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Cripping Hwabyung: A Cripqueer Analysis of Korean Historical Drama Films Open Access

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This paper examines the ways in which cripqueer identities are portrayed in South Korean films, specifically in the sageuk (Korean historical drama) genre. Korea’s long history of humiliation and subordination to foreign forces – most notably the Japanese annexation (1910-1945) – and Confucian ideology has had a great impact on the construction of what William Reddy refers to as the “emotional regime”, which uses “emotional suffering” to ensure the conformity of its constituents. The connection between historical grievances and the culturally unique emotion of han (unresolved feelings of unfairness, sorrow and anger) has made it possible for those diagnosed with mental illness to become a staple metaphor of oppressive regimes and foreign occupations in film. Through an analysis of sageuk films (2005-2016) that were widely acclaimed in South Korea, this paper argues that cripqueer figures play integral roles within filmic narratives that use constructions of mental illness and queerness to critique Japanese colonialism, tyranny, and Confucianism. They also promote Korean national pride through a professed embrace of marginalized identities. In the process, cripqueer people are normalized as either acceptable normative queer beings or excluded as dangerous abnormalities.

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