Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pondering 'A Little Pond'

The Korea Herald has an article about the Pusan International Film Festival and lists some of the 'must-see' films. Among them is one that has not been heard of in some time:

"A Little Pond"

Based on the harrowing true story of the Nogun-ri massacre that shook the nation, "A Little Pond," chronicles the tragic event in a fictitious account. On July of the year 1950, the country is being ravaged from the on-going Korean War.

In the small village of Bawigol - a rural village in the mountainous region of Yongdong County in North Chungcheong Province - life for its resident go on as normal.

But as the tide of war turns against the south and its allies, the people of Bawigol are forced to evacuate and seek refuge as legions of platoons surge into their tiny village. In the midst of confusion and paranoia, retreating American soldiers massacre villagers trying to escape advancing North Korean forces by crossing U.S. military lines.

The American soldiers, under the command of General Hobart R. Gray, fear they are North Korean soldiers in disguise, and open fire, killing 400 South Korean refugees.

I've written about this film before, and it's title, 'Jageun Yeonmot' (a small pond), is likely named after the 70s folk song by Yang Hui-eun (best known for singing the Kim Min-gi song (and '70s and '80s protest anthem) 'Morning Dew') about two fish who fight each other in a small pond, eventually dying and polluting the pond so that nothing will grow there. Of course, if that metaphor was going to be applied to anyone, you'd think it would be applied to Koreans killing each other in their 'little pond', and not to outsiders killing Koreans, but I don't know how much attention you would get protesting outside theatres with signs calling for the producers to "Stop the misuse of pop-cultural references and inappropriate metaphors!"

As mentioned at Twitch, this has been in production for some time.
After seven years of production made of four years alone spent interviewing the survivors and investigating the facts, three months of pre-production, three months of shooting and a painstakingly long two years of post-production, it seems like we'll finally get to see this one soon enough.
And how many years months days were spent interviewing U.S. soldiers who were involved? I wonder how much mention will be paid to the conditions they faced. As journalist Philip Deane wrote in his 1953 book Captive in Korea,
Taejon's turn is coming soon and everybody here seems to know it. Here a gallant general and five thousand men are trying to stem the Red tide from the north: fifteen divisions, four hundred tanks, thousands of 75-mm. howitzers, armoured cars, anti-tank rifles. It is a flood tide of Communist soldiers, well-led, Russian-equipped, confident and victorious, overwhelmingly superior in arms and numbers, that is faced by the gallant general and five thousand men from a far-off land. Men? Many of the G.I.s in Major-General William F. Dean's 24th American Infantry Division are mere kids of seventeen and eighteen who have gone straight from school into the army [.]
He records a conversation between two US officers in early July, 1950:
Then a burst of anger. 'It's a goddam shame. Not a tank yet, not a three-inch Bazooka, no mines. Sending those kids up the line like that's as good as issuing them with a death sentence!'
Later, he rides in a jeep with a major to Gongju:
The major is watching the refugees pouring past us along the road. There are old men and women, some carrying babies, but there are also thousands of strapping young Koreans marching along in their midst, heads held high, arms swinging. They are the only ones with smiles on their faces.

'We should shoot them all,' the major says. 'I'll bet there's at least a pistol in every pack. They're the ones who shoot our boys in the back at night. We let them through in front of our eyes, and to-night we shall hear that the Communists have infiltrated our lines again. It's sheer suicide!'
As for whether this context is provided, there are a few reviews out there. One says that
[A Little Pond], which is based on the Nogunri incident follows how ‘ignorant’ people who did not know anything about the realities of war were sacrificed. Rather than dealing this situation from a set ideological viewpoint, Lee captures the people as a whole, within a community in the big picture.
Another review:
Once you are drawn into their daily lives the atrocities occur leaving the audience to witness air raids and shooting rampages that are clearly unnecessary and end up really shaking your emotions. Of course, like all war movies this too is one-sided; it's the Korean side of the situation[.]
Twitch provides more information about the director:
Lee [Sang-woo] is one of the most influential stage producers in Korea, with a past as a screenwriter in Chungmuro [...] and managed to put together a pretty strong cast (although the subject was probably another big factor), including Moon Sung-Geun, Moon So-Ri, Park Won-Sang, Jeong Suk-Yong, Kim Roi-Ha, the late Park Gwang-Jung, Lee Dae-Yeon, Kang Shin-Il, and even cameos by Song Kang-Ho and Yoo Hae-Jin. To reflect the ensemble cast feeling of the production, whose motto from day one has been that of faithfully recreating the event, even the new poster has been produced that way.
Here's the new poster:

The original poster was visually a little more catchy:

There was a private screening of the film at UC Santa Cruz back in June, though the poster for it was slightly altered so as to hide the guns pointing at the child.

I couldn't help see that poster and be reminded of another poster I'd seen recently:

As you can see, there's a staggering difference in how the actions of U.S. soldiers during the Korean war are perceived in North and South Korea. Seriously though, it's so nice to see that the North and South can find something to bond over in these troubled times: Baby-killing American soldiers. Of course, Koreans once thought American missionaries were killing babies to make medicine, so there is in fact a long, happy tradition of rumors abounding that Americans are doing evil to their children (I'd thought the child-molesting English teacher had taken over that role, but perhaps not).

This is how the director described his intentions for this film:
“Writing the scenario, I asked myself what story I have to tell. This is not going to be about the incident, not the event, but it’s going to be about the people. It is going to tell the relationships that people had in the small community and how intimate and beautiful they were, and ask them (the U.S. military) if they knew what they were doing. They were destroying these beautiful human beings,” Lee said after shooting the film’s last scene in Sunchang, South Jeolla Province, early this week.
I think the North Korean poster is a little more succinct:

"Do not forget the US imperialist jackals!"


brent said...

When the facts of the event are so shakey, it is absolutely irresponsible to be making a mass audience movie about it. The US military should probably sue for slander.

matt said...

Park Chung-hee's son Park Ji-man sued to try to stop President's Last Bang from being released, but the court decided only to order cuts to documentary footage bookending the film (a ridiculous decision - the court should have ruled yes or no, not played censor) but this was overturned a year later. I have no idea if that's common in the west, having someone sue for defamation of a relative.

So perhaps it might be possible, but it wouldn't be very advisable - appearing like you're trying to ban something only makes it more popular, and the specter of the US trying to 'interfere' in Korea's affairs would most certainly be used by groups opposed to the US presence in Korea.

Helen said...

I used to like the song '작은연못'when I was a teenage girl. I learned that song from the catholic church camp. I didn't know the meaning of the song at that time though. I completely forgot the song. you remined me of it. better by 이승철 than by 양희은 for me.

I searched to see the bbc documentary "kill'em all" by Jeremy Williams telecasted on EBS in 2002 but I couldn't find the file..