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Controversy in Korean Literature: Hailji on Road to the Racetrack

What a great way to warm up for the London Korean Film Festival.

Artist Talk: Think !n Literature

Film Screening & Talk: Controversy in Korean Literature
Wednesday 5 November │ 18:30-23:00 │ Korean Cultural Centre UK │
Speaker: Hailji, Author The Road to Racetrack
RSVP to KCCUK on 0207 004 2600 or [email protected]


We cordially invite you to attend a screening of a Korean film, Jang Sun-woo’s Road to the Racetrack, based on the original novel by Hailji. Road to the RacetrackThe novel is a controversial work that brought its author immediate recognition as well as notoriety. The work centres on an academic who is newly returned from France and portrays the gradual crumbling of his world – both internal and external – as he struggles against the hypocritical standards and conservative values of contemporary Korean society. In his novel, Hailji peels away the many guises of morality and love to expose the hypocrisies dominating human interactions. After the screening, there will be an opportunity to talk with the author and learn more about the world depicted in his controversial novels.

Haïlji was born in 1955 in Gyeongju, Korea. After graduating from Chung-Ang University with a degree in Creative Writing, he left for France in 1983 to further his education. Haïlji earned an MA in French literature from Université de Poitiers and a PhD from Université de Limoges in France. In 1990 he made his literary debut with the publication of his novel To the Racetrack, a work that brought him both critical acclaim and notoriety for its controversial view of contemporary Korean society. In the next three years, Hailji published four novels-Racetracks at Crossroads, For Racetracks, An Alder Tree at the Racetrack, What Happened at the Racetracks – all of which shocked the Korean literary world with their uique and innovative approach towards contradictions in life. Critical assessment of his works varies from one series of debates with conservative literary critics-now widely known as the “Racetrack Controversy.” His subsequent works are characterized by fantastic or dreamy atmosphere and have helped to secure him a readership of avid admirers.


Many of his works have been made into movies or plays. As such, Hailji is also credited as an important contributor to the development of modern Korean cinema. In 1993, he published a cine-romans entitled Mano Cabina Remembered. Hailji is also active as a poet. A volume of his English poems, Blue Mediation of the Clocks, was published in the U.S. in 1994, and in 2003, his French poems were published in Paris under the title Les Hirondelles dans mon tiroir. Hailji may be the only writer in Korea who has written and published his works in many different languages.

Major works

The Road to Racetracks (1990), Racetracks at Crossroads (1991), For Racetracks (1991), An Alder Tree at the Racetracks (1992), What Happened at the Racetracks (1993), He Asked Me If I Knew Jita (1994), Dangerous Alibi (1995), Arabian Night (1998), Bird (1999), Statement (2000), The Republic of Uzupis (2009), The Guest (2012), Sister (2014)

The Road to Racetracks

The protagonist R is a lecturer who has recently returned from France where he had lived for many years while studying for his Ph.D. Having grown accustomed to western culture, he feels estranged from Korean society and becomes critical of the contradictions he finds in various manners and customs that dictate human relationships in Korea. His life back in Korea is further complicated by his unhappy marriage. He wants to divorce his wife who has nothing in common with him, but she stubbornly refuses to grant him freedom. The life represented by his wife and his old parents is full of coarseness and contradictions he can neither accept nor resolve. He seeks the company of his ex-lover, J, with whom he lived for three years in France, but J is an unpredictable and unreliable woman who no longer harbors any genuine feeling for R. Betrayed by J, R gives up everything and decides to devote himself to writing. In this novel, Hailji peels away the guises of morality and love to expose the hypocrisies dominating human interactions. The author, who, like, R, live in France for many years, refrains from any authorial interjection or psychological analysis and relies strictly on concrete details to describe Korean culture as seen by an outsider. Hailji’s method compels us to re-assess our own mode of being and ultimately sympathize with R’s despair.

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