Date: 30 October 2012, 5.00pm
Location: Seminar Room, Beech Grove House
Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies Seminar Series
This paper focuses on 200 Pounds Beauty, a contemporary South Korean film that uses humor to delineate the experiences of women who fail to meet dominant codes of beauty and femininity. Directed by Kim Young-hwa and released in 2006, the film follows the plight of Hanna, an obese twenty-something woman who has extreme plastic surgery to find love and become a famous singer.
Adapted from the manga, Kanna-San, Daiseikou Desu (Kanna’s Big Success) by Suzuki Yumiko this updated Ugly Duckling meets Little Mermaid story proved to be a surprising hit, selling 6.5 million tickets and earning $45 million at the domestic box office. It went on to win the Grand Bell Award for best actress and best cinematography in 2007, was adapted into a successful stage musical in 2008, and spawned a less successful sequel in 2010. The film also performed well in the region (grossing $550K in Singapore in a month and $190K in Hong Kong in 3 days). Finally, it catapulted Kim Ah-Jung, the actress who plays Hanna, to hallyu fame, eclipsing Jun Ji-hyun’s popularity from My Sassy Girl five years earlier.
Elsewhere I have argued that the commercial narratives, which we consume the most uncritically and which seem to have no overt ideological function often provide the richest examples of how dominant cultural values are being shaped and negotiated. As a way of exploring these values, I examine how the film’s melodramatic slapstick humor frames the protagonist’s journey and encourages the audience to sympathize with her. In particular, I want to consider how this sympathy, and in some cases, empathy might be read beyond a simple acceptance or celebration of normative femininity.
I attempt to do this with a close reading of how such femininity is depicted and complicated in the film through Hana’s physical transformation and its emotional, social and moral consequences. I then contextualize this reading in the film’s critical reception within Asia as well as through popular and medical discourses around beauty in Korea during and after its release. In so doing, I raise and attempt to respond, in preliminary ways, to the following questions. First, what new virtual model of hybrid and transcultural pan-Asian beauty is celebrated in this film and countless other hallyu media. Second, how can we understand its development and appeal for women and increasingly men, beyond reductive Westernization and globalization models? Finally, what kinds of social and cultural implications does this trend toward surgically modified beauty have, not only on members of South Korean society but also increasingly, those of other East and Southeast Asian countries as Korean cosmetic surgery tourism becomes ever more popular in the region?
Dr. Jane Chi Hyun Park is a senior lecturer in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies and the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. Her research and teaching are concerned with the social uses of media technologies, the cultural impact of minority representations, and transnational flows of popular film, music, and television.
Her first book, Yellow Future: Oriental Style in Hollywood Cinema (University of Minnesota, 2010), examines the ideological role of East Asian imagery in Hollywood films. She has also published articles in a number of international journals such as Global Media Journal, World Literature Today, Asian Studies Review, Screening the Past, and Gender, Place and Culture and book chapters in East Main Street: Asian American Popular Culture (NYU Press, 2004), Mixed Race in Film and Television (NYU Press, 2008), Complicated Currents: Media Flows and Soft Power in East Asia (Monash University Press, 2009), and The Blackwell Companion to Film Comedy (Blackwell, forthcoming 2012).
Jane is currently working on two research projects. The first looks at diasporic and transnational movements in contemporary Asia Pacific film, focusing on aesthetics, performance, and genre. The second looks at the consumption of Korean cosmetic surgeries, products, and regimes through tourism and popular media. Linking both projects is her interest in the ongoing development of Asian modernities through the circulation of cross-cultural styles, objects, and narratives.