of the Choson Dynasty in 1910 when it tent annexed Korea. Korea was occupied by the Japanese for 35 years during which hely forgot their identity. This has made them fiercely proud of their national culture today. Administration was characterized by tight control from Tokyo and ruthless efforts to supplant Korean language and culture. Korean nationalism is a hot button for the Korean public psyche. Korean nationalism is a natural reflection of Korea’s strong sense of identity and identity, and also a reflection of The new pride that Koreans feel in the country’s growing stature in the world. The search for a national identity has taken views attention in contemporary Korea.”

However, the expression method and significance of nationalism is different between the films about 20th century and the films about 21st century in South Korea. In 20th century, the films mainly demonstrate feeling of nationalism about loyalty and solidarity, since South Korea was suffering pain of the wars and undergoing the division of the nation. On the other hand, in 21st century, the South Korean nationalism is demonstrated by the desire for national peace and empathy to compatriot.

In 20th century, the nationalism can be reflected by the patriotism. Because patriotism means “devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country and nation”. And nation has the strong connection with the country. These two concepts tightly related with each other. In the films of 20th century, directors often express the feeling of patriotism through the miserable war and the loyal and patriotic protagonist. The nationalism is demonstrated by the protagonist’s action, emotion and traits. Through the movies, audience will understand the how patriotism closely connected to nationalism.

In the movie “The Admiral: Roaring Currents”, director Kim Han-min shapes and restores solid and fullness of round character – Yi Shun-shin on the screen and embody his heroism and nationalism. Yi Sun-shin is a loyal and patriotic person. Because even though he was victimized by his country, he still fought with enemy without complaints. However, when the invasion from Japan appeared in 1597, Yi Sun-shin accepted the heavy mission without any hesitation and still went all out. When he was released, he has scant time to rally his sailors and navy and prepare the turtle ships. Despite the great disparity between enemy and him, Yi Sun-shin still request to battle with Japanese navy. On his requested letter, he wrote “Now I have 12 battle ships, but I still can fight with enemy.” In other word, I would rather die in the battle than flinch. Although he was wounded seriously, he also tried to figure out how to use 12 battleships to devise a defense against a Japanese fleet of more than 300. At last, he won this tough war.

When Yi Sun-shin ate dinner with his son, his son persuaded him to give up this impossible battle and return home. Yi Sun-shin’s only loved son even didn’t believe that he can win this battle. How loyal and brave Yi Sun-shin is to make this hard decision that never flinch. His son asked him: “What do you fighting for?” Yi Sun-shin answered: “For loyalty.” Loyalty is the first priority in Yi Sun-shin’s mind, even if his son tried to persuade him. Yi Sun-shin explain what is “the love, devotion and loyalty of country and the desire for national advancement” mean.

This is how a national hero acts. When his nation is invaded by the enemy, he will stand up and try his best to defend his nation bravely without hesitation. The nationalism is expressed by Yi Shun-shin vividly. However, in 21st century, a kind of nationalism is demonstrated by helping and defending compatriot against on injustice. Since the nationalism is also caring about and saving compatriot and one’s country if there is injustice.

In the movie “Silenced”, Director Hwang Dong-hyuk exposed a serious case to attract audiences’ attention on the legal loophole about The Law of the Protection of Juveniles. Gang In-ho, an appointive teacher who is responsible for art teaching at Benevolence Academy, a school for hearing-impaired children. He has a sorrowful past which his wife commits suicide and his daughter gets in serious disease. However, In-ho is still acting positively to his lives; He also wants to be the one who brings joy and hope to the children. Unfortunately, he discovered a gloomy truth about the school that teachers have been physically and sexually abused the children. When In-ho and a friend decides to sue them, he finds that concurrently lots of people have been involved and tries helping to cover up this tragedy. Eventually, In-ho fails in this fight even that he teams up with the human-right activists; nevertheless, this issue draws huge attention by the society and the children are helped by well-meaning people.

“Silenced” has achieved great success and influenced South Korea in a large extent. The movie was fermenting into a “Silenced effect”. Because of the pressure from audiences, the case was re-checked and the criminal was prosecuted again. In particular, South Korean Congress modified The Law of the Protection of Juveniles. It sounds impossible that the law was modified by a film, but “Silenced” achieved it. This is the power of nationalism. When people know how to help and defend their compatriot from the injustice, this nation will be prosperous.


The nationalism in 20th century’s films and in 21st century films is express in different way. In 20th century’s films, the nationalism is demonstrated by loyalty and patriotism, however, in 21st century, the nationalism is emphasized by the unity between compatriot. Moreover, the nationalism can be expressed “spirit or aspirations common to the whole of a nation”, and the empathy and warmth in the national society.


In 20th century, the South Koreans was experiencing two painful historical events, which is Korean War. Korean war is the war, begun on June 25, 1950, between North Korea, aided by Communist China, and South Korea, aided by the United States and other United Nations members forming a United Nations. Nobody hopes that their nation is split by war into two countries. The hope of national unity and have empathy to compatriot are kinds of nationalism. Since the nationalism is “spirit or aspirations common to the whole of a nation”.

In the movie “Joint Security Area”, director Park Chan-wook showed the friendship of South Korea and North Korea. He claimed that it is possible that the friendship exists between two different countries but same nation. The friendship was broken by their leader and this implied the director did not satisfy for the government’s system. “Joint Security Area” expresses the nationalism by the expectation of national unity through the border between South Korea and North Korea.

There is a shootout at the common security area at the border of South Korea and North Korea. There are two soldiers were murdered, and Maj. Sophie E. Jean is assigned by the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission to investigate the incident. And she finds the difference between the statements of the survivor. Although she gets large pressure, she interviews two different countries’ soldiers and discloses a tragic story of friendship.

The expectation of unity and the empathy from society is similar but different. If people would like to give a hand to someone else who are in trouble or who need help. In 21st century, Director Lee Joon-ik expresses his ideas that society should give more care and help to victims and help them to walk out psychological shadow. The films “So-won” shows how society helps and cares about a little girl who is the victims and how the nationalism reflected by the warm of society.

So-won is a normal and beautiful girl who lives with her parent in the house near the corner of the street. Her name is So-won and her family’s grocery store is used the same name as hers. Her mother spends most of her time in the store and her father works day and night in the factory. One-day morning, So-Won walked to school as usual. Suddenly a man who was drunk ran to her and raped her. But this was only the beginning of her tragedy because it not only causes physical damage but also mental damage. Besides, the media spread this news without considering the consequences of her. People around her treated her family specially and said that So-Won is dirty. Her mother was nearly crazy because of the forced from public, her father tried to protect her daughter but So-Won refused to open her heart. At last, through the power of her family and the society, she smiles again.



“So-won” is like other side of “Silence”. “So-won” claimed that victims should be helped by society to defeat the psychological shadow. Everybody has obligation to give their hand to compatriots. In the case of sexual assaulting, victims not only need the just law to punish the criminal, but also need the psychological assistance from society, in certain extend, it is more important than suspending justice. The nationalism is significant, since nationalism makes a nation to unity, so that, people will help each other. For example, in the movie, the professional psychological counselor always stays with So-won. Dad played as a cartoon character to guard around and cure So-won heart. Neighbors donated money to cure So-won. Her classmates wrote a full wall of note to bless So-won. This is how nationalism works


“Nationalism is a widespread ideological force in the modern world, supporting the nation building of newly-independent countries. For the South Koreans who experienced two distressing historical events in the 20th century, namely the Japanese occupation and the Korean War, nationalism was a prominent factor in their nation-building. It helped them recover from the trauma of colonization and war. Koreans have exhibited a strong sense of national pride, and worked diligently to break away from the misery of colonization and war. The nationalistic feeling among South Koreans is vibrant; they feel connected to their country, and are inspired to participate actively in improving it. During the 1950s, South Korea was identified as one of the poorest countries in the world and remained so for over a decade. The 35 years of Japanese occupation and the three-year Korean War that resulted in the split of the country into two caused enormous economic losses and huge casualties devastating the South Koreans. Nevertheless, they understood the importance of letting go and focusing on the reconstruction of their nation. Nationalism has been the stimulus for South Koreans in the rebuilding of their country through hard work.” This shows why nationalism is significant for a country. If economy is a country’s basement, then nationalism is the mental totem. In the films of 20th century, the nationalism is demonstrated by Korean loyalty and solidarity, however, in the films of 21st century, the nationalism is demonstrated by Korean empathy and unity to compatriot, Although the nationalism between the films of 20th century and 21st century is different, the common wish is expecting the nation to be better.







1) “The Admiral: Roaring Currents”, 2014, Dir. Kim Han-min

2) “Joint Security Area”, 2000, Dir. Park Chan-wook


4) Aryani, Maria Indira, and P. Christian Aditya. “Empowering National Pride Through Youth Empowerment in Sister City of Surabaya-Busan.”

5) “So-won”, 2013, Dir. Lee Joon-ik

6) “Silenced”, 2011, Dir. Hwang Dong-hyuk

7) PHILIP, WAKEFIELD. “The Admiral: Roaring Currents (R13).” Dominion Post, the, 11 Sept. 2015, p. A11. EBSCOhost,

I am sorry Professor. The video does not work here. ↓ I attach my paper to the forum.

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