South Korea: Guided and “Directed” by International Relations With the United States

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South Korean media depicts the relationships that the nation has with the United States. In the film The Host and the Korean drama series City Hunter, we see multiple examples of the influence the US has in Korean media. This relationship directly influences aspects and themes in Korean dramas and films.

Given the military history between the United States and South Korea, the film: The Host shows the power and influence that the US has over Korea; even on such outrageous examples/matters as a man-eating monster on the loose. A few prime examples from the film will support the thesis above. The Host was a very interesting film to say the least. While it had a few aspects of a Hollywood ‘monster’ film, the influence of Korean culture and mindset were very evident. Seeing as it was my first Korean film that incorporated a fictitious monster, I would have to give the film a decent rating and applaud the director (Jung Ho-Bong) for not going too far over the top.

Trailer for The Host (2006).

Although I was unable to find the specific scene that I wanted through Youtube, the film is available on Netflix and I can discuss my reactions and opinions nevertheless. The first scene in The Host was set in a laboratory somewhere in South Korea.

It is all in English which makes the scene that much more important. In this scene we see an American scientist instruct his Korean counterpart to discard at least 50 bottles of Formaldehyde into the drain; even after the fact that the Korean scientist said that this was against protocol. This is the first glimpse of “power” that the United States has over Korea. After the monster attacked, the United States government steps in, as one of their military men was killed from a ‘virus’ carried by the monster. The Korean government was instructed to quarantine all individuals who came in contact with the monster, which places our main character (Park Gang-Doo played by Kang-Ho Song) and his family in quarantine. As more of the film passes, Gang-Doo is set to have surgery to extract the ‘virus’ from his brain, and the plot takes a dramatic turn.

The most influential scene and series of events, in regards to US-Korean relations comes towards the middle of the film; where Gang-Doo finds out that there is no actual virus. He manages to escape, but the fact that US government would have enough power to have the Korean government knowingly lie to their people about a virus that doesn’t exist is mind blowing. However, it makes me wonder how much of this ‘farfetched’ film is really that farfetched. The United States government is known for trying to keep strong relationships with foreign nations, and sometimes they involve themselves too much in the issues that these nations are facing. While the US’s intentions and plans may be good ones, the unnecessary influence and, for lack of a better term, nosiness sometimes backfires on own government and our people.

The film The Host shows a United States dominate relationship with South Korea, and although it was just a film, it keeps me wondering if there were to be a ‘virus’ outbreak in Korea, just how far off The Host would be.

While the events that take place in The Host are fictional, I wonder if something like this were to actually occur, if the events wouldn’t be too far off from reality. The Host showed examples of Korean’s acting based on the “orders” and “recommendations” of the United States, in contrast the Korean drama series: City Hunter shows Korean officials acting solely on the “fear” of what the United States ‘might do.’

In the first of City Hunter, we are taken on a roller coaster of emotions, situations, and are in a sense overwhelmed by the different directions that we are taken on. In the opening scenes we see “The Rangoon Bombing,” which was an actual event that occurred in Burma, and was supposedly the North Korean Government’s plan to kill the President of South Korea. This scene creates the basis for the story in which the South Korean government plans to retaliate by infiltrating North Korea and killing 30 or so military officials. This plan is even unknown by the President of South Korea. The ‘retaliation’ is the first example of Korean nationalism displayed in ‘City Hunter.’

Given that most know and understand the relationship, or lack there of between North and South Korea, the reaction by the South Korean Government to the North plotting to kill the President, makes sense. The South plans to go in and kill 30 North Korean Military Officials in order to “get back” at the North Korean Government for their actions. During the episode we see the South training a special task-force to take care of this issue but then hit a “bump” when the President of South Korea finds out about the “Top Secret Operation.’

This is where we see the second example of “nationalism and international relations” come into play. The South Korean President decides to cancel the mission of taking out the North’s military officials, and implement a plan in which the members of the “task-force’ would not be returning to the South. This is due to the fact the President was worried about the political implications of the mission, and the realization that the mission would cause South Korea more harm if the world were to find out about it. Much to Choi Eung Chan‘s dismay and disproval of the President’s choice to cancel the mission, a ‘counter-mission’ is set into place, where the submarine at the rendezvous point, would not allow the ‘task-force’ on board and would instead kill the members of this team.

Although the South Koreans killed a number of their own men, the status and fate of the country became better off with the mission going ‘under raps’ and the lives lost, were but a mere setback, to the amount of political retaliation and withdrawal of foreign nations’ supporting South Korea. This is how South Korea, even to this day deals with a lot of their political problems. In order to keep the North ‘at bay,’ South Korea must rely on other nations such as the United States and their allies.

City Hunter conveys a sense of acting based on international relations with the United States throughout the entire series, however in the first episode, we are hit with a devastating decision for the good of the relationship. The fact that such a mission would be planned without the South Korean President’s knowing put the nation at risk, and in order to maintain the country’s relations with the United States, the government had to sacrifice it’s own men for the good of the nation.

These two works of Korean media are definitely good examples of the influence that the US has in the formulation and storytelling in their respective plots. However I think that there is a deeper connection between the relationship of the two nations and the popular culture that goes along with both countries. I almost see the United States as a big brother of sorts. They were there assisting South Korea during the Korean War, and since then in their never ending ‘battle’ with North Korea.The United States has assisted South Korea when they need it the most, and have provided countless number of troops and battle stations at the DMZ.

To conclude, I feel that the United States’ relationship with South Korea has influenced the development of the media and ‘hybridity’ of their culture. South Korea definitely has been impacted by this relationship, and will continue to be in the future.

Sources:

Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun; Lee Kang-ro, “Critical Analysis of Anti-Americanism in Korea,”
Korea Focus 13 (March-April 2005): 74–98, online at http://www.koreafocus.or.kr/design1/Essays/
view.asp?volume_id=39&content_id=143&category=G (accessed June 20, 2005).

Hyuk, Jin dir. City Hunter. Seoul Broadcasting Channel, 2011. TV series.

Joon-Ho, Bong dir. The Host. Showbox, 2006. Film.

Lee, Sang-Dawn. Big Brother, Little Brother: The American Influence on Korean Culture in the Lyndon B. Johnson Years. Lexington Books, 2002. Print.

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South Korea: Guided and “Directed” by International Relations With the United States by Taylor Scott is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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