Stories of 5/18: Trauma and the Gwangju Uprising in Contemporary South Korean Cinema



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The Gwangju Democratic Uprising occurred in May 1980 in Gwangju, South Korea. Frustrated by the years of Park Chung-hee’s authoritarian reign and the martial law enacted by the new dictator Chun Doo-hwan, civilian protests ignited throughout the region in hopes of ending decades of illegitimate tyranny. As citizens and government forces clashed, the protests quickly became deadly as the state-backed military was ordered to kill any and every civilian who appeared to protest. Lasting for about ten days and resulting in thousands of deaths, the Gwangju Uprising has left permanent scars on the nation in ways it is still looking to heal. This project examines how Peppermint Candy and A Taxi Driver, two historical fiction films depicting the Gwangju Uprising, reimagine the figure of the nation as an organic entity. In doing so, I argue that this national reimagination is able to recontextualize the discourse of historical trauma on the South Korean nation in a way that analogously mirrors the effects of emotional trauma on the human body. The analysis of this relationship hopes to highlight how art, science, and society can possibly coalesce to highlight the ways in which the present South Korea continues to struggle with the legacy of the Gwangju Uprising. The framework of trauma theory and a neuroscientific background on trauma will supplement the close reading and analysis of scenes within the film by postulating the ways in which trauma can affect the reimagined body of the post-traumatic nation in the same ways that it is known to affect the post-traumatic human body.



LCSH Subject Headings