About Mara Thacker

Mara Thacker is an associate professor and the South Asian Studies & Global Popular Culture Librarian at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her research is focused on trends in area studies librarianship with a focus on niche collections, and public engagement and outreach. She has used this research to foreground her work to build and market the largest collection of South Asian comics in a North American research library.

Curing Academic Homesickness at UIUC

By: Vismaya Jayakumar, Master of Urban Planning 

Along with igniting tremendous trauma in millions of people around the world, COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted various inequities in access to health, education, food, mobility and more. The impact of the pandemic on vulnerable populations has brought to light several previously overlooked issues. One of the most vulnerable groups is international students, yet their issues are often overlooked by decision-makers.

Over the last several years, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has proudly housed thousands of international students (with an average growth rate of 4.6%). International students currently make up more than 22% of the student body at the university (more here), bringing new cultural ideas and prosperity. Amidst the chaos of the pandemic, travel bans, airport closures, rising unemployment rates, overseas money transfer struggles, ICE’s alarming notices, racism and xenophobia, and a feeling of isolation in a foreign country, one other issue the pandemic has underscored is the alienation of international students in academia resulting in, what I call, Academic Homesickness.

A photo of the COVID-19 walk in testing sites at Illinois

COVID-19 testing site at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Source: Chicago Tribune (https://www.chicagotribune.com/coronavirus/ct-covid-19-fall-enrollment-illinois-colleges-20200909-goq66touoregdetibhwc5ikiha-story.html)

Coming from a particular educational context, having read a different set of scholarship all through our educational careers, in our initial semesters here, many of us sit and stare at an assigned reading for a class and wonder how different it is. While this variance in perspectives undoubtedly adds to our knowledge, it also reduces opportunities for us to effectively bring our own ideas with confidence. In parallel, we who travelled thousands of miles looking for better education, some for a better life, often find ourselves in a complex state of cultural and educational bereavement. We are either constantly thinking about ways of giving back to the people and place we come from, or feeling guilty about not thinking of home enough. Including familiar scholarship can open up avenues for us international students to chase our dreams in a foreign place while still feeling at home.

Many of us move to the United States after two to three decades of living and studying in our home countries. With that deep-rooted influence, often times we try to bring our global perspectives to classrooms, be it social sciences, business, engineering, public health or art. We ponder on the relevance of previously learned things, and failing to connect them to our work here, we give up and give in to merely meeting graduation requirements. As an Indian student studying Urban Planning here, I believe the COVID-19 pandemic has only highlighted this disconnect in times of quarantine separation from our families, especially for us South Asians who may feel that they have little to no relevance in the academic setting.

With over 15% of the international student population being South Asian, and many of them being doctoral students and researchers, the Illinois Dissertations on South Asia at the International Area Studies library showcases the important past work of our fellow South Asians, and provides the rest of us with much needed inspiration. This collection of more than 140 dissertations and theses has been organized by country and topic for ease and convenience.

Beyond just the South Asian dissertation collection, the International and Area Studies (IAS) Library has an extensive focus on African Studies, East Asian Studies, European Studies, Global Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Middle East and North African Studies, Russian East European and Eurasian Studies. More broadly, IAS provides monographs, articles, research journals, and digital content in various languages to support research. Due to the pandemic, many library resources including popular materials and other e-books and digital content are available online. For materials not available electronically, hard copies can be made available upon request (more here). Apart from the wide-ranging collection, the IAS library offers personalized orientation sessions for International students, both in-person and online research consultations, bibliographic training sessions, citation verification requests, one-on-one instruction sessions with subject specialists, and. Click here for more information on research consultation services and to contact subject specialists.

The pandemic and current political crises have heightened a sense of dislocation and isolation for many international students. The university is a microcosm of the real-world and with such diverse collections at our fingertips through the Library’s collections, we have tools to bridge intellectual distances, and foster innovative global research. This access cannot only remedy this feeling of academic homesickness, but also give us the confidence to go out and make real change.

Here is the IAS’s Illinois Dissertations on South Asia – Remedy to Academic Homesickness at the U of I.

Share this post:
Facebook Twitter Tumblr

Chasing Down Secret Comics: New Global Comics for the Library Collection

By Paul Richmond

I’ll be quick: I would love it if you read one of these comics. After all, this project started with a serendipitous in-person encounter, but as it ends I am left with uncertainty about whether I will be able to visit the University library before I graduate in the spring. So I’m living vicariously through you, presumed reader, who will be able to actually hold all these comics that I tracked down through research, guesswork, and judicious use of Google Translate. Not all of them are written in English, but some are (I’ve included a handy guide down below), and I’ve personally always seen comics in languages I can’t read as more of an inviting challenge than a stone wall. So please, check them out. I hope you enjoy.

Image of the cover of Dead Balagtas: Tomo 1

Pictured: the cover to Dead Balagtas: Tomo 1 by Emiliana Kampilan.

Ok. With that out of the way, I should explain a little more. I’m a master’s student in Library and Information Science, and this past spring I met with Mara Thacker, the Global Popular Culture and South Asian Studies librarian at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, to plan a practicum. I was given a $3,000 budget and the task of selecting comics for addition to the University library’s Global Popular Culture collection. Starting in late May, I reviewed the existing collection and then identified comics that would complement and expand the existing focus, settling on the niche of international comics from underrepresented countries (that means not Franco-Belgian comics; not Japanese manga, yes Pinoy Komiks and Lebanese anthology series). At this point I’ve submitted my selections, but they haven’t yet been acquired, which means that some of the more niche items may not appear in the library for a few months or more. Nevertheless, I’d like to take you through a tour of the comics that most excited me in order to give a sense of what will soon be available.

The Major Trend

Two side by side cover images from š comics from Latvia

Pictured: covers for š! #39 ’The End’ and the forthcoming š! #40 ‘The Very End.’

The majority of the comics on my list (I haven’t done the math, but it probably adds up) fit into the same general category of independently organized local comics anthology series. A prototypical example is the first one I found, kuš! komiksi from Latvia. I discovered it in an article from World Literature Today called “International Comics: 5 Groundbreaking Publishers,” by Bill Kartalopoulos, and immediately knew I’d stumbled on to something special. Here’s how kuš! describe themselves:

kuš! (speak koosh!) is a comics art anthology from Latvia founded 2007 in Riga. Every issue contains comics from international and Latvian artists to a certain theme which changes every issue. The aims of kuš! are to popularize comics in a country where this medium is practically non-existent and promoting Latvian comics abroad. (From http://komikss.lv/about/.)

Kuš! is remarkably successful at this task: it won the Prix de la bande dessinée alternative at Angoulême in 2012, and in 2020 was nominated for Eisner and Ignatz awards. They are stocked in American indie shops like Quimby’s, and their webshop evidences their consistency of output, with volume #40 of their flagship anthology š! forthcoming in December and their minicomics series mini kuš! climbing past 94 releases. Though not every local, independent anthology can match kuš! in success, they do in spirit. The creators know that comics exist everywhere, whether mainstream publishing has caught on or not, and there are a lot of incredible artists out there that the world deserves to encounter. When anthologies break national boundaries, like kuš! does, they also show off the incredible capacity for this visual medium to transcend language while retaining a deep cultural and aesthetic specificity.

Chasing Down Secret Comics

Examples of some SC5 comics from the publisher Special Comix

Pictured: SC5 from Chinese publisher Special Comix, image via https://site.douban.com/106881/widget/photos/14836486/

The moment I realized that there were more projects like  kuš! to be found was when I learned about Special Comix. It was still early on, and I had been digging through the archives of the International Journal of Comic Art, reading any essay that seemed likely to give me leads on notable comics, creators, or styles, when I was caught up by a sentence in Matthew M. Chew and Lu Chen’s article “Media Institutional Contexts of the Emergence and Development of Xinmanhua in China.” (Xinmanhua, which literally means ‘new comics,’ is a Chinese-specific style influenced by Japanese manga.) The sentence read: “The independent comics group SC, which is composed of comic art teachers, students, and xinmanhua artists including Xiao Yanfei, successfully publishes a self-financed comics magazine.” The similarity to kuš! was immediately appealing, an effect that was only strengthened by the challenge of tracking down a Chinese comics series based off of just the letters ‘SC.’ In fact, although I eventually tracked down an English-language blog post that mentioned the group under the name “Secret Comics,” and then an official-seeming Chinese site, where the proper name was identified as Special Comix, it wasn’t until nearly the end of the project that I finally found a Chinese e-commerce site where volumes were actively listed for sale.

At some point along the way, I discovered that SC5 (subtitled 无字漫画, “Wordless Comics”) had won the same award in Angoulême as kuš! just two years earlier, in 2010. Although the series was difficult to track down, and harder to purchase, it has even made it to the US in the form of a 2009 exhibition at Portland indie comic shop Floating World. I won’t further catalogue the parallels; in short, SC was every bit the mirror to kuš! that I hoped it would be, and it was hardly the only one. In between those two bookends, while the search for SC was still ongoing, these types of comics anthologies became my favorite thing to chase.

International Comics Anthologies

On the left is a cover for TokTok 15 and the right is the cover for Kommunity 2020y

Pictured: covers for TokTok 15 and Kommunity 2020: Manila 2019-2050.

Here’s a quick rundown of all the series I’m hoping we’ll be able to acquire:

kuš!: Latvian comics publisher with works mostly in English. Š is an anthology series featuring local and international artists; mini kuš! is a series of individual minicomics by featured artists. More info at kuš!

Special Comix: Chinese comics collective with an irregularly published anthology series. Works are mostly in Chinese, although SC5 is organized around the theme “wordless comics.” More info at Special Comix (website is in Chinese).

KOMMUNITY: Yearly anthology organized by the Phillipine komiks convention Komiket. The language is mostly Filipino/Tagalog. Recent volumes have been focused on specific themes (the LGBTQ+ community, the future of Manila). More information at Komiket.

The Daging Tumbuh: Underground comix anthology out of Indonesia (published in Indonesian). The creators seem to have spun it into a clothing and design brand as well. More info currently available at Daging Tumbuh (note that they are in the process of switching websites).

Samandal: Lebanese collective working to develop a more mature comics scene. Their comics are mainly a mix of Arabic, French, and English. Recently they have been recovering from a religiously-motivated libel suit that lasted from 2010-2015. More info at Samandal.

TokTok: Arabic underground comics anthology based out of Cairo, working to keep Egypt connected with the international comics world. More info at TokTok.

Lab619: Tunisian experimental comics magazine. As far as I can tell, the main languages are French and Arabic. See the Lab619 Facebook page or read a writeup from Art for Ness.

Ugrito: Minicomics series published by the Brazilian comics shop Ugra, highlighting a variety of talented artists. Mainly Portuguese. See more about the store at Ugra or check out the full catalog of Ugritos.

Le Cri du Margouillat: Historic comics review out of Réunion, recently rebooted as an anthology series. Mainly in French. Visit them at Le Cri du Margouillat (French website) or let Wikipedia plus Google Translate do its best to sum up their history.

What Else? 

Not everything fits into the box I’ve been describing, and many of the comics I’m most excited about don’t have a place on the list above. To wrap things up, here are a few recommendations based around other categories (with a little bit of overlap):

Comics for English-language readers

Cover images for "The Mythology Class" and Factory

Pictured: Covers for The Mythology Class (20th Anniversary Edition) and Factory.

š! #39 ‘The End’: the latest anthology from kuš! is based around a timely theme, and their comics tend to be in English.

SC5: Wordless Comics: Special Comix’ international breakthrough moment was always about leaving the limitations of language behind.

Meanwhile…: Graphic Short Stories about everyday Queer life in Southern and Eastern Africa: not listed above because it isn’t part of a series, this anthology of queer stories by queer writers was originally published in English.

Factory (工廠:在世界工廠的背後, English subtitle “The Story Behind ‘Made in Taiwan’): this work of social commentary is mostly wordless, and in places where text is used it appears to be mostly multi-lingual.

The Mythology Class by Arnold Arre: this winner of the Manila Critics Circle National Book Award from 2000 was originally published in English. It features a whirlwind quest through the world of Philippine mythology.

Year of the Rabbit by Tian Veasna: a personal reflection on the author’s family’s struggle to survive the Khmer Rouge. Translated from the French by Helge Dascher; look for L’année du lièvre if you are interested in comparing it to the original.

Our Story: A Memoir of Love and Life in China by Rao Pingru: the author’s loving, illustrated memoir of his relationship with his late wife. Translated from the Chinese by Nicky Harman.

In the Starlight (volume 1) by Kyungok Kang: a classic blend of Shojo manhwa and sci-fi from Korea, which I discovered in an IJOCA article titled “Science, Technology, and Women Represented in Korean Sci-Fi Girls’ Comics.” Sadly, only a couple of volumes have been translated, so try not to get too invested!

Taiwanese Comics

I was able to pick a variety of fantastic-looking Taiwanese comics based on recommendations from Books from Taiwan and the Golden Comic Awards. Highlights include 粉紅緞帶 (The Pink Ribbon, an award-winning story about girls in love), 南方小鎮時光:左營‧庫倫洛夫 (Small Town, Southern Time, a beautifully painted travelogue), and 大仙術士李白 (The Poet Sorceror, a series of magic and adventure that wins an award seemingly every year).

Excerpt images from inside The Poet Sorcerer Taiwanese comics

Pictured: excerpts from the aforementioned comics with English translations via booksfromtaiwan.tw. Right image is from The Poet Sorceror IV, but we are only initially acquiring Volume I.

Korean Manhwa

Working off of a machine translation of magazine article that described the favorite manhwa of both Korean critics and general readers, I was able to put together a list of some standout comics from that tradition. Some titles of note, with apologies for the awkward machine translation: 열혈강호 (Hot-Blooded, a 25-year-long ongoing martial arts manhwa that may be Korea’s longest-running comic), 공포의 외인구단 (Horror Foreign Club, a beloved Baseball manhwa), and 1999년생 (1999ers, another woman-led sci-fi like In the Starlight).

Cover images from manhwa comics the library will acquire

Pictured: the first volumes of 열혈강호, 공포의 외인구단, and 1999년생.


Share this post:
Facebook Twitter Tumblr

Celebrate the NEA Big Read with Us!

This past weekend was the kick-off for the NEA Big Read* of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. Between the tasty samosas and snacks, the vibrant exhibit, the invigorating keynote address, and the friendly crowed comprising campus and local community members, the kick-off event provided a glimpse of what all is to come over the course of the next six weeks.

Dr. Koeli Goel gives remarks at the kick-off event at the Spurlock Museum for the NEA Big Read on Jhumpa Lahiri's "The Namesake".

Dr. Koeli Goel gives remarks at the kick-off event at the Spurlock Museum for the NEA Big Read on Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake”. Photo credit: Dr. Koeli Goel

The International and Area Studies Library is one of collaborating institutions working to provide 35 programs through February and into March to celebrate The Namesake and themes such as South Asia, diaspora, culture, immigration, and identity. Other partnering organizations include the Spurlock Museum, the Champaign Public Library, the Urbana Free Library, the Art Theater, the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and more.

While all of the programs are free and open to the public (and all are worth attending) we would like to highlight the events being planned by the International and Area Studies Library so that our devoted readers and fans can come out and support us. So mark your calendars for the following exciting events:

Thanks to the generous support of the Dean of the Libraries, John Wilkin, and Mr. Pappu Patel of Bombay Market we are able to provide free refreshments at all of the events happening in the International and Area Studies Library. Events happening at other locations will have food and drinks available for purchase.

In addition to all of these wonderful events, there will also be two ongoing exhibits in the library throughout the month of February. Check out the first exhibit in the Marshall Gallery on the first floor of the Main Library building and then come up to IASL on the third floor to check out a second exhibit.

Please note that you do not have to have read the book in order to participate in any or all of these events. If you do want your own copy of the book, the International and Area Studies Library still has a few free copies to give away. If you have any questions or feedback about the programs, please feel free to be in touch with South Asian Studies & Global Popular Culture Librarian Mara Thacker (mthacker@illinois.edu), who is organizing the programs for IASL. Finally, if you are participating or following along on social media please tag us with #CUBigRead !

Happy reading!

NEA Big Read logo*NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.

Share this post:
Facebook Twitter Tumblr

Dreaming of Djembes in Chambana: Midwest Mandeng 2016

Image of the flyer advertising Midwest Mandeng 2016.

Flyer advertising Midwest Mandeng 2016.

Every fall, for one weekend, some of the most renowned West African drummers and dancers come to Champaign-Urbana for a full weekend of workshops, demonstrations, community-building, and general merriment. The annual festival, called Midwest Mandeng, was first held in 2014 and is organized by a dedicated group of volunteers including me, Mara Thacker, the South Asian Studies Librarian at the International and Area Studies (IAS) Library. A promotional video produced for the first Midwest Mandeng in 2014 explains what it’s all about:

This year, the festival will be October 7th, 8th, and 9th on the University of Illinois campus and downtown Urbana. Be sure to check the full schedule to see all the details on locations and timings.

The IAS Library and the Center for Global Studies are getting in on the action this year by co-sponsoring a special performance with master djembefola, Bolokada Conde, one of the most celebrated master drummers in the world.  Originally from Guinea, West Africa, Conde was the lead soloist of Les Percussions de Guinée, a group sponsored by the Guinean government that presents traditional music and dance, especially from the Guinean highlands. For over a decade, he has taught workshops worldwide to beginning and advanced students. While he currently lives in South Carolina, he taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a visiting professor from 2008-2011, leading Mande drumming, rhythms, and songs.

Bolokada plays djembe at a demonstration at the Urbana Free Library at Midwest Mandeng 2015.

Bolokada plays djembe at a demonstration at the Urbana Free Library at Midwest Mandeng 2015.

On Friday, October 7, 2016, from 4:00-5:00 p.m., Bolokada will visit the IAS Library to share his stories and experiences touring and performing all over the world, and showcase some of the Malinke rhythms that he has mastered over the years. This event is free and open to the public.

If you feel inspired by the event, check out some of the drum and dance workshops held in the studio rehearsal space in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. All of the workshops are open to all experience levels and drums can be borrowed free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. Check out the event website for more information, or contact Mara Thacker at midwestmandeng@gmail.com.

To find out more about West African drumming and dancing, the IAS Library and the Music and Performing Arts Library have a few options for you. Check out some of our visiting artist’s, Bolokada Conde’s, recordings in CD format: Morowaya, Sankaran, and Rhythm Manding.

Bolokada Conde's "Rhythm Manding" CD.

Bolokada Conde’s “Rhythm Manding” CD.

For visuals to accompany the audio, YouTube has a number of recordings available of Guinea’s national dance company, Les Ballets Africains. Also, some of the company’s amazing past productions are on on YouTube. One particularly inspiring piece is a clip of the troupe performing the rhythm dundunba, which is the dance of the strong man and also one of the de facto party dances in celebrations in Guinea.

There will be a community dundunba party as part of Midwest Mandeng where you can try out some dance moves or hear the rhythm in person. Check out the Facebook event page and join in on the fun!

If you want to get meta, check out George Worlasi Kwasi Dor’s 2014 book, West African Drumming and Dance in North American Universities: An Ethnomusicological Perspective. There is also a fascinating thesis on “Performance, Politics, and Identity in African Dance Communities in the United States” written in 2012 by Sarah Sandri at the University of Oregon which is freely available online.

We hope to see you in IAS on the 7th for Bolokada Conde’s free performance!

Share this post:
Facebook Twitter Tumblr

“The Fairer Sex” Films, Too

Let us know your favorite female directors and/or movies directed by women in the comments below!

"We Can Do It!" poster for Westinghouse, closely associated with Rosie the Riveter, although not a depiction of the cultural icon itself.

The iconic “We Can Do It!” poster associated with Rosie the Riveter and female empowerment.

We heard you all loud and clear– you loved our March post on female authors from around the world! Just because Women’s History Month is over doesn’t mean we can’t highlight more talented female artists. So this week we bring you a post with films by female directors. And if you need further justification other than “we think it’s an interesting topic”, you may also be interested to know that:

  • April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and gender-based violence is a theme or undercurrent of many international documentary and feature films by women directors,
  • On Tuesday, April 5th from 7:00-9:00 pm the International and Area Studies Library is co-sponsoring a screening of one such film, “India’s Daughter” at the Spurlock Museum,
  • Renowned director Pang Eun-jin will be visiting the University of Illinois to screen two of her films, “The Way Back Home”, and “Perfect Number” on April 25, and 26 respectively.

Without further ado, here are a few fantastic films directed by a selection of talented women from around the world:

India’s Daugther: The Story of Jyoti Singh”  directed by Leslee Udwin (2015)

Tags: India, United Kingdom, Jyoti Singh, rape, documentary

“India’s Daughter” is a harrowing documentary recounting the infamous 2012 gang rape case in New Delhi which resulted in the death of a young girl, Jyoti Singh. Both the incident and the subsequent release of the film sparked protests and international conversations about women’s rights and violence against women. The film was banned from screening in India but has nonetheless had a worldwide impact, having been screened in countries all around the globe. One of the aspects of the film that makes it controversial is that the director, Leslee Udwin, is not a South Asian, and the film cannot help but comment on societal conditions and attitudes that contributed to the incident. The film is also difficult to watch because it gives voice to the rapists, their legal counsel, and the families of the rapists including the wife of one of the rapists who laments her suffering and the suffering of her children while her husband is in jail awaiting possible execution. .

Poster designed by Rachel Storm to advertise the April 5th screening of the film "India's Daughter".

Poster designed by Rachel Storm to advertise the April 5th screening of the film “India’s Daughter”.

More like this: “Saving Face” a documentary on acid attacks in Pakistan by Academy Award-winning Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy; “Salma” a documentary by Kim Longinotto telling the story of a Muslim poet and politician in Tamil Nadu, India who was locked away and confined in her home by her family for many years.

Wadjda” directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour (2014)

Tags: Saudia Arabia, Islam, girls, mothers and daughters, feature films

“Wadjda” is a bittersweet film about a little girl in Saudi Arabia who dreams of owning her own bicycle so she can race with her neighborhood friend. Her mother doesn’t want to buy her the bike because it is not considered a proper toy for girls. Wadjda decides to enter a Koran recitation contest so she can use the prize money to buy the bike herself. Just as Wadjda is running into walls about what is proper for women, we also see her mother struggle with this as her husband searches for a second wife and copes with an overly challenging commute to work as, presumably, she is not allowed to drive herself.  The film manages to find hope and humor in conditions where women’s lives are heavily policed from an early age. The film is all the more remarkable in that it is the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. In an interview with NPR, director Haifaa Al-Mansour recounts the logistical challenges of trying to shoot the film in a country where she is not supposed to be outside or mingling with men to whom she is not related.

More like this: “Blackboards” by Iranian filmmaker Samira Makhmalbaf, a feature film about the lives of Kurdish refugees after the Iran-Iraq war; “The Square” by Egyptian filmmaker Jehane Noujaim on the Arab Spring.

Girlhood” by Celine Sciamma (2015)

Tags: France, black diaspora, coming-of-age films, gangs, adolescence, feature films

“Girlhood” is an intense and complicated film to watch, especially as an American [viewer] in a time when racism and civil rights is dominating the news. While this film is set in France, this film shows the ways in which race and economics are inextricably linked, irrespective, it would seem, of one’s country of origin. These considerations become even more complicated when one realizes that the director, Celine Sciamma, is white. On the one hand, “Girlhood” is supposed to be a coming-of-age story, where race is just one small part of a larger context that focuses on the development of a single character. On the other hand, that character is developing within the context of joining a neighborhood gang, fighting, drugs, prostitution, and an abusive family. These issues are thoughtfully considered in an interview between Celine Sciamma and Ghanaian-born film and culture writer Zeba Blay. Taking aside the complicated racial politics of this story, this film is also worth watching for its beautiful cinematography and the masterful acting by newcomer actress Karidja Toure who plays the lead role of Marieme. Like “Wadjda,” the film finds some hope and humor within a bleak situation, but with an ending that leaves the viewer anxious: one is befuddles as to whether the s/he is seeing a happy ending or the set-up for a tragedy waiting to happen.

More like this: Celine Sciamma has two other coming-of-age films, “Tomboy” and “Water Lilies“. To try out a different French female director, you can also check out the work of Agnes Jaoui. The library has several of her films and if you need a break from serious films on difficult social conditions, you can start with her 2000 comedy, “The Taste of Others“.

Take Care of My Cat” by Jae-eun Jeong (2004)

Tags: South Korea, friendship, young women, cats, feature films

“Take Care of My Cat” is a 2004 feature film about a group of friends who struggle to maintain their friendship and find their way after graduating high school in South Korea. One of the five girls, Hae-joo moves out of their smaller city of Inchon to try to make a new life in the more glamorous capital city, Seoul. Her success and ambition alienate her from other friends, most especially Ji-young. Ji-young is trapped by an impoverished home situation and has dreams that feel unattainable and hopeless. Trapped in between these two is Tae-hee who has both ambition and a difficult home situation. Tae-hee ends up in a place where she must choose between her two friends and in doing so choose a vision for her future. Observing the ways in which particular cultural conditions in South Korea impacted the girls’ choices and behavior was compelling while also considering the ways in which their struggles are universal. For example, Ji-young was unable to get a job she had applied for because she didn’t have an immediate relative to vouch for her, a custom that is largely irrelevant in the United States. Like women all over the world, for these girls becoming independent requires tough choices and unexpected development that can transform their personalities and values.

More like this: If you’re looking for another Korean film but would like to learn about North Korea, check out Yang Yonghi’s documentary “Dear Pyongyang“. For something completely different but still from East Asia, check out Joan Chen’s film “Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl“.

Be sure to comment below letting us know what films you’d recommend that are directed by women or featuring them in lead roles. And be sure to like our Facebook page for more posts like these.

Share this post:
Facebook Twitter Tumblr