Student Film Examines Korean Identity
Sophomore Alexander Paik, Shansi In-Asia Study Grant winner, screened his Winter Term Project, a documentary film depicting “A Search for Korean ‘Authenticity’” last Saturday. Drawing on a wealth of resources, Paik attempts to define Korean identity amidst rapid modernization, cultural diffusion and generation gaps, compiling extensive research, interviews with Oberlin professors and his own Korean family, as well as ones in Korea with his friends.
These young people begin with an assortment of fairly uniform perceptions of what characterizes a Korean: respect to elders, close-knit families, language and pride. However, this sense of identity is challenged by the changing face of Korea, one that includes Starbucks (with a logo written in Korean characters) and places hot dog vendors beside traditional food stands. What links young Koreans to older generations?
The film is most effective in highlighting this divide. Watching take after self-indulgent take of Paik and his friends horsing around in temples that would inspire reverence in an older crowd, one is struck by the similarity between their comments and MTV-esque humor. The group seems most at home eating fast food and living it up in Seoul’s night district of arcades, karaoke and bars offering green beer and frothy red cocktails, a district that might seem foreign to older Koreans.
When they visit the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China, an area, Paik noted, often frequented by nostalgic middle-aged men searching for a more authentic Korea, these humorous shots disappear; one must wonder how comfortable these kids are within such a different environment.
This is not to say, however, that these two age groups are completely unrelated. The film discusses the concept of “Han,” or suffering, as an element that bridges the differences between the generations.
Koreans have a history of oppression and tribulation under the Chinese and
Japanese, and this sense of loss and cultural disruption transcends age and
experience. As the subjects of Paik’s interviews occasionally break into
tears, this suffering fills the screen, not only because these Koreans so
clearly share it but because Paik’s suffering, though different, is also
very real — that of a Korean living outside of Korea.