CR Lab Book Talk with Nam Lee, Author of The Films of Bong Joon-Ho, September 17

Bong Joon-Ho stands out among contemporary film directors for his politically and socially conscious approach to genre filmmaking. Nam Lee’s book The Films of Bong Joon-Ho (Rutgers University Press, 2020) locates Bong’s unique achievement in his successful foray into making “political blockbusters.” The “political” in his films is not overt or didactic but effortlessly blends into the pleasure of popular genre films. His films are political in their aesthetic of subverting the conventions of blockbuster films and in the sense that they draw our attention to the world we live in and encourages us to ponder and even act upon the social and political issues we identify in his films. Lee takes the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s idea that art is a social phenomenon shaped by concrete social and historical conditions. While recognizing Bong’s creative agency as an auteur, the book acknowledges that all forms of culture, including films, are shaped by social practices and that the creators are also cultural products. Lee defines Bong Joon Ho as a “cinematic sociologist” whose films realize C. Wright Mills’ idea of “sociological imagination.” As such, the films’ analyses focus on the creative ways his films explore the private troubles of the socially weak within larger social realities of both Korean society and global neoliberal capitalism. The book is organized around main themes as manifested in Bong’s films: “narrative of failure” related to the South Korean discourse of “failed history,”; “compressed modernity” and moral ambiguities and anomie; and the notion of “public screen,” global politics and neoliberal capitalism.

17 September 2021, 11 am – 12:30 pm (GMT+8), Virtual event (Zoom), Register here.

Speaker: Nam Lee is Associate Professor of Film Studies at Dodge College of Film and Media Art, Chapman University in Southern California.

Discussant: Irhe Sohn is Assistant Professor of Korean studies at Smith College.