Jinsoo An: War as Business in South Korea’s Manchurian Action Films

This essay examines Cold War political discourse in South Korea’s Manchurian action films. It opens by questioning the interpretive parameters of South Korea’s cinematic war narratives, which isolate the military conflict of the Korean War (1950–53, in its conventional periodization) as the sole focus of the war experience. This essay, by contrast, expands consideration of the “Korean War” by examining cultural representations of the proto-Korean nation-state during the 1931–45 Pacific War. This shift in focus enables an inquiry into the role of the state in its business practice of war mobilization. In particular, the essay brings close attention to the subject of money, specifically, war funds procurement, as a recurring and governing thematic preoccupation of Manchurian action films as a genre of war film. By exploring the trappings of “money,” as it is configured in such films and relating them to the state’s claims of ownership, this essay examines how the genre reflects the capitalist war politics of the South Korean state. It also discerns how the state gains and furnishes its political authority by controlling and managing the business of perpetual war.

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