Born of Two Koreas, of Human Blood: Monstrosity and the Discourse of Humanity and Pacifism in the Film Bulgasari

Jungman Park

Abstract

As in the Western world, Korea has a variety of mythical monsters. Among them is Bulgasari, an iron-eating monster, which will be the main topic of this paper. The monster’s name “Bulgasari” has a paradoxical meaning in Korean, which is “cannot be killed but can be killed by fire.” The meaning of the name represents the wide gamut of ambivalent identity ranging from physical to metaphorical aspects of the monster. It also provides a uniquely Korean reception and interpretation of being monstrous as distinctive from the archetypal imagery and general understanding of monstrosity as “enduring evil,” as seen in most myths and tradition. For instance, Bulgasari’s destructive power is frequently portrayed in the myth as a heroic trait to protect social justice by condemning and punishing the evils of society. Such an ambivalent identity as both monster and hero shows that Bulgasari’s embodiment of monstrosity is recognized through a different or rather complex mechanism in Korean-specific context, not uniformly recognized as enduring evil. This study traces historical descriptions of the monster Bulgasari in legend, literature, and film adaptation. Especially focusing on the North Korean film Bulgasari (1985), this study explores the way in which the ambivalent identity of the monster develops into discourses of humanity and pacifism, in both Korean-specific and transnational contexts, while mirroring the Korean and global sense of reality situated in this era of South-North division and nuclear holocaust.


Keywords

ambivalence; Bulgasari; humanity; Korean legend; monstrosity; North-Korean film; pacifism

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13185/3063