Bud Shaw Lecturer Analyzes Unique VR Film

Jacob DeCarli ’22, Managing Editor

2020 Bud Shaw lecturer Dr. Grace Kyungwon Hong presented her research to 40 audience members on a virtual reality (VR) film in its political and societal contexts. 

Hong is a professor of Asian-American Studies and Gender Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Her work focuses on women of color feminism where she published her 2006 book, “The Ruptures of American Capital: Women of Color Feminism and the Cultures of Immigrant Labor,” according to the UCLA website. 

Associate Professor of American Studies Cotten Seiler made opening remarks about Shaw and introduced Hong to the audience. Technical difficulties led Hong to deliver her presentation without the planned visuals.

Hong’s work centers around the 2017 VR film “Bloodless.” The film, directed by filmmaker Gina Kim, details the 1992 rape and murder of a Korean sex worker by a U.S. soldier stationed in a Korean camp town. According to Gina Kim’s official website, the film, “…transposes a historical and political issue into a personal and concrete experience.” The film is Kim’s first VR work and has received awards at film festivals across Europe and Asia. 

Part of Hong’s lecture focused on U.S. neocolonialism in South Korea. During the Korean war, the U.S. established camp towns to station their soldiers. According to Hong, many female sex workers have been murdered, raped and tortured at these camps. She said, “life was never protectable in the first place…[a] camp town is a deathly state.” 

The United States has apologized for numerous atrocities committed in other countries under U.S. neocolonial rule. Hong argued that the U.S. articulates imperialism abroad as benevolence and has become the nation of apologies. 

Another aspect of the presentation analyzed the VR elements of the film. Hong first gave a background of VR’s first uses in military training for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Hong, VR was used to, “…fully immerse pre-deployed Marines in an Iraqi village.” Additionally, VR’s intended use involved helping soldiers rid their PTSD by exposing them to stimuli. Hong then displayed a trailer for the film to show how VR positions the audience within the storyline. “Bloodless” is filmed in a 360-degree technique, so the viewer can look around to see all elements of the scene. A young woman walks past the camera which is positioned as the audience, and the audience feels a distant interaction with the woman. Hong described her own experience with the film and said that her and her friend saw different elements of the film. 

Students expressed positive thoughts about Hong’s presentation. Franklin Saeteros ’22 said he was interested in Hong’s explanation of trauma and the experiences of Korean sex workers. “The whole talk was very insightful,” he said. Olivia Riordan ’21 said she found the lecture insightful as she did not have knowledge on how VR is used for trauma, and she was interested that, “…there are people making VR films to increase awareness of topic like sexual assault during the Korean War.” Miles Krein ’22 said he was not aware of the human rights abuses that occurred by the U.S. military on camp towns. “I was also disappointed to learn that the U.S. was not planning to do anything about his issue anytime soon,” he said. 

“Virtual Violence: Trauma and Memory in Gina Kim’s ‘Bloodless/Dongducheon” was held in the Stern Great Room on Monday, Feb. 3 at 5p.m. The Bud Shaw lecture series honors the legacy of David “Bud” Shaw, who was a 1980 American Studies graduate of Dickinson College. Shaw became an activist during the AIDS crisis, and he donated to the American Studies department upon his death to fund lectures. The American Studies department provided light refreshments to audience members after the lecture.