Author: elenabozic

The Flying Heroes & History of Chinese Wuxia Films

Media, Stories and Thoughts

I’m sure many readers will have heard of the martial arts film craze. Perhaps you’re a connoisseur of the genre? Perhaps you’ve seen a few films, but wouldn’t really consider yourself a fan? Or perhaps you’re like me, someone who only had a vague peripheral understanding of the film genre?

Before starting this project, I’d never seen a martial arts film. Sure I’d seen films with martial arts in them, but never one where it was a focus. I’d heard of Bruce Lee and Jet Li (and had thought the two related for a few years), and I’d heard of films like The Karate Kid and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but outside of vague hearsay I really didn’t know anything about the genre.

Initially I’d intended to look at the genre quite broadly (you can find the list of films I intended to watch, as well as some initial thoughts…

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South Korea’s Illegal Tattoos – A Look Into the History & Culture

Getting a tattoo is illegal in South Korea.

Well… Not quite. It’s not illegal to have a tattoo in South Korea and it’s not technically illegal to get one in Korea, but “under criminal and medical law, only licensed doctors can perform tattooing on their ‘patients.‘” There probably isn’t a single person on Earth who would go through medical school to become a tattoo artist. Despite this illegality, Korea has a thriving underground tattoo artist scene.

Many tattoo artists promote themselves on social media. Many more tattoo artist accounts have conspicuously been deleted or are private (img src: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7)

But there’s also a lot of stigma surrounding tattoos in Korea. Vice magazine published an article (our first encounter with Korean tattoo culture) interviewing several female tattoo artists about some of the difficulties they’ve faced:

vice1

How do people react when they see your tattoos?

“People typically avoid me when they see me on the street. Some people are fascinated by my look, but most feel uncomfortable and scared.”

How has having tattoos affected your day-to-day life?

“[…] My parents are also very devout Christians and their church has stopped me from coming to services because they feel like I’m sort of “satanic” being with my tattoos.”

 

 

Considering the nation’s rise as a cultural powerhouse (through K-Pop and K-Drama) and how trendy it’s pop culture scenes are, we were shocked that something like tattoos would be illegal and so heavily frowned upon.

So the two of us decided to do some research into South Korea’s tattoo culture. After looking into the history of tattoos in Korea and the perspectives of some Korean natives, we realised that the treatment of tattoos isn’t too different from experiences in our own lives – it’s just more intense in Korea.

We’ve collected highlights from our discussion & perspectives in this podcast:

 


History – Criminal Stigma

In South Korea tattoos are traditionally associated with criminals and gangs – and there’s a history behind this.

Sometime during Korea’s Goryeo era (918 A.D. – 1392 A.D.) the practice of tattooing criminals with their crime’s was adopted from Japan. This continued into the Joseon era (1392 A.D. – 1910 A.D.) before falling out of practice (Park, 2016). In South Korea tattoos still carry this criminalized stigma. Some people feel uncomfortable around tattoos, people with tattoos (or visible tattoos) are not allowed in most Korean bathhouses, and they can impact your chances of employment.

In our experience as Australians, we’ve noticed that this same stigma can be found (although it’s much less common). There are plenty of people who will be uncomfortable around or avoid people with particular types of tattoos, due to concerns about criminal connections. Neither of us really carry this perception, but we’ve definitely heard it expressed.


Ideology – It Disrespects Your Parents

What most surprised us about Korean views on tattoos, (as expressed in the recorded interviews below) was the idea that tattoos are damaging the pure body that was gifted to you by your parents.

In our experiences as Australians, individuality and independence from one’s parents is encouraged. The idea of not getting a tattoo because you owed your entire body to your parents seemed almost absurd.

vice2

How does your family feel about your tattoos?

“My parents are both preachers and they believe that your body should be a temple of God. Needless to say, they were shocked.”

What is it like being female with tattoos in Korea?

“There’s an expectation for girls to be modest and demure, but I think it’s such a double standard.”

vice3

 

 

 

 

 

How does your family feel about your tattoos?

“My dad still doesn’t know that I have tattoos. I only visit home during the winters or when it’s raining so I can wear a sweater or jacket and cover up. I wear a lot of long dresses too.”

Do you think the perception towards tattoos in Korea is changing?

“Tattoo culture is like fashion; it’s always changing, and changing quite rapidly. I just hope it changes for the better.”

 

 

But such devotion to one’s parents is deeply embedded within Korean culture, via the ideologies of Confucianism.

“Today, Confucianism is not a formal religious institution in Korea but rather a code of latent ethics and values that has profoundly influenced the society for nearly two millennia.” – Park & Cho, 1995, p.118

Confucianism promotes a strong hierarchical relationship structure in society – including the relationship between parents and children, also known as filial piety. This concept of filial piety (or hyo in Korean) encourages the reverence of one’s family and ancestors.

“Parents are revered because they are the source of your life. They have sacrificed much for you. One should do well and make the family name known and respected: bring honor to your family” (src)

So while this idea of getting tattoos as being incredibly disrespectful to your parents and family is still pretty foreign to us, we’re now able to understand that thought process. It would make a lot of sense to a society that’s been influenced by such an ideology for two thousand years – the criminal stigma surrounding tattoos probably exacerbate this perception of disrespect.


Conclusion & a Disclaimer

It’s important to note that neither of us speak Korean, and the vast majority of our sources have been mediated; they are largely created by outsiders (non-Koreans) or authentic Korean accounts have been presented to construct a particular narrative (as all media presentations do). While we’ve done our best to accurately research and present our findings, there is the possibility that we’ve misrepresented or misinterpreted things. But, well that comes with the territory of looking into a foreign country’s illegal underground subculture.

Either way, this experience has been enlightening. With the illegality and stigma in South Korea towards tattoos, but with their history and the longstanding moral virtues of the nation in mind we can understand it, even if we still disagree with it. If it were up to us we’d abolish the law outlawing tattoos artists’ work, but then, we’re outsiders to this culture. It’s hardly our place to make demands of the nation, is it?

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Sources

Park, IH & Cho, LJ 1995, ‘Confucianism and the Korean family’ Journal of Comparative Family Studies, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 117-134.

Park, J 2016, ‘Signs of social change on the bodies of youth: tattoos in Korea’, Visual Communication, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 71-92.

 

 

Enter the Dragon – definitely not what I expected in a martial arts film

Media, Stories and Thoughts

As part of my autoethnographic research into martial arts films I, naturally, needed to watch martial arts films. The first on my list, Enter the Dragon (1973), served as my introduction to the genre. I have since managed to watch another three of the films on my list (which can be found on my previous blog post), and I’ve come to the realisation that Enter the Dragon is incredibly different from them. Nevertheless, the film served as an important (if somewhat uninspiring) introduction to the genre, and plays a significant role in the international history of the film genre, as well as going against my personal assumptions of the genre; the language, and the amount of action.


The Language

Prior to Enter the Dragon I had never seen a martial arts film. I was somewhat aware of their influence on Hollywood action films – many of which incorporate Chinese…

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“Enter the Dragon” – An Initial Response to Martial Arts Films

Media, Stories and Thoughts

For my autoethnographic digital artifact, I’m intending my field site to be martial arts films. Specifically, martial arts films which have had Chinese or Hong Kongese studios involved in their production. I’ve never seen a Chinese or Hong Kongese films, nor have I ever seen a proper martial arts films so I’m hoping this will be an interesting experience that will offer insight into the international popularity of the genre.


What Movie to Watch?

The logical first step, was to choose which films to watch. For this I just entered “best martial arts movies” into my web browser and collated the results from various websites. Frankly I was surprised by how many of the listed movies had not come from China or Hong Kong. In hindsight it makes sense that they wouldn’t have a total monopoly on the genre, but I was still surprised to see Thai movies in the…

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Beautiful & Horrific: AKIRA’s Distinctly Japanese Existence, and Its Cross-Cultural Insights

Media, Stories and Thoughts

I first started watching Japanese anime about 8 years ago. One of the works that was recommended again and again, was Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 post-apocalypic sci-fi film, Akira (アキラ). Now, after watching the film 30 years after it’s initial release, I can understand the hype.
While viewing the film I experienced two major epiphanies; one being rather divergent of my personal experiences of animated mediums, and the other clearly aligning with a culture-wide idea of horror.


The Animation: Beautiful Yet Gruesome

As a long time fan of animated mediums, Akira’s animation quality immediately stood out to me. Most anime I have been exposed to were part of serialized television series with strict deadlines and restricted budgets, which can severely undercut their animation quality. Akira certainly doesn’t suffer from the same quality issue (and with a budget of $8 million, one would certainly hope not).

Every frame (of which there are…

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A Personal Perspective on ‘Gojira’, & Allusions to Nuclear Arms Races

Media, Stories and Thoughts

Gojira_1954_Japanese_posterGojira 1954 movie poster

Background

Before we get into my thought on Gojira itself, I’d like to tell you readers about myself. Not because I’m vain, but because my personal experiences will naturally frame how I perceive any piece of media.

Culturally, my family background is entirely southeast European. However, I’m not particularly close to my heritage and consider myself more Australian than European (as I was born and grew up here). Nevertheless, my first language was Serbian and watching non-English films is something I’ve been accustomed to since childhood (the VCR Serbo-Croatian edition of Disney’s Bambi is amongst my youngest film experiences, that I can recall).

Later, when I was about 12 I got into Japanese pop culture such as anime and video games, and developed a bit of a fascination with Japan as a whole. I spent about 2 weeks in Japan with a Japanese homestay family when…

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