This essay examines the play Compatriots (Dongpo), published in the San Francisco-based Korean newspaper, The New Korea (Sinhan minbo), in 1917. This play illustrates an imagined process of Korean independence from Japanese colonization through the form of chain-drama (yeonswae-geuk), i.e., a hybrid form combining both theatrical and cinematic elements. In introducing this little-known play, I challenge the prevalent Korean theatre and film historiography that denounces chain-drama merely as a colonialist hybridity as well as the nationalist historiography that frames the history of colonial Korea as a binary struggle between Japan and Korea. Specifically, I demonstrate that chain-drama was a globally practiced popular art form, and suggest that the playwright Hong Earn was likely inspired by American popular theatrical and cinematic productions, including their hybridity of 1910s San Francisco. By developing an alternative chain-drama format, Hong affectively promotes the audience’s belief and participation in Koreans’ advancement towards a modern independent nation building, and successfully embodies pure modern Korea through the impure form. My discussion of Compatriots will ultimately reveal the fragility of a fantasy of the purity concept that developed in the colonial context to define the nation and its arts.
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