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Toy Stories: Souvenirs from Korean Childhood
2008 01 31  ToyStoriesSouveniers icon

January 31–April 18, 2008toys-taekwonv.jpg
Toys are always more meaningful than the simple playthings they appear to be. They can embody the fantasies, values, obsessions and anxieties of a generation. With Toy Stories: Souvenirs from Korean Childhood, The Korea Society put on display over 90 children's toys from South Korea in the 1970s and ‘80s. On loan from the Hyeon Tae-Joon Collection in Seoul, the toys—flamboyantly colored action figures, robots, miniature tanks and paper dolls—captured a society in economic and social flux and a generation with rising hopes for the future.

The exhibition debuted on January 31 with an opening reception. Guests admired lines of action figure heroes which, reflecting the economic circumstances of the period, were often bland knock-offs of foreign models. Plastic robots ornamented with futuristic weapons captured viewers' attention just as they had drawn in a generation of Korean boys, treating them to a sneak preview of a fantastic future where science made anything possible. Korean girls' futures were more limited, circumscribed by the miniature kitchen and hospital utensils and paper dolls that encouraged them to dream only of becoming housewives or nurses.

Many of the items in the exhibit were modeled on cartoon characters popular in Korea during the period, and in particular, characters drawn from Robot Taekwon V, Korea's first feature-length animated movie. Throughout its run, Toy Stories: Souvenirs from Korean Childhood was complemented by programs that explored the importance of animation and Robot Taekwon V to Korean youth culture.

On February 7, Aaron Han Joon Magnan-Park, a professor in the department of film, television and theater at the University Notre Dame, gave a gallery talk titled "Our Toys Our Selves: Robot Taekwon V and South Korean Identity." Magnan-Park explained how Robot Taekwon V cemented children's loyalty to an emerging South Korean identity by using a state-sanctioned style of taekwondo to fight off invidious foreign enemies. On March 18, The Korea Society screened Robot Taekwon V for an audience of animation enthusiasts.


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Related program:
Cross-Cultural Traffic: Toying with Brands, Borders and Bootlegs
(Wednesday, May 28, 2008)

Korean Quarterly / Spring 2008


Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 5:30 PM

ImageFilm Screening: Robot Taekwon V
Animation feature-film,
Directed by Kim Cheong-gi,
produced by Yu Hyon-mok.
Running time: 79 minutes

When an army of giant mecha attack, young martial-arts champion Kim Hoon must pilot Robot Taekwon V to defend the planet! Inspired by Mazinger Z, a Japanese anime popular in 1970s Korea, Robot Taekwon V was the country’s first full-length animated feature and the first to be digitally restored (1976).


  • Gallery Talk

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Our Toys Our Selves: Robot Taekwon V and South Korean Identity
Aaron Han Joon Magnan-Park
Professor of Film, Television and Theatre, University of Notre Dame


Children growing up in South Korea in the1970s faced an overwhelming barrage of cultural influences from the United States and Japan, the nations that, for Koreans, defined the prevailing images of the successful modern industrialized state during the Cold War era. President Park Chung-Hee was determined to bring South Korea into their ranks and, as a means of achieving this goal, adopted an export-driven industrialization policy that laid the economic foundations for the country's rise to its present status as the 11th largest economic power in the world.

However, merely emulating the American and Japanese models of economic and technological progress could not instill within the Korean population a long-term self-sacrificing work ethic. Rather, the nation needed a Korean-specific hero who could create a vision of a forward-looking, technologized South Korea independent of the type of technological advances that the United States and Japan could already provide.

Kim Cheong-gi's 1976 animation feature-film Robot Taekwon V signaled a significant contribution in advancing the image of an independent South Korea through the persona of a Korean-specific robot that effectively stands guard against enemies of superior numbers and with access to advanced technology.

This presentation illustrated how the Korean-specific features of Robot Taekwon V encouraged South Korean audiences to celebrate a Korea-centric paradigm of heroism that negated the United States and Japan and more importantly, exorcised the North Korean threat.

About the Presenter

Aaron Han Joon Magnan-Park is an assistant professor in the Department of Film, Television and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame. He specializes in pan-Asian cinema, sound theory, international action cinema and post-colonial theory. He has previously taught at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, Illinois State University, Wesleyan University, University of Iowa, American University of Paris and the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne.

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