The Female Body as the Site of Historical Controversy: Ghostly Reappearance in South Korean Historical Fiction
This chapter investigates ways that recent South Korean cultural products recreate or even fantasize historical traumas. By focusing on a musical theatre production (The Last Empress), a music video (The Lost Empire), and a film (Hanbando) that all feature a historical female icon, Empress Myoungsung, I examine how cultural texts inculcate anti-Japanese sentiment by juxtaposing a single, century-old incident (the night of Queen Min’s assassination) onto contemporary South Korean social contexts. In an attempt to appeal to public sentiment, the three texts variously re-enact the historical trauma and adopt it as a crucial visual ingredient. Here, I question how producers inflict the Korean trauma upon the image of Queen Min on-screen by conflating this century-old tragedy with current situations and transforming the figure of Queen Min into an undying “spirit”—a nationalistic icon who promises the nation’s bright future in the global era. I also demonstrate how the workings of visualization in these texts posit the Empress and her significance within ambivalent frameworks (i.e. between “tradition”/“modern” and “national”/“global desire”), and how such positioning manipulates her significance in order to fulfill Korea’s desire for global visibility and success.