RSS

Tag Archives: DMZ

As promised Poongsan Dog (2011).

The movie starts at present day Korean peninsula, the man simply known as “Poongsan” – from the brand of North Korean cigarettes he smokes – makes regular trips across the DMZ to smuggle everything from people to antiques. No one knows whether he is from the North or the South, though from his commando-like abilities he is obviously highly trained. He makes contact with clients via a makeshift memorial bulletin board for divided families along the DMZ. On one mission he smuggles an antique, as well as a young boy, from North to South but when they are caught by the police, the South’s National Intelligence Service becomes aware of Poongsan’s existence. They contract him to bring a young woman, In-ok (Kim Gyu-ri), from Pyongyang to her lover (Kim Jong-su), a high-ranking North Korean official who recently defected and is still guarded by NIS agents. The arrogant official, who is paranoid about being assassinated (and rightfully so because he is), has been holding out on writing a report for the NIS until In-ok joins him. On the journey across the DMZ, In-ok accidentally sets off a mine that almost kills her and Poongsan, and she also has to be revived by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation when she almost drowns.

The mission is successful but In-ok has become attached to Poongsan who saved her life. Suspicious that the two made love during the crossing, the arrogant abuses In-ok after they are reunited and she expresses a desire to return to the North. Meanwhile, Poongsan is tortured by an NIS team leader (Choi Mu-seong) to find out whether he is a North Korean agent, but is rescued by the team leader’s boss (Han Gi-jung). Poongsan is forced to rescue NIS agent Kim Yong-nam, who’s been caught in the North and is under harsh interrogation; in gratitude, and appalled by his own agency’s methods, Kim later helps Poongsan escape from the NIS’ control. But then Poongsan and In-ok are captured by North Korean agents in the South.  In-ok is killed breaking Poongsan’s heart, however, he keeps working and in the last scene his luck runs out as he is shot by a North Korean while pole vaulting over a battier.

One interesting thing about this film is that Poongsan is apparently mute not saying a word throughout the whole two hour film therefore using either the words of others around Poongsan or what you imagine he would say or is thinking when he is alone to know what is going on.  An interesting device/technique to be sure.  The love story between a naturally mute protagonist (what else!?), about who we don’t get to know anything, and a North Korean woman who is abused by her husband, who actually loves her.

The protagonist, about whose motives we don’t get to know anything in the course of the movie either, still remains somewhat interesting. He is a border runner who doesn’t belong on either on this side nor on the other. He is homeless and yet has his home in both Koreas and therefore is most likely also a symbolization of the inner conflict of a divided Korea. He is a wanderer between the two worlds, it seems, and because of this he also has some superhuman powers.

It is fascinating to see Poongsan succeed in doing with the greatest of ease what so many of the best elite soldiers aren’t able to do: to take a walk through the demilitarized zone. No one stands a chance against this man, until the script demands that Poongsan is overpowered.  In such a case it suddenly becomes pretty easy to deal with him.

Poongsan is very good film it has an original, good story and uses unconventional devices.  What was the last American film you remember where the lead character doesn’t say a word throughout the entire film?  Poonsang was a box office smash in Asia—as it should be.  If we had films like this in American theaters I just might go back.  Alas we don’t.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 9, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Joint Security Area (2000) or “Can’t we all just get along?”

Joint Security Area is the first film of our Korean Cold War trifecta.  In 2000 when it debuted it was the highest grossing Korean film of all time.  It was shot on location at the demilitarized zone or DMZ (the heavily patrolled border dividing North and South Korea).  The film is explained through a series of flashbacks, flashbacks that show low level North and South Korean soldiers becoming friends, drinking together and sharing pictures and gifts.  This is of course taboo between the two countries which are still technically at war.

 

Two North Korean soldiers are found dead by gunshot wound while a lone South Korean soldier heads back toward his side of the DMZ.  The South Korean troops get their man however a firefight erupts and two days later the fragile relationship between the two countries is on the verge of war.  An international peace agency sends in a Swiss Korean Army officer who attempts to sort through the evidence and discover what actually happened.  She is warned at the beginning by the ranking General in charge of the DMZ that the outcome of this proceeding is not the point, but that the process be totally neutral—a warning she ignores to her own peril.

Explained through flashbacks it is shown that Soo-hyeok (a South Korean) was on patrol with other soldiers, only to get lost on the North Korean side of the DMZ and to partially trip a mine; found by Kyeong-pil and Woo-jin, (both North Koreans) who deactivate the mine, which later prompts Soo-hyeok to throw written messages over the border to maintain contact.  Eventually inviting Soo-hyeok across the border, the three become a group of friends that soon includes Sung-shik, with the four agreeing to leave politics out of their friendship so to remain loyal to their own country.

 

As tensions rise between the North and South, Soo-hyeok and Sung-shik return to the North to say goodbye and celebrate Woo-jin’s birthday, only to be discovered by a commanding officer from the North and resulting in a Mexican Standoff.  Despite Woo-jin panicking and betraying his friends, Kyeong-pil convinces Woo-jin, Soo-hyeok and the officer to lower their weapons, only for Sung-shik to panic and shoot the commanding officer when he reaches for his radio; when Woo-jin draws his gun again, Sung-shik kills him, before shooting his corpse several times out of anger.  Kyeong-pil persuades Sung-shik to lay down the gun and for the two to flee with a false alibi of being kidnapped, before throwing away the evidence that he and Woo-jin were fraternizing with Southern soldiers. After shooting Kyeong-pil to complete his alibi, Sung-shik and Soo-hyeok flee across the border, with the former getting past unseen; since Soo-hyeok has a wounded leg from the firefight, he is the only soldier seen.

 

As the investigator starts piecing this together (using the only real clue a missing bullet) and confronts the soldiers one South Korean throws himself out of a window putting him into a coma.  After that horrific incident, her family’s past is uncovered and it turns out that her father was a general for the North Korean army tainting any neutrality she may have brought to the proceedings.  Because the missing bullet which all of her theories hinged on was intentionally thrown away she cannot figure out who really shot Woo-jin due to a remaining inconsistency in their stories. Sophie (the investigator) hugs Soo-hyeok and wishes him well, only for Soo-hyeok to steal an officer’s pistol before committing suicide as he is escorted to a waiting car.  It is revealed Soo-hyeok shot Woo-jin, and he committed suicide out of guilt for Woo-jin’s death and Sung-shik’s suicide attempt.

 

The film magnificently concludes with a photograph of the joint security area that accidentally contains all four soldiers.

This film is the perfect kickoff for our Cold War series. It has all the elements of a Cold War movie: you’ve got two sides with opposing ideologies – and in fact it’s communism versus capitalism, and as in the West, capitalism has shown its economic might over basically an ideology which in North Korea happens to be called juche instead of communism. Juche means independence or self-reliance, but in North Korea juche is simply Orwellian doublespeak for totalitarianism run horrifically amuck. But the fact of the matter is that the people of these two countries are no different from each other, and what separates them is a fence. A big fence, yes. A fence I wouldn’t want to cross, yes. A 100%  jones fest, yes. The fact of the matter is that at the heart of it, in the DMZ where they all meet, in the last scene in the picture together, they are not fighting. One of them is even smiling for the camera. But that’s not the real reason this is a good movie. The real reason this is a good movie is because of the Cold War aspects of it: the spies, the electrified fences, the constant threat of total war. The stakes are high. And we see these individuals who are caught up as pawns in this very high stakes game – who really just want to go home. It’s all there for the writing – but think of how many different ways this could have been played out. It could have gone to total war. Those guys could have been court-martialed.

What parallel do we have to this situation in the United States right now? Nothing. We have some disorganized group of terrorists, who have no united front so to speak, who are intentionally walled off as cells so that one group can’t affect the other if they are caught. Moreover, in the U.S. right now our real enemies are within: the government, corrupt politicians, police brutality, big corporations and banks. There aren’t the clear sides that you have in a Cold War situation. We keep trying to manufacture wars, as if we were nostalgic for the Cold War: the war on drugs, the war on terrorism. But we find it hard to make that work when the real enemy is us: our own corruption, our own consumerism, our own fiscal irresponsibility as a country, our own fanaticism and arrogance in the face of poverty. Our own political correctness that we have let hogtie us into an inability to do anything about the “isms” that we claim to care so much about eradicating. The only good movie to come out of Hollywood to address such issues is V for Vendetta. Otherwise, Hollywood has been left as bankrupt of ideas as Lehman Brothers.

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 15, 2014 in Movie Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: