Showing posts with label post-traumatic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label post-traumatic. Show all posts

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bestseller (베스트셀러, Beseuteuselleo ) 2010

Production values add to the atmosphere

Along with Moss and Bedevilled, Bestseller is one last year’s rural-set films where local villagers hide an ugly secret or secrets. Each is very different but they all set the countryside as a site of horror and a place for repressed memories. Kang Woo-suk’s Moss is an atmospheric thriller about a son who goes to a village when his father dies and finds that everything isn’t quite right. Soon he begins to suspect foul play in his father’s passing and tries to dig up the secrets of the community, which is lorded over by the village foreman playing by the brilliant Jeong Jae-yeong. Bedevilled shows us an island and a woman who is brutally raped, attacked, and persecuted by the other islanders through the eyes of a visitor from Seoul. Following a cataclysmic event she snaps and exacts revenge in this scopophilic masterpiece. Finally there is Bestseller, which starts out as a creepy haunted house horror when a famous writer gets away from the big city to write her comeback two years after having been accused of plagiarism. A big revelation switches the focus of the film, which becomes a thriller where she tries to uncover the death of a girl who she believes was killed by the villagers.

Director Lee Jeong-ho treads carefully in his debut as he maneuvers through the conventions of horror and name checks half a dozen classic horror films in the process. A writer going off to a big haunted house in the countryside for some quiet to write is basically the plot to The Shining (1980), not only this but just like in the famous opening scene from that film we follow the protagonist from various eerie helicopter shots as she drives to the remote location. Besides this the film also makes heavy allusions to Psycho (1960) and Don’t Look Now (1973). The first half of the film is an exercise in suspense and is very effective. The mise-en-scene is wonderfully executed as the sets, sound design, editing, and cinematography are all top notch. The problem is that it feels like a bit of an exercise and can come off as a little lifeless. Eom Jeong-hwa, an accomplished actress who has some horror experience with Princess Aurora (2005), looks good in the role but sometimes misses the mark with her constant staring and paranoia. This could also be a product of Lee’s direction as he takes such pains to evoke an atmospheric horror. 

Like so many other Korean films, Bestseller deals with past trauma and repressed memories. As I mentioned earlier it does this in much the same fashion as Moss and Bedevilled by situating the trauma, by proxy or otherwise, in a rural environment. The villagers, at first welcoming, quickly turn sour on the writer’s presence as she begins to dig up the truth on the 20-year-old disappearance of a young girl. The secrets they hide are predictably dark and while they do not stem directly from political atrocities, like the revealed trauma of films like Save the Green Planet (2003) and A Man Who Was Superman (2008), they do echo a number of related themes. For one the brutal countryside could be seen as a representation of the North, it could also be seen as a metaphor for the past and how modern Koreans choose to deal with it. Various events in the film point to a manipulation of memory and show us how most characters are deeply affected by it a key concern in Korean cinema. 

Unfortunately the film has some very significant drawbacks, I’ve already mentioned Eom’s performance but far more problematic are the atrocious lapses of judgment in the execution of the finale. There is a supernatural bent to the film that is necessary to complement the style of the first half but this angle is played down during the rest of the narrative until the very end when it comes back with a vengeance. The problem is that the logic of the film goes right out the window. Laws of physics are blithely disregarded, generic codes are awkwardly juxtaposed, and the obvious resolution is forced into place. Ultimately the film is a great display of technique and a competently made horror/thriller with lots of fun twists but it lacks cohesion and focus.


The villagers turn on the writer

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Memories of Murder: Part III - The Evolution of the Post-Traumatic Male

"Either physically handicapped or psychologically traumatized (sometimes both), many of the characters emblematized the period's frustration when protest against the military government was disallowed." 

Waiting for the inevitable force of time and society
There is an evident progression of character representation if we trace the relevance of this statement from the start of the New Korean Wave, through its end and into modern Korean cinema. At the start, characters that fit this description were either college students or working class protagonists who had no chance to engage positively or successfully with society. Both of these character types, while worlds apart, suffered from an inability of expression and were both systematically oppressed by a government which tolerated nothing but uniformity and obedience. 

This began to change over time and in the year 2000, Peppermint Candy, arguably one of the last New Korean Cinema films, was released.  In this narrative we follow a character's entire life story, although we do not engage too much with him personally as he is more of a window to see certain political events through. The trauma that his character suffers from emblematizes the many consequences of the social ills committed during the periods highlighted in the film. What is important, regarding the previous quote, is that he starts off with artistic and optimistic aspirations for the future but as his life becomes consumed and destroyed by the government and military  he is eventually forced into civil service, where he becomes a detective and is broken down to become part of the system as he begins to reign his own oppression by beating people senseless under the guise of the law. Only in the end of the narrative (the start of the film as it plays in reverse chronological order) does he recognize what society has done to him and what he has become. At this point he removes himself from the tarnished society he admits to living in and being a part of. In Peppermint Candy the suicide of the principal protagonist at the beginning of the narrative very clearly spells disaster, when the character puts himself on the road (more specifically a train track here) and waits for the inevitable force of time and society to finish off his chronological narrative. His induction and subsequent denial of society left him with the knowledge that he had no home to go to and any attempt at recuperation would have been impossible. What  happened in this narrative is that a character that started off by "emblematizing a period's frustration" with the government ends up with him becoming a part of it. 

Back at the original scene of the crime
The natural progression of this logic bings us to Memories of Murder which places the emasculated male as a part of the civil service (again a detective) right from the start and we are never given a clue  about his background or why he may have joined the police. We do not necessarily see him as an oppressive agent, although he is certainly not wothy of much praise, but he is part of the system and  he has no understanding of the consequences of most of his actions although to a cetain extent he learns to deal with this throughout the narrative. By the end, after suffering dificult psychological trauma he leaves the force (we do not know when or exactly why, although we can guess) to become a civilian. He becomes a travelling salesman, permanently doomed to travel the roads of South Korea. We last see him exactly where he started, still trying to make sense of something that has no easy answers on a road that seems long and narrow and may not lead anywhere at all.

"The depictions of emasculated and humiliated male subjects set the stage for their remasculinization", this may not necessaily be true of this narrative but by rejecting his image as a civil servant or pawn of an oppressive government he has to some degree become engaged with his own narrative. He understands the society he lives in that much better and sees how he relates to it however,  he is still far from recuperating his own male subjectivity, to quote Kyung "The dawning of a new modern era is normally punctuated by hope and optimism, but the weight of intense history and its attendant violence loomed so excessively large that it ended up traumatizing, marginalizing and denaturalizing men". The government and the history which it created was so vast and oppressive that, coupled with the pre-existing historical traumas from the rest of the century, it became impossible for post-traumatic males to be given any chance to heal their psychological wounds, within or without the civil service and the society it dominated.