Showing posts with label thriller. Show all posts
Showing posts with label thriller. Show all posts

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Yellow Sea (황해, Hwang-hae) 2010

Since the days of the New Korean Wave of the late 80s and early 90s men in Korean cinema have frequently found themselves on the road in search of answers, a home and their identity.  In contemporary Korean cinema male characters are for the most part much more comfortably settled within the progressive society of modern Korea and yet their philosophical dilemmas still simmer under the surface, refusing to go away.

Four years ago, Na Hong-jin burst onto the scene with one of the most remarkable debuts in modern times.  The Chaser was an under-the-radar genre effort from a rookie director with two mid-level stars, and yet it became one of the highest grossing films of the year and along with The Good, the Bad and the Weird was also one of Korea’s most popular exports.  Today, in the spring of 2012, Na and his two stars Kim Yun-seok and Ha Jung-woo are among the heavyweights of the Korean film industry.  Kim’s last five films have all attracted well over 2 million admissions; in fact most of them have soared over the 5 million mark (The Chaser; Woochi, 2009; Punch, 2011), a enormous benchmark in the Korean industry that few films have reached.  The charismatic Ha is now one of the country’s top leading men, indeed two of his films topped the box office last month alone (Nameless Gangster, Love Fiction).

For Na’s sophomore feature, the gang got back together again and delivered another worldwide hit in The Yellow Sea, originally released in Korea in December 2010 and presented internationally at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2011.  Just like his first film, Na’s follow up is firmly rooted in genre but disassembles and reconstructs it to further his own ends.  Beginning as an ominous rumble in the distance, the film accelerates to the point that it becomes a heart-pumping descent into despair. 

Ha Jung-woo plays Goo-nam, a down on his luck cab driver in the Yanbian Korean autonomous prefecture of Northeast China who loses at mahjong every night as he hopelessly tries to earn enough money to pay off the loan sharks who funded his wife’s passage to Korea.  He’s offered a job to clear his debt by Jeong-hak (Kim Yun-seok), which sees him smuggled into Seoul in order to kill a man.  He has a week to carry out the contract and while on the peninsula will try to track down his wife whom he hasn’t heard from since she left.

Na’s mise-en-scene is downbeat, gritty and very evocative.  We follow Goo-nam around Yanji, a dirty city full of forgotten souls.  It operates like a lawless border town, steeped in vice and hopelessness.  The film is split into a few chapters which each up the stakes over the last.  Goo-nam’s debasement is the key narrative point for much of the film and more than anything, what defines this is his fractured identity.

Throughout most of The Yellow Sea he find himself in transit or on the run.  He is preyed upon and taken advantage of from the outset; his lack of clear national identity is also the source of his lack of confidence.  There is an early scene which features stray dogs and it quickly becomes clear that this is what he is.  He only fights back through the basest instincts of survival.  Much of the action takes place in boats, buses, cars, ports and roads and Goo-nam is always in danger.  Like the emasculated males that found themselves wandering the roads of earlier Korean cinema, he seeks his identity through lines of transportation but in modern Korea, a country that often seeks to forget about its past, he is not welcome.  He is a visible and painful reminder of an oppressive and traumatic recent history.  Whether jumping off a boat, apprehended on a bus, chased on the street or crashed into while driving a car, he is forced into the wild, away from civilization.  Conversely it is only in these scenes, high up in the mountains, that the threat dissipates.  Despite the looming danger, he is safe in the untouched and austere calm of the outdoors.

The Yellow Sea begins as a gritty drama and thriller, and then turns into a suspense film for its second chapter but then becomes an unapologetic and propulsive action film for the significant remainder of the running time which, though 140 minutes long, is breathless.  It’s an exhausting and sometimes morbid experience to be sure, but the pure energy and raw vitality of the set pieces are exceptionally effective.  Much of the pulsating back half of the film had me short of breath.

Just like in The Chaser, Ha and Kim are exceptional.  Though their roles as protagonist and antagonist are reversed, they are remarkably engaging.  Ha truly embodies Goo-nam’s despair while Kim, despite his dead eyes and listless mumble is one of the most ferocious and animalistic cinema villains of recent times.

I will say that The Yellow Sea is best enjoyed as a genre effort as held under close dramatic scrutiny, it may turn up some unsatisfying conclusions.  A small price to pay in my eyes for what was one of the most invigorating cinematic experiences of the last few years.  While Korean cinema may have a lot more to offer than its thrillers, when a film like this comes along, it’s easy to see what all the fuss is about.

The Yellow Sea is out on DVD/Blu-ray in the UK on March 26th, from Eureka Entertainment.


Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Countdown (카운트다운, 2011) and the Rise and Fall of the Korean Star System

Around the same time that South Korea emerged as a global economic force in the early 1990s as it went about the process of shaking off the gloom from decades of authoritarian oppression, the film industry began to see a lot of changes.  Large corporations began to fund some projects and film production rapidly modernized.  The quality and budgets of films rose.  Another aspect of the industry that began to take shape was the star system.  Given the low market share of Korean films at that point, there weren’t many household names in the local film industry since the larger public would not have been aware of the films much less the stars.  As the 1990s progressed however, a few names became known to local film viewers.  Park Joon-hoon and Han Suk-kyu were some of the first major Korean stars.  To this day they are still popular draws at the box office but then again the rebirth of the industry didn’t happen that long ago.

In the late 1990s, when the domestic film market exploded, the star system blew up along with it.  Very quickly, talent and management agencies began to hoard and commodify promising talent, employing strategies pioneered by the Hollywood star system and its domineering power brokers in the talent management sector.  Soon the hallyu phenomenon added to this escalation of the importance of above the line talent and it was at this point that things began to spiral out of control.  Budgets for Korean films were quite low but agents had driven up the prices of top talent so production costs for the industry began to soar.  Filmmakers were not happy with the direction that the industry was taking but the grip that these agencies held over the entertainment industry proved very strong.

Around the peak of the Korean film industry’s dominance of the box office in the middle of the last decade there began to be a change in star power.  Up until then recognizable actors had proven big draws for audiences but there appeal was starting to diminish.  As the industry saw a dramatic fall in 2007 there was a shift in how projects were designed.  Budgets were too high and had to be slashed, and since top actors weren’t backing up their hefty fees with solid return on investment there weren’t deemed as essential as once was the case.

At the present time even more consternation has been expressed over the bankability of big stars.  Last year there were a number of big flops, some, like Sector 7 and My Way, were huge blockbusters that generated little interest but there were a number of mid-level productions, more modest in their ambition, which were mainly relying on the recognizability of their main stars.  One of these was Hindsight, starring Song Kang-ho, another was Countdown, which featured the promising pairing of Jeong Jae-yeong and Jeon Do-yeon.

Jeong Jae-yeong is the king of deadpan, I dare you to watch Going By the Book (2007), in which he expresses not a single emotion, without falling off your seat laughing.  Over the years he has amassed an impressive array of credits, which have included many recalcitrant gangsters and stoic antiheroes.  In time he has developed into one of Korea’s most dependable leading men and of late has moved audiences to laughter and tears with award-winning roles in Castaway on the Moon (2009) and Moss (2010).

Jeon Do-yeon may very well be the most versatile actress in Korea.  Starting off in TV, she got her start in movies with the successful romance films The Contact (1997) and A Promise (1998) before moving onto different roles such as a gangster’s girlfriend in Ryoo Seung-wan’s No Blood No Tears (2002) and a diffident mother in Lee Chang-dong’s Secret Sunshine (2007) for which she won Best Actress at Cannes.

In Countdown, Jeong plays Gun-ho, an efficient and stoic debt collector who discovers that he has liver cancer.  Five years ago his son died and his organs were donated to a number of people whom Gun-ho now approaches in the hopes of getting a liver transplant.  One of these beneficiaries is Ha-yeon, a con artist who is currently in jail.  She is about to be released and agrees to the operation on the condition that he finds someone for her, the man responsible for her incarceration.

The film boasts a terrific opening but it doesn’t take long for the melodrama signals to turn on.  The death of Jeong’s character’s son, who was afflicted with Down Syndrome, weighs heavily on him.  So much so that the memory of the loss has been suppressed by some sort of ‘han’-induced amnesia.  It should also be mentioned that his parents are disabled.  All this comes within the first 10 minutes.

Sadly, Jeong’s deadpan demeanor in Countdown comes off as glum and a little sleepy while Jeon admirably throws herself into a role that is underwritten and scarcely worthy of her talent.  It’s rather unfortunate that this is the case, especially since the film started out so well.  The problem with the film is that despite all its promise it is critically lacking in originality.  The set pieces are for the most part banal or rehashed car chases and standoffs.  The photography is competent but the editing sometimes leaves much to be desired.

The film is not as witty as it attempts to be and as a result it is far too dry and glum to ever be funny.  The local overcast weather is a also detriment in this film which by all rights should be colorful and exuberant, they should have played with lighting, locations and wardrobe more to counteract this.  It’s a sad state of affairs when the most interesting location is a Lotte department store.

Another issue is that the weight of inevitability looms over the narrative as we are just waiting for the backstory, the seeds of which have already been planted in the opening minutes, to kick in and hijack the narrative.  It’s a long time coming and though it is predictably melancholy and cloying, thankfully it works rather well.  This is due in large part to Jeong, who is afforded the opportunity to add more depth to his character and performance in these final stages.

At the end of the day, Countdown is a mediocre film with a humdrum narrative which happens to feature two big stars.  It’s like a song that thinks it’s cool and savvy, replete with self-assured lo-fi beats and interspersed instrumental bursts, but is really just elevator music.  I am a big fan of both Jeong Jae-yeong and Jeon Do-yeon but now I will need to count down until they both return in better films.


Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ideological Barriers and Invisible Borders in Poongsan (Poong-san-gae, 2011)

Kim Ki-duk is one of the filmmakers who initially drew me to Korean cinema.  The first film of his I saw was The Isle (2000), which was, in a French edition, packaged together with Lee Chang-dong’s Peppermint Candy (1999).  While the films may have been very different they were also a fantastic double bill that complemented each other in many ways.  I wasn’t as shocked by the violence as I may have been because I had already seen Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and before dipping into Korean cinema, had more or less exhausted Takashi Miike’s catalogue up until that point (around 2003).

Imagery in Poongsan
Park’s film, while harrowing, was a pure piece of cinema brimming with adrenaline and the pure pleasure of filmmaking.  Lee’s poignant drama was elegant, realistic, literary, and propelled by social issues and recent Korean history.  Kim’s effort was slow and laconic, it was violent while at the same time elegiac.  The Isle had an artist’s touch and was unlike anything I’d seen before, just as the previous two films were.  Indeed I was very lucky to have selected the three Korean films that I did as my introduction to the nation’s cinema, the hooks were in deep from the start.

There were a few traits I noticed in The Isle that come up again and again in Kim’s filmography, which I quickly sought out (though I have yet to see Address Unknown, 2001, and Birdcage Inn, 1998).  The first was his preference for mute (or almost mute) protagonists.  Being that Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance was my first Korean film and that The Isle was my third, it certainly seemed to me as though I had stumbled on a typically Korean trait.  Besides a large quantity of Kim’s films, there are numerous mutes in Korean cinema, including but my no means limited to: The Way Home (2002), Sad Movie (2005), and No Mercy for the Rude (2006).  The phenomenon is so prevalent that it is deserving of its own piece, which I intend to write in the light of the staggering success of Silenced (aka The Crucible/Dogani).

Messages of separated families
The second trait, which sadly is unavoidable, is his prevalent misogyny.  The horrific violence perpetrated against his female victims is shocking.  Some say that he demonstrates certain actions to make a point and show a patriarchal society for what it is but it is not just the actions inflicted on women in Kim’s films that concern me.  What bothers me more is the way they are portrayed: they are frequently submissive, which is understandable in certain situations, but are also frequently shown as ignorant, petty, and self-serving.  This applies to many of his female characters and it goes beyond artistic choice and deliberate representation.  It appears to be innate and as much as I admire and respect Kim Ki-duk as a filmmaker, I can’t help but see him as a sexist and this can cause problems for me when I view his work.  Then again Hitchcock was a notorious misogynist and I unabashedly love his films.

So after this rather long preamble I would like to discuss the first film to be released in Korea with his name attached to it after his three-year hiatus. Poongsan was written by Kim but it was directed by Juhn Jai-hong.  Although unlike his previous protégé’s films, like Jang Hoon’s Rough Cut (2008) and Jang Chul-soo’s Bedevilled (2010), which were firmly stamped with those emerging cineastes’ talents, this is definitely a Kim Ki-duk film.

Poongsan cigarette
Poongsan is the name of a brand of cigarettes and it is also used to identify a mysterious individual (Yoon Kye-sang) who transports items across the DMZ with extraordinary athleticism in the face of great danger.  He brings messages and items to and fro between separated families (they are pinned on a wall for him to see), but he nevers utters a word and it is hard to understand his motivations.  The National Intelligence Service (NIS, the Korean FBI) gets wind of his operation and enlists his services to bring back the wife (Kim Gyoo-ri) of a prominent defector (Kim Jong-soo) who is cooperating with them.  He indicates that he’ll bring her back in three hours.  He finds her but she is initially reluctant to trust him and causes problems on the way back across the border.  After she is reunited with her husband, Poongsan is apprehended.  What ensues is both a strange story of attraction, and a thrilling cat and mouse game between Poongsan, the NIS, and the North Korean spies who get involved later.

Early on the film succeeds in hooking us by leaving us with many unanswered questions but its elliptical nature and reliance on imagery and metaphor add complications.  It’s difficult to say exactly what kind of a film this is.  It’s an arthouse flick but it also features action scenes and espionage, it’s comes down to the viewer’s taste as to whether this succeeds.  I was able to let it go, just about, but it did make the film uneven. 

Crossing borders
One of the metaphors that I’ve already mentioned is the main character’s silence.  He doesn’t seem to be a mute, he’s just decided not to talk.  The question is why?  People on both sides of the border ask him what side he’s on, and since he travels back and forth a lot, perhaps he feels that instead of pandering to one ideology or the other, it is less complicated to forgo communication altogether.  At least this way he can be trusted, as everyone in the film seems to do without any hesitation.  He is also a wandering male without a home, a man so thoroughly displaced by the separation of Korea that he cannot help but incessantly travel back and forth across its fortified border.  He does so easily and brazenly, he does not recognize it, perhaps for him, it isn’t even there.

As far as its portrayal of ideology goes, the film takes a hard line and paints everything in stark black and white.  The NIS is shown as being paranoid and tyrannical, the same way that other South Korean films portray North Korean agents.  In effect Kim seems to have created the Poongsan character as a surrogate for himself, he does not ascribe to one idea or the other and all he sees is each side’s hypocrisy and dishonesty.  The defector’s ideology is also brought into question, like Poongsan he has crossed lines. He has done so by switching his allegiance from the North to the South, but unlike him he is caricatured as a tyrant, he is shallow, petty, jealous, violent, and authoritative.  Ultimately his ideology comes in second place to his greed and ego, which quickly transcend it. 

The defector and his wife
Chaos abounds out of a desire for rigid structure from both sides. The perpetual cat and mouse game played by the North and the South is disturbed and brought to a quicker, and thus uncharted, conclusion when an unknown element doesn’t fit into their equally dogmatic codes.  Poongsan does not seem to have a side but perhaps the unquantifiable aspect is not his political non-affiliation but the love that blossoms between him and the defector’s wife, which all the other characters seem fascinated by and try to use to their own advantage, with disastrous consequences.

The third act goes to great lengths to ridicule the NIS and the North Korean agents by exposing their hypocrisy and pitting them against one another. Unfortunately, this only happens at the expense of the main thrust of the narrative.  A risky move but it delivers a solid finish due to some well thought-out and unexpected narrative machinations.  Kim Ki-duk is a man of few words but he takes many liberties with logic and the dissemination of information which is the film’s greatest drawback.  Poongsan is a flawed film, but it is also clever and fascinating, it invites you to draw your own conclusions.  A very strong comeback, though I still can’t get excited about Arirang or Amen, though I’m sure I'll see them when I get the chance.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Head (He-deu) 2011

One of my favorite Korean films is Save the Green Planet (2003).  More than any other, it blithely disregarded generic compatibility and spliced every conceivable idea, trope, and storyline so effectively that it became a veritable cornucopia of emotion.  It was at times horror, torture porn, thriller, action, romance etc.  But it lead with comedy and  was completely ridiculous but also enormously infectious.  Head follows pretty much the same recipe, it even features Baek Yoon-sik, although this time as the torturer rather than the tortured.  Unfortunately, the elements here do not come together as a whole.  It is a slapdash mishmash of filmic devices, aiming far but often landing wide of the mark.

Baek Yoon-sik in second-rate Save the Green Planet
From what I can piece together, the story revolves around a messenger (Ryoo Deok-hwan) who is delivering cargo, which turns out to be the missing head of a famed scientist (Oh Dal-su) who has committed suicide.  He discovers the head and is soon tracked down and apprehended by Baek Jeong (Baek Yoon-shik), but not before he manages to hide it.  The messenger’s sister is an ambitious reporter stuck doing entertainment news, Baek calls her, tells her he will kill her brother unless she hands over the head.  To relay any more information would be pointless, as I’m really not quite sure what transpired after that point.

This is main problem, it is extremely difficult to fathom what’s going on.  The main thrust of the action, simple as it is, shouldn’t be difficult to follow, alas it is mired by a backstory that is indulgently complicated and not nearly well-enough explained.  At certain points the plot begins to focus before breaking off into new threads and barreling sideways through them.  It is only near the third act when the film starts to take shape.  There are still massive holes in the story but at least it’s made clear by this point that the plot is a mere front and excuse for some offbeat setpieces.

Oh Dal-su vs. Oh Dal-su
A lot of the cast will be recognizable to fans of Korean cinema.  I’ve already mentioned Baek Yoon-sik who, aside from Save the Green Planet, has portrayed some of the industry’s most memorable and odd characters such as his roles in The President’s Last Bang (2005), Tazza: The High Rollers (2006), and the wrestling coach in Like a Virgin (2006).  Oh Dal-su appears as two live characters and a corpse’s head, but only very briefly, understandable considering that he’s appeared in ten films in the last two years, including this year’s Hindsight, Late Blossom, and Detective K, and last year’s Troubleshooter, Foxy Festival, and The Servant.  He seems to relish in the brief time he has on screen, especially in the scene featuring both of his characters.  Joo Jin-mo-I plays the corrupt detective (as he always seems to do) and this is one of his six roles this year, the others being Heartbeat, Children…, The Apprehenders, Quick, and the soon-to-be released Mr. Idol.

The reporter is played by Park Ye-jin who I haven’t seen on screen since 1999’s excellent Memento Mori.  Unlike the seasoned veterans that populate the rest of the film, she does not show a great aptitude for comic timing and she has difficulty conveying her character’s emotions effectively.  Ultimately she just doesn’t seem right for the part.  Playing her brother is the young Ryoo Deok-hwan, previously scene in My Little Bride (2004), Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005), Like a Virgin, and The Quiz Show Scandal (2010).  He does well in his role, despite the fact that he is strapped to a chair for the majority of it.

Park Ye-jin's perplexing performance
The filmmakers seem to be indicating that it is not imperative to follow the minutiae of the story.  However, while the set pieces are each more ridiculous and outrageous than the last and do display some original thought, they lack the cohesion and technical skill necessary to successfully pull them off.  On the whole, the mise-en-scene is not particularly imaginative.  Strangest of all, unlike Save the Green Planet, which it tries so hard to emulate, it forgoes playing with a colourful palate, instead opting for a grey, and rather dull colour scheme.

Director Cho Un was part of the editing team behind Save the Green Planet, which makes a whole lot of sense.  It is also clear that he is an editor, as a lot of tricks are used throughout, often to cover up mistakes in the production.  Being involved in film production myself, I can attest to a prevalent trend among first-time directors and editors turned directors.  Frequently a cinematographer, an assistant director, or sometimes even a producer will express concern over what has been shot: “Is it okay, should we do another?”; “Do we have enough coverage?”; etc.  Invariably the answer is “Don’t worry, we’ll fix it in editing.”  This is never a good idea, as primarily it limits your options but can also force your hand in the editing suite if something is amiss.  In Head, ellipsis, jump cuts, split-screen, and flashy transitions abound.  They are all there to string the incongruous elements together and to patch over what the director was not careful enough to adequately film during principal photography.

Some spirited senior citizens!
Head has its moments, including the old-folks home sequence and the delightfully macabre imagery in the mortuary (like the butcher’s display case of human body parts), but it is best seen as a collection of such moments, rather than a film which aptly integrates them into an engaging story, the way Save the Green Planet did.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Memories of Murder: Part IV - Subversion of Genre

Bong Joon-ho is well known for his deft handling of generic conventions; he not only understands and respects their limitations but know how to manipulate them to his advantage without compromising their effectiveness. Memories draws heavily on the long line of detective thrillers that have spewed forth from Hollywood consistently for decades on end. It is a very established genre with extremely recognizable codes and characters: the dual protagonist detectives, the patterns, the anticipation of the next murder, all these things form part of what has consistently remained one of the most popular filmic formulas worldwide. With Memories Bong creates a visceral and extremely effective detective thriller that highlights all of these codes and yet subverts many of them to very satisfying effect.

First of all, it is worth examining the position of this genre within contemporary South Korean cinema. Memories is not the only recent example and it is also not the only one that has some fun with it. An early commercial example after the boom in the industry before the start of the new millennium is Tell Me Something, which stars Han Suk-kyu, easily the biggest star at the time (it was the year after he made Shiri which broke box office records at the time). It was a thorough success and it even garnered an audience overseas and is now available in many countries. In his essay on Tell Me Something, Kim Kyu-Kyun credits how “director Chang skillfully manipulates the expectations of the audience to a generic melodramatic plot in which Su-Yon would fall in love with Detective Cho, only to shock us with the revelation that the serial murders are motivated by a gender-related reason", the director engages with the genre in a very conscious way and ends up subverting it. Since then there has been a rush of modern Korean films that have featured male victims and female antagonists instead of the other way around. In these examples the denouements often show the audience the various motivations behind the brutal murders which often include scarred pasts where fathers or other authoritarian figures end up as the narratives’ real villains. Princess Aurora is an excellent example of this; the end features a flashback sequence that inculpates all of her victims in the murder of her daughter. This revenge formula is quite prevalent in South Korean Cinema, and can be found in Beautiful Boxer and the internationally renowned Park Chan-wook film, Lady Vengeance, both of these films also deal with mothers having to cope with the loss of their daughters and how society has placed them in their precarious situations.

Beyond these serial killer narratives, there are also films like Public Enemy, starring the inimitable Sol Kyung-gu, as a gruff detective who has difficulty juggling his professional and personal life and treads the narrative without ambiguous morality. He is a character who is corrupt, violent and very unprofessional. From a western perspective it is difficult to understand how he could have risen to his current position but this is not unfamiliar in Korean cinema. Much like Det. Park in Memories, his journey is a much more progressive one, which ends in a tidy resolution where he earns the respect of his colleagues and there have now been two sequels to date where he is no longer so incompetent. These subsequent films are not as interesting but were successful at Korean box office although not as popular overseas. Another point worth noting in Public Enemy is the mention of the immensely popular television show Chief Inspector which aired in the 1980s and featured a very famous opening credits song. In Public Enemy, an internal affairs inspector is being shooed away from the homicide department by the chief inspector and in defense he then recites a plotline from a Chief Inspector episode to intimidate him, as if he were reciting from a police manual. The show is so engrained in South Korean pop culture that in this send-up it is taken as fact. Similarly, early in Memories, the local inspectors and Baek (the first big suspect) take a moment to eat and commune in front of the television set as Chief Inspector starts. They all hum along to the tune and comment on it. It’s a great piece of dark humor to see homicide detectives watching a cheesy police show in the midst of investigating Korea’s first reported series of serial murders. In both Public Enemies and Memories, the mention of Chief Inspector speaks volumes about the perceived credibility of law enforcement by the general Korean populace.
Watching Chief Inspector during an interrogation
In Memories, many generic codes litter the screen and while they are often recognizable they are twisted in a way to serve to emblematize the post-traumatic nature of the main protagonists. The second scene of the film is a deliberately generic Hollywood thriller montage in which a theme straight out of a 1980s action film plays over a series of intercut shots of Det. Park interviewing suspects at his police headquarters. He is giving it his best shot but his questions do not seem to be getting him anywhere. His insecurities lead him to insulting the suspects, constantly referring to them as “Damn punks!” or making fun of their physical appearance. He is constantly undermined by the general inefficiency of his procedural skills. Even at this early stage it is easy to see that Park is very much a part of a societal system that he has very little control over. As a detective he has some authority which he exerts by acting rough with younger, less intelligent or less privileged people but once he is confronted by a suspect in suit his tone is immediately more respectful, as if speaking to an elder. He is embarrassed as he tries to mention the female victim’s sexual attractiveness.

The film playfully references Body Heat as Det. Park types up his report at a snail’s pace with his indexes. The content of the report seems trivial and the length of time it will take him to complete point to an inefficient use of time and resources. What’s worse is that when the ribbon is stuck it is the suspect beside him who is cowering in his chair that help him fix it. Instead of thanking him, Park berates him and calls him a “damn punk”. This is the first in a long line of instances where Park will be undermined by those around him when he doesn’t do something right. His reaction to this sort of emasculation throughout the narrative is invariably verbal abuse or physical violence.

The well-constructed montage continues with quick editing and the fast tempo theme as he makes his way through various odd-looking potential suspects. He is friendlier to his last interviewee and this could be for two reasons: he respects a youth that is trying to enter the Military Academy; or he is happy that his lunch is arriving. He argues with the delivery about having asked for a receipt at which point a colleague offers him another one, but this turns out to be a receipt for a bicycle shop and during this time the delivery boy has left. The same shot crossfades to the late in the evening where Park is now alone and sleeping at his desk, he wakes up briefly but goes right back to sleep. He does not seem too pressured to produce results in this murder investigation.
Det. Park asks for his receipt
Detective Such, who is Parks’ much more capable foil in the narrative is a carefully utilized character who at first embodies but later undermines typical generic codes. He is a investigator with a degree who comes from the big city (Seoul) to help with the case. He is very quiet, intelligent, he is a good detective and he is also quite cool, often looking very mysterious while crouched in the background smoking a cigarette. At first he makes many significant breaks in the case and identifies patterns and predicts further murders. However, at around the halfway point of the narrative he begins to hit dead ends and becomes increasingly frustrated by his inability to catch the killer. Early on he demonstrates an unwavering faith in the bureaucratic system when he says that "Documents never lie", but this stance is compromised at the end when he receives the forensic test results that he believes will condemn the suspect that he is certain is guilty of the killings. When the results turn out to be negative he suffers a breakdown and says "this document is a lie, I don’t need it" and tries to administer vigilante justice only to be foiled by Det. Park, the characters have swapped roles in a way.

One scene in particular in the middle of the film is very effective in the way that it depicts both of the Detectives and their affiliation with the generic codes that helped to create them. Having followed bogus leads based on idiotic conjecture and superstition Det. Park and his equally pea-brained partner Inspector Jo have returned to one of the murder scenes at night in an attempt to decipher the face of the killer with the aid of a shaman’s scroll, some ink and some dirt. Clearly, for Park the investigation has hit rock bottom. They hear someone coming into the clearing and hide. It is Detective Suh, he lights a cigarette and begins to survey the crime scene, he has a tape player in his hand and turns it on. It plays the pop song that the killer has been requesting on the radio on those rainy nights before he commits a murder. Det. Park rightly, although hypocritically, points out to his partner that this is a ridiculous technique and it isn’t going to achieve anything when he says "we need science here!" as he hides evidence of his own folly by stuffing the shaman’s scroll into his jacket. Jo then points out "Still, he’s got style"; Suh may not be using a great investigative technique but he looks cool as he doesn’t achieve much, Bong is making light of the proclivity exhibited by Hollywood thrillers of mostly favoring style over substance. Bong injects a great deal of substance into his “generic" narrative but he utilizes the codes so well that he can make fun of the material while also using it to its fullest potential.

Soon another man is heard approaching and Suh ducks away also. This time it is an unknown man who removes a woman’s bra and panties from his underwear and lays them out carefully on the ground and begins to masturbate. It is our natural inclination to assume this might be the killer returning to the scene of the crime, Park even says so. Jo accidentally steps on a twig and after a pause, the man runs off and the Detectives give chase in a thrilling scene through the narrow back alleys of a rural village. They lose his trail and Park begins to berate Jo for scaring him off, he surprises them however by following the sound of dog barks and managing to find the trail of the suspect. This chase leads them into a busy rock mine, where everybody looks the same. Here it is Park who recognizes the man, against the odds, when he catches a glimpse of his red underwear.
Det. Park spots the suspect
Suh has been in control and successful with his techniques up to this point but in this scene it is the other detectives who succeed in apprehending the suspect. Park gloats with his eyes when Suh looks at him, surprised at his skill. Of course, during a ridiculous confession it becomes very clear that this man is most certainly not the killer and we are back where we started. The juxtaposition of these events is very interesting as after having criticized and subverted some generic tropes, Bong immediately injects a huge contrivance with the improbability of catching a sexual deviant at the exact spot of the crime while both detectives are there unaware of the presence of the other. It is most certainly an improbable scenario, yet it shows that Bong engages with these conventions (returning to the scene of the crime, psycho-sexual nature of the suspect, etc.) in a very affectionate manner and knows how to evince an effective thriller from them.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Man From Nowhere (Ajeossi) 2010

As I previously mentioned, I wasn't very exited about The Man From Nowhere at first but the quiet popularity it has earned gradually managed to sway me, so I sought it out and found some time to watch it last night.  The revenge drama is easily Korea's most popular export to the west, indeed the first Korean film I ever saw was Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, a multi-faceted revenge that, at the relatively young age I saw it, was the most unremittingly bleak thing I had ever witnessed.  At first I hated it, it upset me so, but I was unable to put it out of my head and a week later I felt compelled to watch it again and this time I was mesmerized by it.  I would go so far as to say that it changed the way I viewed film from that point on.  It's brutality and originality certainly had an impact on me but it was really the way it looked, its setting, and its style that left an impression.  Its working class setting, its pale green hues, its mute protagonist, all these set the quiet scene for the most horrific and unfortunate of acts which contrasted against it like gunshots ringing out in the night.  Many great revenge dramas have come out of Korea since (and many other great films also as I've been making a point of mentioning!): Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, A Bittersweet Life, Princess Aurora among others.  Last year alone we saw the release of three: I Saw the Devil, Bedevilled and The Man From Nowhere.

Tae-shik and So-mi
Lee Jeong-beom's The Man From Nowhere is a very standard revenge drama which relies on three things, its style, its violence, and its star, Won Bin.  I say standard because it really is, this revenge drama is unoriginal and, as has been mentioned elsewhere, is essentially a mash-up of Leon: The Professional and Taken.  Cha Tae-shik is a mysterious pawnbroker with a secret past, his neighbors' daughter, So-mi, forms an attachment with him while her mother gets tangled with a drug and organ dealing ring, leading to her death and her daughter's kidnap.  Tae-shik must then go after So-mi and wreaks havoc along the way.

Among its domestic peers, I think this film is closer to A Bittersweet Life than anything else.  It's plotting is simple, it's protagonist is very stoic, and it's focus is on visuals more than anything else.  The Man From Nowhere lags behind as it is not as gripping.  Its story, while straightforward, spins its wheels a little, and while very stylistic, it lacks the flair of its predecessors.  That being said, it is well shot and the sound, while often a little too pronounced, is very effective.

A villain gets his comeuppance
Despite it flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed The Man From Nowhere.  It occurred to me that the motives for the revenge in this narrative were explained but somewhat lazily.  There is on scene where Tae-Shik is tailing an 'ant' and follows him to an arcade.  He is so focused on the one child that he misses So-mi as she walks right past him.  I understand that from a filmmaker's perspective this is a trope that should get the audience going, a near miss.  To me it felt as though it emblematized the film as a whole.  It could have ended right there but our protagonist is more fueled by a desire for revenge (for what happened to his family), even if it is misdirected, than by an impulse to save his neighbor.  He kills wounded foes when they could be left to go scuttle off and lick their wounds, a stabs people a lot more than is probably necessary.  All to what end?  To avenge, to exact revenge, or to sate an audience's palpable need for brutal violence.  Make no mistake, this film is astonishingly violent.


Korean antiheroes letting go
The last shot of the film struck me, as I've seen it a number of times in Korean cinema.  He cries now that it's all over, the Korean male with the scarred past can finally let everything go and express himself.  A quiet, reserved, brutal, emotionless anti-hero is reduced to tears when his history finally catches up with him.  I plan to write a little more on this curious phenomenon.

If you can think of any good examples of strong men crying in Korean films, please let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Memories of Murder: Part II - The Wandering Male

"Korea's emasculated and traumatic men pour out onto the road. The characters are visually encased with overwhelming landscapes and victimized by historical pathos, which refigure their constant wanderings."

While detective Park, unlike his cinematic predecessors, may not traipse around the peninsula aimlessly, he does wander around the narrative of the film and around the small town where the film takes place, and often find himself chasing down ridiculous leads that lead him nowhere. Ultimately, with the crime unsolved, he will end his journey, within the film's narrative at least, exactly where he started: on the side of the road, in the same overwhelming landscape, looking into the past having not perceived or attained any specific destination. It is also worth pointing out that Memories goes on step further than the Korean New Wave: as Kyun asserts, “while the hope for reclamation of home and recovery of individual persisted in these stories, the endings desperately fell short of reunions, love, and overcoming life’s obstacles.” , so while these film’s narratives can be followed by a spectator who is led to hope for resolution, Memories, which ironically is a far more commercial film, never even lets the audience hope for any kind of resolution since before entering into the film’s narrative, Korean spectators would already have known the events which the film was based on: a serial killing spree which was never solved. Even for a foreign spectator, a quick glance at the blurb would immediately fill one in on this information.

Park eyes a suspect
Memories is, of course, conceived around the notion of memory. However, it is not the memories of the film’s characters that are important, as we learn nothing of the histories of the film’s central protagonists. Any back story we receive on minor characters is only present to serve as a signifier to a historical moment or to symbolize a collective national trauma. The film is a representation of a national memory of historical traumas. Kyung, while examining South Korean films that directly reference important historical moments that have created a national collective trauma, speaks more broadly about the use of personal trauma and amnesia as a means of representing national trauma. “National cinemas in countries trying to come to terms with their own humiliating pasts by confronting the task of self-reflexively engaging a history that resists both remembrance and representation” , Memories does exactly this by explicitly representing a period of trauma and challenging, very successfully as evidenced by the film box office returns, the audience to remember their scarred history and to engage with it through the surrogate of the ever-popular and emblematic symbol of the emasculated male, here South Korea’s biggest star Song Kang-Ho.

“In any new national cinema that has long endured political terror, a “post-traumatic” identity often emerges whose mission is to help viewers remember what is too difficult to recuperate.”

The detectives work together
This happened in South Korean cinema starting in the late 80s when auteurs such as Park Kwang Su, Jang Sun Woo and later Hong Sang Soo and Lee Chang Dong made films that centralized the post-traumatic concerns of the masculine characters and shaped what are now seen as the typical stereotypes that are prevalent in modern Korean cinema. “The New Korean Cinema of the last two decades has incessantly pursued themes, characterizations and narratives that center on a particular notion of subjectivity: the image of an individual modern man desperate to free himself from institutional repression, familial responsibilities, and personal anxieties” , today this can still be identified as one of the main focuses of Korean cinema. While not as prevalent since the beginning of the new millennium, it has found a very prominent place within the newly commercialized hybrid of domestic cinema. Any film that deals mostly with male characters cannot help but be influenced by this dominant strand of theory and most of these films will corroborate the masculine position as created and formulated by the cinema of the 90s but some, indeed very few, may try to challenge it. Most notably perhaps in this new sphere of filmmakers is Kim Ki Duk, who, while often labeled a nihilist and a sexist, engages far more with the female gender in South Korean cinema than almost any other director, however, he has not seen success beyond the festival circuit and is not particularly in his native land. The trend can go further and infiltrate films aimed at women, such as the ever popular melodrama, which at this point seems equally informed by the golden age of the Korean melodramas of the 1960s but also by Korean cinemas’ masculine identity rhetoric of the 1990s. While it is unfortunate and somewhat typical that a ground-breaking amalgamation of idioms that works successfully to examine a nation’s scarred history would then be invisibly assimilated into mainstream and commercial multiplex fare, it has also served some purpose in contrast with many successful national cinemas. The result: South Korea’s biggest blockbusters have a much healthier propensity for socially interacting with their audiences. Bong Joon-Ho with Memories and The Host has been at the forefront of this but other filmmakers such as Park Chan-Wook and Kim Ji-Woon have also made extremely successful films that can’t be ignored with regards to their social or historical subtexts. It also helps that South Korea, besides Iran, is the most cinephilic nation in the world. How else could an art film like Lee Chang Dong’s latest, Secret Sunshine (2007) be a runaway hit at the box office? An award at Cannes is worth a lot of money for a Korean film, indeed it is a symbol of national pride. Korean auteurs who have won awards at prestigious festivals have made a name for themselves within Korea and their foreign recognition has invited them to become bigger names within an industry which is mostly motivated by finance. Central to this is the continued popularity of the post-traumatic male who has made the leap from the art house to the mainstream without too much damage. Song Kang Ho, as already mentioned, is the biggest box office draw in the country and most likely this is because he has come to embody the traumas felt by Korean males and presents them in a highly sympathetic package as well as injecting a heavy dose of humour into his performances. “He is a camouflaged man who cannot easily reveal his past, a past that surely embodies a “trauma””, which Slavoj Zizek defines as “an impossible kernel which resists symbolization, totalization, symbolic integration” . In most films of this nature the spectator is hardly ever presented with any background information on the central male protagonists and we must see them less as original characters and more as sociological and historical symbols. Throughout the course of a narrative we observe how they interact or fail to interact with the people, circumstances, events and societies which surround them and through this we are shown a window into the scarred emotional psyche of legions of Korean males, particularly of the 386 generation. There are also other actors who have come to be famous and known for these kinds of characters, namely Choi Minh Sikh and Sol Kyung Gu.

Detective Park explains a theory
Bong Joon Ho, more than any other New Korean Cinema luminary, probably takes after Park Kwang-Su. His more or less exclusive focus on masculine identity  (within Memories in any case) and its social and historical context very much continues where Park left off. “Park’s films focused on the problematics of Korea’s repressive history and present reality by featuring male characters” , more importantly, because of Bong’s enormous popularity, Park’s ability to align intellectuals with the minjung (people) has percolated into Bong’s aesthetic and therefore proliferated into a wider audience. His structure and ideas are extremely intelligent and developed but they are not so far removed that they are lost on the public. Korean audiences have engaged fully with his narratives and characters and have celebrated him for it. Detective Park cannot find a stable ground for himself, by trying so hard to conform with the surrounding aspects of his society, he has created an uncomfortable balance for himself that ultimately pushes him out of this closed society altogether. The sight of Park on the road at the end of the film strengthens this and hints at the destiny of such a character in Korean film. They are never allowed to return home or recuperate any of their male subjectivity.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Memories of Murder: Part I - Introduction


 “There is a sight of horror that invokes the loss of… …memory and sanity.”

Kim Kyung-hyun, one of the foremost scholars on the depiction of masculine identity in contemporary South Korean cinema, argues for the “narcissistic recasting of masculine figures”  in the new wave of Korean cinema as a means of dealing with post-traumatic identity in a heavily emasculated culture. For him, this was a prevalent trait in South Korean cinema in the 80’s through to the 90’s but beyond this point, as he states:

“The Korean film industry since 1999 has scrupulously followed the path of Hollywood and has shown more interest in making deals and formulaic genres than in innovating and devoting itself to the creation of art.”

A young boy snatches a cricket

Kim’s arguments for representation of masculine identity in Korean cinema before this point are brilliant and insightful but I would argue that they do not stop at the dawn of the most popular era of Korean cinema. The male characters constructed by New Wave auteurs such as Park Kwang-su, Lee Chang-dong, Jang Sung-woo and Hong Sang-soo still exist in the more generic Korean cinema of today. I will try and demonstrate this through a detailed examination of Bong Jong-Ho’s 2003 masterpiece Memories of Murder (hereby Memories), which, while ostensibly a film about the chase for an elusive serial killer in a provincial town in northern South Korea, is in fact a revisionist exploration of a post-traumatic and confused South Korean society which is attempting to come to terms with its scarred national identity but ultimately fails to do so due to its stunted cultural and political growth. However, Memories, which was an enormous box office hit in Korea, is in fact a hugely effective thriller which affectionately engages with all of the codes and tropes associated with its genre.

Since 1999, the South Korean film industry has positioned itself in a more commercial direction and has subsequently become one of the most successful industries in the world and one of the only ones to best Hollywood domestically. To dismiss its social relevance on this basis however, would be a mistake. Within the limitations of genre and tried and tested formula, contemporary South Korean films have had an equally articulate social agenda and with higher production values and attendance rates they have arguably been more successful in conveying their ideas to Korean and international audiences than previous art house fare that may have never found an audience beyond the festival circuit. From Joint Security Area (Park, 2000) to The Host (Bong, 2006), South Korean films that have successfully engaged with social issues have consistently broken records and topped the domestic box office.

Memories opens by stating that the following events are based on a true story in a time set under a military dictatorship. This information is key to understanding Bong’s motives, the fact that the story happens in 1986, in a difficult period of South Korea’s history, informs almost all of the narrative at an implicit level. Camouflaged under the guise of formulaic genre, there lies an extraordinarily dense sociological narrative.

The man tries to shoo the children away

Before the first shot, we hear the wind and bustle of a field. As the image fades in, we see a young boy crouched in the field examining a lone cricket before snatching it. Then we hear a tractor coming from the distance, the young boy also does, so he gets up and the camera moves up with him. At this point, when we see the golden wheat field in the summer eve, a nostalgic melody seeps into the soundtrack. The boy walks out onto the dirt trail where down the road he sees the tractor and some children playing beside it in a burnt out car. As the tractor passes them, they follow it and jeer its driver with taunts of “Junk car!”, all the while the music and beautiful cinematography evoke a heavy and heady nostalgia. Next we see that a man is riding in the back of the tractor. He is middle-aged, a little chubby and he is smoking a cigarette, he tries to shoo the children away but this only inspires more raucousness on their part, so he taunts them back with hand gestures. As the tractor nears the young boy, it stops and its driver and passenger disembark and walk past him. The man in the back ruffles the child’s hair as he passes. He then crouches down at a roadside ditch that is partially covered in concrete. The music stops.

Aside from being an extraordinary display of cinematic technique, these opening few minutes hint at a lot of the themes that will be explored throughout the narrative. The style employed evinces a highly effective nostalgic air, which is universal but ultimately very specific to South Korea. The film is set in 1986, in a troubled time of recent South Korean history. So while the music and cinematography imply a sweet reminiscence, the sight of a burnt out car, decrepit tractor and youths that seemingly do not respect their elders injects a bitter tone into what ultimately becomes a very bittersweet narrative. Aside from the tone, the location itself is foregrounded and very central to the film's ideological motives. Not only do we start in a wide open space and a wheat field but on a small dirt road that may not have a real destination.

Park Doo-man crouches down at a roadside ditch

Memories is a film that is part of the new, more commercially viable trend of Korean cinema. It is of a very high production calibre and was ultimately hugely successful but its roots are clearly evident from the start as it harkens back to the New Korean Wave that manifested itself in the mid to late 1980s and probably finished with the release of Peppermint Candy (Dong) in 2000. A lot of the films in this movement were road movies that followed emasculated males that suffered from post-traumatic anxiety and wandered aimlessly and ultimately towards death or insanity. Kim in his seminal exploration of male post-trauma, The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema, states "The loss of homes or the fragmentation of families suffered by many then amplifies the meaning of the road as a site of neither transit or freedom. It is where people suffer: traumatized beyond recuperation, disenfranchised without a place to return, and the prospects of leaving behind the road unrealizable" , much of this anxiety stems from the difficult separation of the Korean peninsula but also speaks of the emasculation of males during the Korean War and other military occupations throughout the 20th century. Especially that of family men whose families were broken as wives became prostitutes for foreign soldiers and the men could do nothing but look on.

In Memories, the central protagonist is Detective Park Doo-man, played by Korea's biggest star, the surprisingly normal and bumbling Song Kang-ho, who effectively took on the mantle of Park Joong-hoon, the mainstay star of the New Korean Wave. His character, like so many that he plays, is not particularly attractive. Although not wholly unmasculine, he isn't very smart and is easily moved to jealousy or ridicule. However, he is an affable character who is not completely lost and is therefore indicative of a legion of post-traumatic males, at least coming from the perspective of New Korean Cinema filmmakers.

A cricket on the mutilated body

Back to the opening sequence, as we watch with the child as Park investigates the scene of what turns out to be a gruesome crime when we see a young women's naked body in an advanced state of decomposition, this is the first of many examples of visceral contrast in the film. It clearly places us in a state of discomfort that can't be shaked throughout the narrative. Within these opening minutes it is quite clear the direction that the film wishes to pursue. We are entering a time in history that would have coincided with the youth of the filmmaker and while beginning in a nostalgic tone we are quickly subjected to the horrors that allegorically represent the time. On top of this, Bong also challenges the masculine character created by New Korean Cinema, so what we have is a highly revisionist exploration of history from the male perspective of the 386 generation, which is the term for people who were born in the 60’s, went to college in the 80s and are now in their 30s (this terms can be labelled on most contemporary Korean filmmakers). The opening scene also adds another link between these two states of nostalgia and revisionism: the opening shot has the boy snatching a cricket, a minute later we see that he is holding a jar full of crickets and just afterwards, once the mutilated body comes into focus, we see that there is a cricket on it. Not only does this contrast the two states of remembrance but it also associates death with the past as well as informing the narrative of the military dictatorship that the film’s story unfolds under. The boy can in fact represent both nostalgia and the military dictatorship, this becomes more pertinent when he is shooed off but refuses to leave. This could represent the omniscient presence of the government and its reach into everybody’s affairs. He also never says anything, save mimicking every word of detective Park: symbolic of a government which refuses to explain itself and subjugates all its civil employees. Park clearly feels unable to do anything about this mockery and lets it lie. The scene ends with him looking at the corpse and then directly at the boy. He tilts his head and squints his eyes and then the boy does the same. Park looks defeated already and is clearly terrified of the task of finding the killer which now faces him. At this point the nostalgic melody comes in again and we cut to the title shot which is a perfect postcard image of the wheat field and the huge space in which it lies.

The title shot, a perfect postcard

As any good opening scene should, this one hints at all of the major themes that will be explored throughout the narrative and is therefore a good sounding board to start off a discussion about post-traumatic masculine identity in contemporary South Korean cinema. Since there are many small strands that need to be addressed in order to get a full picture of the representation of males and Bong’s sociological motives throughout the running time of Memories, I have broken down this essay into six short chapters followed by a more comprehensive conclusion. The first thing to look at and what has already been mentioned in the dissection of the opening scene is the loss of home and it’s impact upon a male generation in South Korea and how the principal protagonist is used to elucidate upon this phenomenon. Next I will discuss the evolution of the character of the post-traumatic male from its first notable appearances in the films of the 1980s up to its most modern incarnation in Memories. Following on from this, a look at Bong’s use, adherence to and subversion of generic staples and codes and how his approach strengthens the sociological impact of the film. Then we will look at the compromised representation of females within these male-dominated narratives and specifically whether or not they are only symbolic and cannot be seen as whole characters. In the next chapter, I will present a case for Bong’s use of psychoanalysis as a means of representing a scarred national identity within a very specific historical framework and how the films’ specific genre ultimately leads to this. Before the conclusion I will briefly examine Bong’s subsequent film The Host and determine whether or not his sociological agenda has continued into an equally important aspect of Korea’s society, namely by representing family with melodrama. Finally in the conclusion I will wrap up all of the arguments presented throughout with a detailed analysis of the closing scenes of the film which serves as an excellent bookend to the film and closing point to the essay.