Organized Panel Session
This paper resuscitates the political agency of North Korean defectors through the textual analysis of blockbuster films. In reference to Agamben’s idea of homo sacer as those who “can be killed but not sacrificed” by sovereign power, this paper inverts this notion in order to explore the sacrifice of North Korean defectors as deputies, negotiators, and cooperators in South Korean cinema. By the Constitution of South Korea, the juridical territory of the nation includes North Korea, albeit no sovereignty is practically exercised over the area. Therefore, North Korean defectors who arrived in South Korea are considered to have regained their citizenship from a formally “displaced” status. South Korean cinema reflects the incongruence between the juridical and political identities of North Korean defectors, whose outcast lives are reduced to bare life (of bodies) over political life (as citizens). North Korean defectors are largely depicted in two modes in South Korean cinema, critical realism and blockbuster simulation. Realist films depict the lives of North Korean defectors who lack agency during their transition to unfamiliar ideological and economic structures. At heart, realist films intend to inter-contextualize with other outcasted lives regarding ethnicity, gender, sexuality and disability. However, they demur from imagining other ways of living with agency. In contrast, I argue that blockbuster films are able to simulate the agency of North Korean defectors as interstitial and transient beings, navigating both within and outside of the law.