Thanks to Martha Lincoln, Suzie Park, Mark Jerng, Charles Wharram, Edlie Wong, Shameem Black, Joseph Jeon, Joseph Heumann, David Leiwei Li, Sangita Gopal, and audiences at Eastern Illinois University and the University of Oregon for generously commenting on earlier versions of this essay.

[1] In “Globalisation and New Korean Cinema,” Shin argues that this hybridizing deployment of Hollywood conventions and other international genres is characteristic of contemporary South Korean cinema, and that this enables the films to respond critically to both national and transnational issues:

“These hybrid cultural forms provide an important means for…self-definition, a self-definition that not only distances itself from a xenophobic and moralizing adherence to local cultural ‘tradition’ but also challenges Western cultural hegemony” (57).[return to page 1 of essay]

[2] Although the exchange about dusty bottles seems far-fetched, Bong notes in an interview that it was based on McFarland’s “real” reason for having the formaldehyde dumped (Bong, “Audio Commentary”).

[3] A longer account of the suicide that has been edited out of the film directly adduces the victim’s bankruptcy and exorbitant credit card debt as motives for his death (Bong, “Deleted News Clips”).

[4] David Harvey provides a useful historical account of economic neoliberalization in South Korea, arguing that it did not create new wealth so much as it unevenly redistributed already existing wealth (106-12). Naomi Klein describes the IMF interventions in South Korea as a prominent example of how “disaster capitalism” forcibly privatizes public and state resources in the wake of (in this case economic) crisis (263-80). See also Bruce Cumings, “The Korean Crisis and the End of ‘Late’ Development.”

[5] Bong notes that the biohazard “costumes” and equipment that appear in the fabricated news clips are of the sort that “you can see in a movie like Outbreak” (“Audio Commentary”).[return to page 2 of essay]

[6] In Life as Surplus: Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era, Melinda Cooper notes that “Using the technique of DNA shuffling (hailed as the second generation of genetic engineering because of its highly accelerated capacity for randomly recombining whole segments of genomes), DARPA [the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] is attempting not only to perfect our defenses against existing threats but more ambitiously to create antibiotics and vaccines against infectious diseases that have not yet even emerged” (91).

[7] See Mayer’s analysis of “virus discourse” in the contemporary genre of the “biothriller,” Dougherty on the “killer virus novel,” and Wald’s on the “outbreak narrative.” Mayer points out that, as a discourse organizing national security, the virus reflects an ambivalence towards the “versatility” of global economic relations:

“The virus, which may work its way from species to species through contaminated secretions or excretions and which is capable of changing the genetic material it comes into contact with, attests to a protean versatility that is further emphasized once the ambivalent nature of the pathogen—between life and death—comes into view. This ambivalence turns the virus into a perfect trope to envision contemporary world-political developments and interactions” (7).

On Jaws as an anticipatory narrative of public reactions to AIDS, see Selden, “Just When You Thought it was Safe to Go Back in the Water….”

[8a] Given the immense popularity of “Korean Wave” (hallyu) films such as Bong’s throughout the Asia Pacific, the film’s references to SARS and resonances with Western anxieties about “Chinese” lead toxicity expand the scope of its critique of outbreak narratives to encompass other Asian populations and products that have been stigmatized as “risky.”

[8] While the name of this chemical substance clearly echoes the herbicide Agent Orange, it also invokes the yellow dust from the Gobi desert that has on several occasions brought carcinogenic pollutants from China’s industrial cities into Seoul.

[9] Bong elaborates further, saying that seo-ri is

“different from shoplifting or any kind of robbery—it’s some kind of playing, game, it’s some kind of rural culture of Korea: young boys in the night invade a fruit field or some place and take some fruit or sometimes even chickens…. It’s some kind of culture of the lower class people…” (Bong, “Audio Commentary”). [return to page 3 of essay]

The theme of seo-ri is present from the film’s first shot of Gang-du: he has fallen asleep while working at the snack booth, and a boy (Se-ju, as it turns out) attempts but fails to steal a piece of candy.

[10] The chaebol, state-led economic system that came to an end with the economic crisis and IMF bailout also relied on extended “familial” ties between salaried workers and their employers.

“By cloaking the demands of profit in the guise of older Confucian practices, labor itself gets recoded as the work of the family and by extension of the nation” (Jeon).

[11] “In South Korea, adoption is still not viewed as a socially acceptable alternative method of extending one’s family or parenting a child” (Sarri, Baik, and Bombyk 100).

[12] Sarri, Baik, and Bombyk provide a comprehensive analysis of the detrimental effects of transnational adoption on South Korea’s welfare system and social programs for children and single mothers.

[13] “An eleven-year decline in transnational South Korean adoption was reversed with the IMF crisis, which caused a concomitant crisis of overflowing orphanages. In 1996, approximately five thousand children were placed in state care, and that figure was projected to be double in 1998, leading the Ministry of Health and Welfare to announce that it ‘has no choice but to make changes to recent policy which sought to restrict the number of children adopted overseas’” (Kim 64).

[14] Social reproduction, Katz writes,

“hinges upon the biological reproduction of the labor force, both generationally and on a daily basis, through the acquisition and distribution of the means of existence, including food, shelter, clothing, and health care” (710).

Along with cultural and political-economic issues, Katz includes environmental harm as a factor in social reproduction: in both environmental racism and migrant labor patterns,

“there is a rejigging of the geography of social reproduction so that the costs of social reproduction—in once case environmental and in the other political-economic—are borne away from where most of the benefits accrue” (714).

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