Friday, April 16, 2010

Exactly the same guys!

Exactly the same guys!
(Brutality, pillaging, wickedness)

I've written before (here, here and here) about A Little Pond, but seeing as it was released yesterday, I thought I'd take another look at it. First of all, here's the online flash ads that I saw awhile ago and finally took screenshots of.

The Korean War broke out 60 years ago.

The first movie about the No Gun Ri incident.

(I don't think this needs to be translated)

At long last, the tragedy of that day is exposed!

A miracle 8 year production story.

This moving picture will be made public
at lightning [천리마?] speed! [Forget what we just
said about the 8 years of production.]

I also thought it might be interesting to compare scenes from the promotional material for 'A Little Pond' and the 2004 film 'Doma Ahn Jung-geun.'

Doma Ahn Jung-geun starts off with scenes in a village as the villagers go about their lives. They are not, however, so innocent, as the village houses independence fighters. On the other hand, perhaps this is an apt comparison to No Gun Ri, (if not the movie about it) seeing as GI witnesses who were actually there said they were fired at by Koreans (most likely guerrillas) and discovered soviet rifles in the group of refugees.

Promotional materials for A Little Pond portray a similar 'innocent' beginning.

Suddenly, the the Japanese/American military come!

Innocents are stuck down (or threatened).

Bodies are strewn everywhere!

But that's not enough. Bring out the machine guns!

Mow down those women...

...and young ones too!

What is one to make of this similarity? I suppose we'll have to see if the film's message as told through its promotional material will actually entice people into theatres to see it.

Americans have been portrayed badly before in Korean films, of course. Welcome to Dongmakgol had this cheerful bastard who beats innocent villagers:

This is meant to be offset by the good foreigner.

As B.R. Myers writes in The Cleanest Race, however,
Just as foreigners can be evil, while Koreans can only do it, so it is that only the child race is inherently virtuous; foreigners can at best do only the occasional good deed.
So, yeah, Smith is a nice enough guy, but he still can't stop the bombing from happening, and the true nature of Americans is made clearer by the Korean officer who argues that the area should not be bombed due to civilians living there, but innocent civilians are of no concern to the cold-hearted American officer, who refuses to listen to him and orders the bombing to take place.

Luckily the North and South Koreans join together to attack and draw the attention of the American bombers and fighters and save the village, all while fighting atop a snow covered mountain. Perhaps worth noting is that Myers describes snow in North Korean mythology as being symbolic of racial purity. Make of that what you will.

A Little Pond has a scene (in the trailer) where an American soldier says, "These people are clearly civilians," which might seem to portray one 'good' American soldier, but could again only reinforce just how evil the Americans are - they know there are innocent people out there, and they still continue to fire into them.

Other recent films about 20th century history play out in similar ways, and begin in a manner that reminds me of what B.R. Myers described in Han Sorya and North Korean Literature as a "mythologized pre-colonial past." These films may not be pre-colonial, but they present characters who are innocent and pure, who laugh and play and run through streets and fields tra-la-la before they are helplessly swept away as history suddenly crashes into their lives like a
tidal wave. This certainly applies to Splendid Vacation, Taegukgi, Welcome to Dongmakgol (in its presentation of a pure, mythologized village), The President's Barber and, it seems from the trailer and photos, will apply to A Little Pond.

Now, if I had to guess, I'd imagine
A Little Pond would have been more popular back in 2006 when it finished shooting (or perhaps in 2008 during the mad cow protests), but I have doubts it will attract much attention now, especially after the negative reviews it got when it was screened for critics. I still haven't decided if I want to subject myself to it in the theater, or just download rent it later.


Nathan said...

Honestly, I think the producers simply overdo it, to the point you can't take it seriously and just make comments like "Stupid GI, how did you miss that one, back to range practice!"

I mean, there's only so long you can do the "we are totally virtuous and you are totally evil" meme before you start to get eye rolling.

Kamiza said...

I think you are correct Matt in terms of the Korean idea of an idyllic past. Most newly industrialized/modernized societies have a tendancy to over-idealize the simpler times back in the country village: "the myth of the glorious past." More enlightened individuals have also always understood that such times were never so perfect (very low average life spans, intra-family marriage, high mortality rates for common diseases, very low standard of living, etc.). I think S.Korea is still going through this modernization process, and the migration from country to city is still taking place in large numbers (ex.: I have lived in Seoul
longer than most of my neighbors
and work colleagues).
Add to this the idea of a foreigner-free land of relative
calm--though definitely not free of strife and opppression--and
this idealized past becomes more
So often one encounters this
"Why can't we just go back to
a time before cities, foreigners, and all these modern complications?" mentality in S. Korean popular culture.

If only history were taught in a more realistic manner in this country--a true "people's" history
which would offer a more detailed picture of the lives of the common person beyond yut-nori, making ddeok with the big wooden hammer, chegi (hacky sack), that arrow throwing game, the big swing, the jumping see-saw deal, the mask dance plays, making kimchi, wearing "Han"bok, etc.

(Maybe this is why the journals of the Western missionaries in Korea from the late 1800's depicting everyday life in Chosun are not available in the Korean language.)

I could not imagine idealizing life for my great-grandparents on their Midwestern farm during the Reconstruction years. Life was extremely difficult then, many children never made it past their first year, people died from the common cold, and people were always fighting about something, whether it be property disputes among neighbors to an entire nation split in two.

(I had more than a few really good history teachers though.)

matt said...

Well, you can react by rolling your eyes, or by finding it (unintentionally) funny. I've thought it would be fun to, if not make a video, at least make a comic strip exaggerating this stuff; you know, the foreign teacher who injects kids with marijuana for not doing their homework, etc.

To be sure, youngsters - and the mass of the population - are generally fed an idealized version of the past, as note with examples of decontextualized folk games and folk culture. You need only look at Seoul to see that the aim is to have only modern, 21st century buildings and Joseon-era palaces, shrines, etc, and to wipe away the 20th century. This idealization of the past - and of a great future - is being expressed through urban planning as well.

I was also lucky to have great history teachers in high school. At lot of great teachers in general, actually - a lucky thing considering I grew up in the countryside.

Oh, and as for missionary accounts, I've read (published) stuff that was very critical of Korea, but I've been told personal correspondence and unpublished writings by some of the missionaries are even more critical (or negative).

Logan Row said...

While I find the Korean example particularly interesting, the temptation to externalize political rifts and cloud over a complex history with an idyllic past dressed up in folk costume is all too common. You’ll find similar themes in Latin America (especially in areas with a history of heavy-handed US influence and internal conflict like Guatemala and Nicaragua). Some could argue that in Korea the problem is aggravated by a parallel movement in the Korean Academy. One example might be the industrialization debate between the Eckert school and “sprouts theorists” like Cho Ki-jun.

This post—and your site in general—seems more focused on the popular culture side of this common phenomenon. I’m curious to know (and you seem to be the one to ask, since you appear to know a lot about Korean film) if there are any films that project ideas that contradict this common theme. Any ideas?

Anonymous said...

The idea of the idealised past is very interesting. I just watched a TED talk by Steven Pinker that covered some of the same issues.

It's called "The Myth of Violence" and seeks to debunk the belief that the world is more violent now.

Basically, he says improvements in the standard of living make people value life more (because it's becoming more pleasant), and to empathise with others (because other people are often more valuable to us alive than dead).

Pinker makes a compelling argument and illustarates the common belief in the West that things are getting worse; not better.

Also, there's another TED talk ("The Danger of Sceince Denial" on modern Western mistrust of science, government, and big business) by Michael Specter that reinforces some of similar issues - the popular fears and pessimism that exist despite the continuing progress that we are benefitting from.

It seems to me, that although it's not stated in the same terms in the West, there is still a similar idealisation of the past as the original post shows us exists in Korea. Perhaps we could say that in the West, the focus is on what is worse today; in Korea, the emphasis is on how the past was better.

If my html is messed up, here are the links again:

Anonymous said...

Please excuse the spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors that I missed when proofreading. :S

hoihoi51 said...

Japan saw korea before annextion...
you can not imagin..
korean culture?
ppl at that time were all slaves by Yangbang
most korean welcomed Japan because all korean slaves were released

i think many foreigner in korea were cheated..
I recomend to read old book like
Korea and Her Neighbors