115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Bourgeois Extreme: Cultural Flows and the Micro Import

Sangita Gopal, University of Oregon

This paper will examine how the Korean “revenge” film is selectively adapted by Bollywood cinema to create what I am calling the “bourgeois revenge genre” – that introduces into Hindi cinema, for the first time, a new problematic of revenge and the figure of the middle-class avenger whose vengeful acts blur the line between good and evil.

Proposal: 

In the spirit of Professor Koichi Iwabuchi’s call to study cultural globalization by looking at intra-asian relations and circuits of circulation and Kyung Hyun Kim and Youngmin Choe’s attempts to re-engage formal analysis in the study of transnational flows of popular culture, I would like to examine what I am calling the “micro-import” by which I refer not to large-scale transfers of cultural products across different national contexts – for example adaptations of Japanese manga to Taiwanese television dramas – but rather to the importation of smaller elements of style, storytelling conventions, narrative logic, mise-en-scene, or imagery from one cultural form to another that enables existing genres to re-orient and refresh themselves in relation to emerging social dynamics. Here, I would like to examine how elements of the Korean “revenge” film is selectively adapted by Bollywood (or Indian popular cinema in the Hindi language) to create what I am calling the “bourgeois revenge genre” – that introduces into Hindi cinema, for the first time, a new problematic of revenge and the figure of the middle-class avenger whose vengeful acts blur the line between good and evil. Whether such a character is particular to Korean cinema or not is beyond the scope of this paper, however, my research suggests that Korean cinema’s conception of revenge as an act not confined to a particular social strata – for instance the gangster – is a very significant element of its reception by Bollywood cinema. Further, the elaborately-orchestrated, and visually- thrilling form that the revenge scenario assumes is also attractive to Bollywood for it is a commercial film industry always on the quest for cinematic attractions that will secure audience interest. Moreover Korean cinema’s “difference” from Hollywood whose conventions it both uses, modifies and localizes and its success is creating a domestic film culture and film product that successfully competes with Hollywood in domestic markets and enjoys a reputation internationally, makes it comparable to the aspirations of what I have called the New Bollywood cinema, that since the 1990s or so, has sought to cultivate a more urban and middle-class audience that primarily watches films in the country’s many upscale and higher-priced multiplexes. The putative similarity between the political economy of the new Korean cinema and new Bollywood is precisely what makes the “micro-import” both viable and necessary to the reinvention of the Bollywood revenge film. The media-industrial metrics that have mostly organized the study of intra Asian cultural flows via data-driven, audience-and-fan oriented research, while vitally important, have a hard time computing the more granular exchanges that help assemble a “global-popular” aesthetic and yet as I shall try to argue, these more elusive flows do not occur in any whatsoever manner but rather the political economy and cultural dynamics of the Korean film Renaissance find resonance in the Indian context as it tries to crawl out of postcoloniality into globalization.