Cruising the Cityscape: Queer Temporality in Contemporary East Asian Cinema

Kim, Ungsan. Cruising the Cityscape: Queer Temporality in Contemporary East Asian Cinema. 2019. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

Advisor: Jennifer M. Bean

This dissertation explores the aesthetic and political response of East Asian filmmakers to the neo-nationalism, social conservatism, and hyper-modernization that emerged after the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s. Despite rising homophobia in the region, queer filmmaking has prospered in the past three decades. I argue that over fifty films now form a cannon of new queer East Asian cinema, a category encompassing fictional dramas, genre films, independent documentaries, and experimental cinema. In like manner, each of the six chapters that comprise this project develop through close analyses of representative films, ranging from the glossy productions of Tsai Ming-liang and Park Chan-wook through the gritty indie trilogy of Kim Kyung-mook, to the nearly abstract documentaries of Im Cheol-min. Taken together, these films provide an aesthetic horizon for perceiving the shared traumas and emerging mode of “queer kinship” forged, however precariously, among sexual minorities, migrant workers, refugees and prostitutes in cities such as Seoul, Hong Kong and Taipei. Inspired by the formal innovations of new queer East Asian cinema, I develop a concept of spatial translation to investigate the ways in which cinematic techniques transform urban settings into aesthetic and politically charged “queerscapes.”

A second concept that organizes this dissertation involves what I call “queer temporality.” The phrase enables me to assess several interrelated aesthetic categories shared by queer East Asian cinemas: retrospection, repetition, deferral, and strolling. The practices of retrospection, repetition, deferral, and strolling are all counter-progressive movements that problematize the notion of time and space as developmental, futuristic, and teleological entities. For example, in The Handmaiden (2016), the repetition of events and the differences it creates in relation to the original event work counter to the heteronormative management of time and the dominant narrative of history. And in Stateless Things (2011) and Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003), compulsory strolling functions as a bodily resistance to the logic of development. Ultimately, my dissertation argues that these tropes and narratives of counter-progression are a means to critique the violence of progressive time and the ideology of development for marginalized subjects including homosexuals, refugees, migrant workers, the elderly, and prostitutes.

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