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MoMA Presents Korean Films Made During The Japanese Occupation
From the film Volunteer. 1941. Courtesy of the Korean Film Archive.

NEW YORK.- With Korean Films Made During the Japanese Occupation, The Museum of Modern Art, in collaboration with The Korea Society, presents an exhibition of very rare Korean films from the 1930s and 1940s, a period during which Korea was colonized by a militarized Japan. The seven films in this exhibition are among the earliest known Korean works of cinema and are the only known Korean films to have been made during the country's Japanese occupation. The films were rediscovered in 2004 and 2005, and were restored in new 35mm prints by the Korean Film Archive, as part of an effort to preserve the films of this little-known period. This is the first time that the films have been shown outside Korea, and the only time they will be shown before they are returned to the Korean archives.

Korean Films Made During the Japanese Occupation will be shown in The Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters at MoMA from January 28 through February 1, 2009, and is organized by Laurence Kardish, Senior Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art, and Yuni Cho, Senior Program Officer in Film, The Korea Society, New York.

Mr. Kardish explains, "It is interesting to note that although some of the films encourage Koreans to enlist in the Japanese armed forces, the narratives of the colonial period are at once sentimental and modern, and reappear with double force after the war. The narratives include criticism of patriarchy, a recognition that poverty forces people to take desperate measures, and an embrace of the enthusiasms of youth."

Ms. Cho adds, "The dramatic content of the films is shaped by the censorship of their era, and several are uncomfortably pro-Japanese. Yet simultaneously, their rich aesthetics and formal experimentation reach beyond imperial Japanese ideology to express transcendent themes of longing, loss, and duty."

Although these films were made by Koreans during the Japanese occupation, they are thoroughly supportive of and inspired by Japanese culture, indicating the possibility that the filmmakers were willing to cooperate with the Japanese military and work under the supervision of a Japanese government. While two of the films, Sweet Dream (1936)—the earliest known Korean "talkie" which was recently recognized as a Korean national cultural property—and Spring in the Korean Peninsula (1941), have narrative elements, the other films are essentially neo-colonial in their content and focus on ways to be a good Japanese citizen.

This exhibition continues MoMA's commitment to showing the work of Korean filmmakers. For example, recent exhibitions such as Im Kwon-Taek: Master Korean Filmmaker (2004) and Kim Ki-Duk (2008) have focused on contemporary Korean films.

The Museum of Modern Art acknowledges the assistance of the Korean Film Archive and its director, Cho Sun-Hee, and the Korean Film Council.

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