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Celebrating Early Days of Feminism

2005/04/11 | Permalink | Source

Documentary Looks at 'New Women' of Early 20th Century


By Kim Tae-jong
Staff Reporter


Na Hae-suk was the first female artist in Korea to paint in the Western tradition.

The concept of "New Women (Sin Yosong)" appeared in Korea in the early 1900s as well-educated women started to take more active roles in society.

Kim So-young (Kim So-young-I), local film critic and documentary director, believes that their contribution to and impact on society throughout history hasn't been properly examined or discussed.

In her new documentary film "New Woman: Her First Song (Wonrae, Yosongun Taeyangiotta)", Kim retackles the issue by shedding light on the life of Na Hae-suk, one of the most important forerunners in the phenomenon. The film was shown Saturday as part of the 2005 Women's Film Festival in Seoul.

"It would be impossible to deal with `New Women' without talking about the life of Na", Kim said. "She was indeed one who stood for New Women, and she has had a great influence on many feminists in the nation".

"Her miserable life in her declining years also discouraged many young feminists and made them feel hopeless. Her death led them to fear the possibility that they could lead a life like hers if they remained progressive activists, and that was the so-called `Na Hae-suk complex', which prevailed among many feminists", Kim says.

Na was born into a rich family in Suwon, Kyonggi Province, and had an opportunity to study abroad. She later became the first female artist of Western paintings and also showed her talent in literature. But after she her husband divorced her, Na had to live far from her family and, in the end, died alone on the streets.

As people exaggerated her life as one full of scandals and rumors, Na was misunderstood by many and the concept of New Women didn't have a chance to be properly examined, Kim says.

And it is also true that New Women was simply regarded as a temporary trend in Korea, which was colonized by Japan at that time, even though many nations had also seen the emergence of New Women, Kim adds.

The documentary collects a variety of materials from video clips dealing with her life and the lives of other New Women as well as in-depth interviews with experts and her acquaintances. The film also contains some re-enactments of scenes and uses many images of Na's work.


Na Hae-suk was the first female artist in Korea to paint in the Western tradition.

The combination successfully shows how people misunderstood her and what her role and status was in New Women.

"I wanted to reinterpret the emergence of New Women and re-evaluate it through the way I collected traces of Na's life. And it was also an attempt to find a way to heal the `Na Hae-suk complex', that feminists of My Generation suffered from", Kim says.

Although she is now experiencing the changing attitude of young feminists about their work, she felt the need for the issue be discussed again to better understand the past and connect it with the present. She thinks the biggest problem is the lack of discussion on the topic, as many people still seem to be uncomfortable with the word "feminism", Kim says.

"New Woman: Her First Song" is the final work of her trilogy on the history of women. Next, Kim plans to make feature films, which can also be used to create more free discussion about various women's issues.

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