Political Film Society - Newsletter #206 - September 10, 2004



September 10, 2004


 

A KOREAN FILM DEPICTS WAR AS AN INCUBATOR FOR THE DEHUMANIZATION OF WARRIORS
Korea's Civil War is relived through the fictional experiences of two brothers in Taegukgi Hwinalraimyeo (Korean Flag Waving Victoriously), South Korea's top moneymaking film. When the film begins, an artifact is discovered at an archaeological site, identified by lettering on a pen near the remains of a dead body. A telephone call is placed to the person thus identified, an elderly Lee Jin-Seok, who realizes that the body is that of his brother Lee Jin-Tae, who died some fifty years earlier. Jin-Seok immediately sets out for the site. The rest of the film is a long flashback to the events of 1950-1953. In early June 1950, the Lee family is spending a happy day together. Jin-Tae (played by Jang Dong-Gun) repairs shoes, earning money so that his intelligent younger brother Jin-Seok (played by Won Bin) will be able to attend college. When they meet in the street, Jin-Tae gives his brother the monogrammed pen as well as an ice cream cone. War soon breaks out, and the military comes to town in order to round up all men aged 18-30. As Jin-Tae has left the town square to find some medicine for an infant in the family, Jin-Seok is present when the military arrive and thus he is led away. When Jin-Tae returns, he tries to locate his brother on the departing train, as only one family member is supposed to be drafted. However, Jin-Tae is so adamant about finding Jin-Seok that he assaults an officer on the train and is drafted as well. Jin-Tae then seeks a way to have Jin-Seok sent home--by volunteering for dangerous missions. Jin-Seok, not at first realizing his older brother's intentions, is upset that Jin-Tae is placing himself in harm's way too often. On the first heroic occasion, North Korean forces have pushed the untrained and undersupplied South Korean army to a small enclave of territory so that only the defense of Daegu stands in the way of a complete North Korean victory. Jin-Tae urges his unit, which is close to death due to starvation, to attack rather than awaiting ultimate defeat. The attack is successful, and South Korean forces rally after American troops join the battle, pushing their way to the China border, but not before Jin-Seok is shocked that his brother does not hesitate to shoot unarmed North Koreans, most of whom were probably forced to fight and might have changed sides if given a more humane reception. Although Jin-Tae is reacting to a scene near the China border where North Koreans massacred nearly a hundred civilians in order to set up a trap, Jin-Seok cannot fathom what has happened to his brother's decency and tells him.

When some 100,000 Chinese troops cross into North Korea in human waves, the forces of South Korea and the United States retreat to positions along the original border, the 38th parallel. The two brothers, now assigned near the home village, look for members of their family as well as for Young-Shin (played by Lee Eun-Joo), Jin-Tae's fiancée, a quest that enables director Kang Je-Gyu to present a very ugly period of South Korean history. When North Korean forces pushed south in June 1950, the civilian population was immediately transformed into part of the Communist state. The mother of the two brothers, who ran a noodle shop where Young-Chin worked, was no longer allowed to do so. Beautiful Young-Shin was doubtless raped by North Korean soldiers. Both women were forced to attend indoctrination sessions in order to obtain food. Accordingly, when South Korean authorities resume control, they round up so-called collaborators, many of whom are summarily executed, including the Lee brothers' mother. When Jin-Seok encounters Young-Shin, she is being arrested; by trying to defend her from the charge of collaboration, he is also arrested as a Communist sympathizer. When Jin-Tae learns of his brother's detention, he attempts to intervene on his behalf, but a North Korean offensive is imminent, so the officer in charge orders all prisoners to be burned. Jin-Tae later combs through the charred remains, finds the monogrammed pen, and infers that his brother is dead. He then lashes out at the officer who gave the order and ends up defecting to the North Korean army. Jin-Seok then asks his commanding officer for permission to go behind enemy lines to rescue his brother. The next part of the film defies credibility, however: Although his request is denied, Jin-Seok does so anyway, miraculously is not killed, and locates his brother. Soon after the flashback ends, Jin-Seok is crying at the spot where his brother's bones have been unearthed, a cathartic scene that probably encourages many filmviewers in South Korea to do likewise if the gory battle scenes have not already served the same purpose. The Political Film Society has nominated Taegukgi Hwinalraimyeo (subtitled for English speakers as The Brotherhood of War) as the best film exposé of 2004 for portraying some of the injustices committed by South Korean authorities in branding as traitors those who were compelled to join the Communist Party just to obtain daily food rations. For indicting the war crimes that occurred during the conflict, Taegukgi Hwinalraimyeo has also been nominated for an award as best film on peace, as the film clearly shows how combat realities twist the minds of soldiers so much that they ignore the Geneva Conventions in the heat of battle. MH