“North Korean Cinema: A History”

8 12 2013

Johannes Schonherr_NK Cinema_A History_cover pageReview: “There is one man who stands above them all in terms of North Korea cinema: Johannes Schonherr. Schonherr has recorded for prosperity’s sake some marvellous adventures associated with North Korean cinema that those of us unable to read Korean may never have discovered…excellent…Schonherr [has] written the only ‘essential’ book on North Korean cinema that you could need.” –North Korean Films.

About the Book: Like many ideological dictatorships of the twentieth century, North Korea has always considered cinema an indispensible propaganda tool. No other medium penetrated the whole of the population so thoroughly, and no other medium remained so strictly and exclusively under state control. Through movies, the two successive leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il propagandized their policies and sought to rally the masses behind them, with great success.

This volume chronicles the history of North Korean cinema from its beginnings to today, examining the obstacles the film industry faced as well as the many social problems the films themselves reveal. It provides detailed analyses of major and minor films and explores important developments in the industry within the context of the concurrent social and political atmosphere. Through the lens of cinema emerges a fresh perspective on the history of North Korean politics, culture, and ideology.

About the Author:Johannes Schonherr is a freelance writer specializing in travel, film and food. He lives in Japan.

Interview with Johannes Schönherr, North Korea cinema expert, by North Korean Films

Read Introduction and Chapter 1 on-line

Read Chapter 6 of this book on-line

Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: McFarland (August 13, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0786465263
ISBN-13: 978-0786465262
Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches

By this book on Amazon.com





Charles K. Armstrong presents Tyranny of the Weak

3 12 2013

Tyranny of the WeakOn Monday, December 9th, at 7pm, Charles Armstrong will host a discussion on his new book, “Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World, 1950-1992″ (Cornell U. Press). The talk will take place at Book Culture, 536 West 112th Street (between Broadway and Amsterdam)

To much of the world, North Korea is an impenetrable mystery, its inner workings unknown and its actions toward the outside unpredictable and frequently provocative. Tyranny of the Weak reveals for the first time the motivations, processes, and effects of North Korea’s foreign relations during the Cold War era.

Drawing on extensive research in the archives of North Korea’s present and former communist allies, including the Soviet Union, China, and East Germany, Charles K. Armstrong tells in vivid detail how North Korea managed its alliances with fellow communist states, maintained a precarious independence in the Sino-Soviet split, attempted to reach out to the capitalist West and present itself as a model for Third World development, and confronted and engaged with its archenemies, the United States and South Korea.

From the invasion that set off the Korean War in June 1950 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Tyranny of the Weak shows how—despite its objective weakness—North Korea has managed for much of its history to deal with the outside world to its maximum advantage. Insisting on a path of “self-reliance” since the 1950s, North Korea has continually resisted pressure to change from enemies and allies alike. A worldview formed in the crucible of the Korean War and Cold War still maintains a powerful hold on North Korea in the twenty-first century, and understanding those historical forces is as urgent today as it was sixty years ago.

Charles K. Armstrong is the Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies in the Social Sciences at Columbia University. His recent books include The Koreas (Routledge, 2007); Puk Choson Tansaeng, the Korean translation of The North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950(Seoul: Booksea, 2006; originally Cornell University Press, 2003);Korea at the Center: Dynamics of Regionalism in Northeast Asia(M. E. Sharpe, 2006, coeditor); and Korean Society: Civil Society,Democracy, and the State (Routledge, 2002, editor; 2nd edition, 2006).





“Visual Politics and North Korea: Seeing is Believing”

25 10 2013

David Shim_Visual Politics & North Korea_book coverShim, David (2014), Visual Politics and North Korea – Seeing is Believing, London: Routledge. 

In the realm of international relations, there are seemingly few states like North Korea. Whether it is the country’s human rights situation, its precarious everyday life or its so-called foreign policy of coercion and nuclear brinkmanship, no matter what this ‘pariah’ nation says and does it affects the state and stability of regional and global politics.

But what do we know about North Korea and how do we come to know it? This book argues that visual imagery plays a decisive role in this operation. By discussing two exemplary areas – everyday photography and satellite imagery – the book takes into account the role of images in the way that particular issues related to North Korea are understood in contemporary geopolitics.

Images work. They do something by evoking a particular perspective of what is shown in them, allowing only specific ways of seeing and knowing. In this sense, images are deeply political. Individual methodological usages in the book can provide a procedural basis from which to start or rethink further studies on visuality, both in IR and beyond. It also opens an innovative path for future studies on East Asia, making the book attractive to a range of specialists and thus holding an appeal beyond the boundaries of a single discipline.

Review:

David Shim’s book Visual Politics and North Korea is a timely and welcome intervention in the fields of International Relations, Asian Studies and Visual Culture. By taking the politics of seeing seriously, Shim reveals how North Korea’s geopolitical status as a pariah state has been visually figured, secured and reproduced. What makes this book particularly innovative is its attention to contrasting scales of visuality as Shim juxtaposes the practices of everyday photography with the asymmetries produced by satellite imagery. While Shim’s focus is on the case of North Korea, the book provides wide-ranging insights about the relationship between visuality and global politics. In that sense, Visual Politics and North Korea will be invaluable for critical scholars exploring the multiple intersections of seeing, knowing, globalization and power. (Dr. Debbie Lisle, School of Politics, International Studies & Philosophy, Queen’s University Belfast, UK.)





East Asia Beyond the History Wars: Confronting the Ghosts of Violence

18 01 2013

ImageBy Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Morris Low, Leonid Petrov, Timothy Y. Tsu (Published on 18 Dec.2012 by Routledge, 208 pages, Series: Asia’s Transformations)

East Asia is now the world’s economic powerhouse, but ghosts of history continue to trouble relations between the key countries of the region, particularly between Japan, China and the two Koreas. Unhappy legacies of Japan’s military expansion in pre-war Asia prompt on-going calls for apologies, while conflicts over ownership of cultural heritage cause friction between China and Korea, and no peace treaty has ever been signed to conclude the Korean War.

For over a decade, the region’s governments and non-government groups have sought to confront the ghosts of the past by developing paths to reconciliation. Focusing particularly on popular culture and grassroots action, East Asia beyond the History Wars explores these East Asian approaches to historical reconciliation. This book examines how Korean historians from North and South exchange ideas about national history, how Chinese film-makers reframe their views of the war with Japan, and how Japanese social activists develop grassroots reconciliation projects with counterparts from Korea and elsewhere. As the volume’s studies of museums, monuments and memorials show, East Asian public images of modern history are changing, but change is fragile and uncertain. This unfinished story of East Asia’s search for historical reconciliation has important implications for the study of popular memory worldwide.

Presenting a fresh perspective on reconciliation which draws on both history and cultural studies, this book will be welcomed by students and scholars working in the fields of Asian history, Asian culture and society as well as those interested in war and memory studies more generally.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Confronting the Ghosts of War in East Asia, Tessa Morris-Suzuki

PART I: Reconciliation as Method

1. On the Frontiers of History: Territory and cross-border dialogue in East Asia, Leonid Petrov and Tessa Morris-Suzuki

2. Historiography, Media and Cross-Border Dialogue in Korea: Korea’s uncertain path to reconciliation, Leonid Petrov

3.Reconciliation Onscreen: The Second Sino-Japanese War in Chinese War Movies, Timothy Tsu

4. Letters to the Dead: Grassroots historical dialogue in East Asia’s borderlands, Tessa Morris-Suzuki

PART II: Re-Framing Memories

5. Gender and Representations of the War in Tokyo Museums, Morris Low

6. Remembering the Unfinished Conflict: Museums and the Contested Memory of the Korean War, Tessa Morris-Suzuki

7. Art, Photography and Remembering Hiroshima, Morris Low

8. Heroes, Collaborators and Survivors: Korean kamikaze pilots and the ghosts of war in Japan and Korea, Tessa Morris-Suzuki

About the Authors:

Tessa Morris-Suzuki is Professor of Japanese History at the Australian National University.

Morris Low is Associate Professor of Japanese History at the University of Queensland, Australia.

Leonid Petrov is a former Chair of Korean Studies at Sciences Po (Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris) and teaches Korean History and Language at the University of Sydney, Australia.

Timothy Y. Tsu is Professor in the School of International Studies, Kwansei Gakuin University, Japan.

Publisher: Routledge
ISBN: 0415637457
EAN: 9780415637459
Dimensions: 23.0 x 15.0 centimeters (0.47 kg)
 Buy on-line  http://www.fishpond.com.au/Books/East-Asia-Beyond-History-Wars-Tessa-Morris-Suzuki-Morris-Low/9780415637459




“A Capitalist in North Korea” by Felix Abt

20 12 2012

ImageBook review by Leonid Petrov (Australian National University)

This new book on North Korea is extraordinary. Since the late 1990s the influx of analytical and documentary literature on North Korea can be broadly divided into two categories: those that exhibit the terrors of life in North Korea, and the rest that speculate on what is wrong with North Korea. Felix Abt, a Swiss entrepreneur who lived and worked in the last communist Hermit Kingdom for seven years, attempts to depict life in North Korea as “normal” despite overwhelming ideological pressure from within and the harsh treatment from foreign powers. To date, only a handful of famed historians, such as Bruce Cumings and Gavan McCormack, have succeeded in showing North Korea from such an unusual angle.

As a business entrepreneur, Felix Abt prefers to remain apolitical and impartial when sharing his thoughts and memories of the seven-year sojourn. His writing exhibits his love for Korea and genuine concern for its people. In his assessments of North Korea’s past and present, the author approaches all issues from a human (and humanistic) perspective, attempting to present life in the country sans political or ideological colouring. But documenting everyday life in the DPRK “as it is” is often inherently counterproductive to the goal of presenting North Korea as “normal” or even on the road to normality. Snapshots of life in North Korea, more often than not, exhibit the miserable lives of the common people alongside the growing wealth of the privileged and trusted groups in the capital, Pyongyang.

The book strives to assure Western venture capitalists that North Korea is a land of untapped opportunities for diligent and sympathetic investors, but instead it seems to be more of a collection of horror stories about business failures and bankruptcies. Another important theme in the book is “how seclusion has shaped the attitudes of a people”, and “how war-mongering international politics are discerning for businesses”. Yet ultimately, it does not really matter whether the reason for the excessively high risk business environment is due to domestic contempt for capitalism or because of international sanctions. The reader is left with the impression that North Korea remains a black hole for foreign direct investment, just like it was under Kim Jong-Il or Kim Il-Sung.

Felix Abt addresses the main and most intriguing question in the book, “can North Korea ever change?” by declaring that the process has already begun and is unstoppable. He calls it a “reform” and believes that the young North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un, will bring about “new winds of change”. Kim has apparently “set out to reform one of the world’s last five communist countries” and “curbed the power of the military, surrounding himself with top-level civilian cadres who support the idea of glasnost for the country”. Unfortunately however, this statement is hardly substantiated by any solid evidence.

Nothing in the book in fact proves that a substantial reform is underway. Packed restaurants, busy saunas and abundant food on the tables do not attest to an improved lifestyle for the population. People with money live and eat well everywhere, even in communist dictatorships. New stylish clothes, DHL vans or mobile phones do not fundamentally change a country in which information is censored, mobility restricted, and dissidents executed. New blocks of apartments, supermarkets and imported cars are merely signs of growth, and do not necessarily indicate real improvements in citizen livelihood.

We cannot expect a reform to be initiated by the communist dynasty, which singlehandedly rules half of a divided country, the other side of which is now free, prosperous and democratic. If the Pyongyang regime were serious about economic and social reform, and finishing the Korean War, recognition of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) would be the first step in making reform plausible. Yet this is impossible so as long as the Kim family is in power in the DPRK. A reformed North will sooner or later merge with the more advanced South, where there will be no place for the revolutionary dynasty of the Kims and their idiosyncratic ideologies. Everything else is a mere imitation of reform; a cosmetic change designed to maintain the painful status quo.

Nevertheless, Felix Abt’s new book, “A Capitalist in North Korea”, is a precious account of a long-term resident of the Hermit Kingdom. Some readers may disagree with author’s conclusions but everyone will find the content of this book fascinating. The book is destined to serve several generations of readers. These days, occasional travellers and business entrepreneurs will benefit from it but, as time passes by, economists, sociologists and historians will study this book as a rare perspective on the tragic episode of the Cold War in East Asia.

You can purchase this book on Amazon Kindle Books here…





“South Korean Social Movements in the 20th Century”

30 03 2012

The Volume 1 of “Asia’s Unknown Uprisings: South Korean Social Movements in the 20th Century” by George Katsiaficas has been published by PM Press in Oalkland, CA.

Using social movements as a prism to illuminate the oft-hidden history of 20th century Korea, this book provides detailed analysis of major uprisings that have patterned that country’s politics and society. With a central focus on the1980 Gwangju Uprising that ultimately proved decisive in South Korea’s democratization, the author uses Korean experiences as a baseboard to extrapolate into the possibilities of global social movements in the 21st century. Ten years in the making, this book provides a unique perspective on South Korea. Richly illustrated, with tables, charts, graphs, index and footnotes Approximately 420 pages with about 77 photographs and wood block prints by Hong Sung-dam

“This book makes a unique contribution to Korean Studies because of its social movements’ prism. It will resonate well in Korea and will also serve as a good introduction to Korea for outsiders. By providing details on 20th century uprisings, Katsiaficas provides insights into the trajectory of social movements in the future. His world wide field-work experiences and surprising impacts in Korea are described well in this book.” — Na Kahn-chae, Director, May 18 Institute, Gwangju, South Korea

Advance Praise for Volume 2 of “Asia’s Unknown Uprisings: People Power in the Philippines, Burma, Tibet, China, Taiwan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand and Indonesia, 1947-2009″

“This book about people’s power movements in Asia over the last sixty years makes the case, convincingly, that they should be seen as part of the worldwide new left. Reading it will broaden the perspective of activists and analysts in North
America and Europe, a very important task.” — Immanuel Wallerstein, Yale University.

Find Asia’s Unknown Uprisings: South Korean Social Movements in the 20th Century at Amazon, and possibly save by using Amazon coupons from FrugalDad.com.





Brian Myers: Korea’s most dangerous writer?

11 08 2011

By Andrew Salmon (SEOUL, Aug. 10  Yonhap)  He may be the most influential intellectual writer from the Korean Peninsula, but he is not Korean. He is obscure among domestic Pyongyang watchers but writes about North Korea for some of the world’s most influential media.

He is Brian Myers, an American who teaches international studies at Dongseo University in the southern port city of Busan. An academic, author and columnist, he contributes to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. It’s his status as an iconoclast that has won him fame. “I come across orthodoxies that I think need challenging,” he said in a recent interview. “But I’m not a full-time contrarian.”

The first group to feel the sting of Myers’ pen was America’s bookish establishment: He slammed the pretensions of the literary fiction community with “A Reader’s Manifesto” in 2002. He went on to redefine North Korea in his 2009 book “The Cleanest Race,” perhaps the most significant work on that country published since Kim Jong-il came to power. More recently, he has savaged a target closer to home: foodies.

Myers was born in New Jersey in 1963. The first “grown-up book” he remembers reading was Orwell’s “1984”; he went on to read Soviet studies in Germany. With the fall of European communism leaving him nothing to research, he relocated, after a few years in the auto industry, to Korea with his Korean wife.

Speaking with Myers, it is hard not to be impressed with his wide range of cultural references, his linguistic abilities and wicked intelligence — he bounces effortlessly from Cormac McCarthy to Kim Il-sung and speaks fluent German and Korean; one minute he is demolishing Korea’s emotive nationalists, next he is slamming war-mongering U.S. “chickenhawks.”

Naturally, the critic has critics. Salon criticized “A Reader’s Manifesto” as “a cranky lament”; Slate called it “bombastic” and sniffed at Myers as “a previously unpublished critic.” Conversely, The Times and The Washington Post hailed the work; many readers were delighted that someone was finally slaughtering the sacred cow.

No naysayers reared their heads over “The Cleanest Race,” albeit possibly because the English-speaking North Korea-watching community is a lot smaller than its literary community.

Based on Myers’s decade studying Pyongyang propaganda, it garnered rave reviews in The Economist, The Washington Post and The New York Times. Polemicist Christopher Hitchens called the book “electrifying” and admitted Myers had identified what he himself had overlooked.

The book overturned conventional wisdom: Myers portrays North Korea as neither a Stalinist nor even communist state; with its blend of arch-militarism and ultra-nationalism, it is essentially fascist. The book has been translated into French and Italian; Korean and Polish versions are in the works.

A more recent target — the subject of a Myers article in The Atlantic that generated a heated response from New York’s Village Voice — was foodies.

“You can’t get away from food talk,” he says. “Foodies tend to earn more, so they are worth more to advertisers, which is why dining sections of newspapers are expanding, while book pages are disappearing.” As a vegan himself, is Myers not trying to spoil others’ fun?

No, he argues, the issue goes beyond the personal. Food obsession is incompatible with attempts to fight obesity, and with millions of Indians and Chinese acquiring middle-class dining aspirations, it threatens environmental sustainability and animal rights.

“Raising more cows on open pastures or chicken on free-range farms is no solution,” he says. “We can’t sustain current levels of meat consumption without factory farms.”

Still, he does not plan a book on the issue, partly because he does not want to subject himself to a study of foodie writing. At present, he is translating a German novella into English, but his ever-critical eye remains firmly focused on the peninsula.

He is currently researching how pan-Korean nationalism undermines state patriotism in South Korea. Successive Seoul administrations have neglected to inculcate pride in the republic as a state entity, Myers says, instead equating it with the Korean race: “This is no problem when you have a nation state like Japan or Denmark, but is a problem when you have a state divided.”

This explains why, he continues, there were no mass protests against last year’s North Korean attacks. Moreover, the issue impacts beyond the strategic space: It also hinders South Korea’s globalization.

So Myers won’t be departing Korea quite yet? “I want to be here for unification,” he says, though he warns that it could be cataclysmic. “Ultra-nationalism is an appealing ideology — the Third Reich fought to the end, even sending their children into battle,” Myers muses. “We should not underestimate its appeal.”

That impression was reinforced on a trip he made to North Korea in June. Driving from Pyongyang to Wonsan on the country’s east coast, he was able to see rural villages up close. Yet despite their poverty, there was no sense of things falling apart.

“You get the impression of a nation that is still cohering,” he said. “It is not simply because of repression, but because the regime still manages to inspire people.”








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