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'Hanbando' overdoses on nationalism: movie review

2006/08/05 Source

The new movie "Hanbando" (Korean Peninsula) begins with the hypothetical premise that Japan will emerge in the near future as the main opponent of the unification of North and South Korea.

It also criticizes Japan's historical distortions of its rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Although the sensitive theme appeals to Korean audiences, who know the tragic history of Japan's rule, in the end it becomes a film full of nationalism. It lacks cinematic development, reality, and a balanced approach to historical events and the current situation.

Directed by Kang Woo-suk, the film is set in the future as South Korea develops a close relationship with the North. The two Koreas agree to reopen a railway between the two states but, as it was constructed during its colonial occupation of the peninsula, Japan claims ownership of the railway.

To prove Japan has no ownership rights, patriotic historian Choi Min-jae (Cho Jae-hyun), progressive politicians and the President of South Korea (Ahn Sung-ki) search for the long-hidden true Great Seal of Emperor Gojong. Gojong was the 26th king of the Joseon Kingdom and the first emperor of the Daehan Empire. They believe the original seal is a key to demonstrate that most contracts between Korea and Japan were either made forcibly or were faked.

The film is full of hyped emotions by all the main characters, and the plot development depends too much on dry didactic dialogues on historical, diplomatic and political issues that leave the audience with a near fatal dose of nationalism.

In the movie, Kang recreates the tragic moment when Empress Myeongseong is brutally killed by Japanese and proffers the theory that the Japanese poisoned Gojong years later. These scenes are simply over-dramatized.

Nationalism has been one of the most popular motifs in local films. Of the 10 most viewed films of all time, five deal with nationalistic issues: "Taegugki: The Brotherhood War" (2004), "Welcome to Dongmakgol" (2005), "Silmido" (2004), "Shiri" (1999) and "JSA - Joint Security Area' (2000).

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