Sheltering from Streaming Clouds: Nostalgia, Authenticity, and Drive-in Cinema in Korea

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    The multiplex or a movie theater complex with multiple screens within a single venue dominates South Koreas cinema landscape. Boosted by the long work hours of the average office worker, traffic congestion, and the pervasiveness of newly constructed shopping malls, the ubiquitous format allows people to easily meet up and catch a movie, browse boutiques, and have a meal together. As the diversity and scale of multiplexes increase, so does the struggle to survive for the few remaining independent cinemas. Among them are approximately two dozen drive-in cinemas. Scattered around the country, audiences come here to watch movies through the oft-tinted windscreens of their own car where they are responsible for their own air conditioning and sound quality. Seeing as the format entails considerable compromises in audio-visual quality, it would seem as though the current pandemic can offer the format no more than a temporary respite from its inevitable demise. But the drive-ins do not only promise protection from contagion; among other things they cater to a growing interest in alternative viewing experiences, one aspect of which is the ability to summon what Alison Landsberg calls prosthetic memories nostalgia for experiences never had. In this article, I identify the compound set of factors that have fostered South Koreas drive-in cinema culture since its beginnings in the mid-1990s. I argue that despite challenges to its operations, the outdoor format of projecting a film to audiences seated in an automobile offers unique phenomenological features, which along with the summoning of nostalgia, promise the formats survival well beyond the pandemic.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)31-53
    JournalJournal of Korean and Asian Arts
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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