Yoo-kyeong (played by Lee Ki-yeol) is a rotten little sneak. And also a welcome addition to the cast- with all the moral ambiguities flying around everywhere it's nice to be able to point at this guy and go, you know what? This guy's a total jerk who's up to no good. Dealing with the Japanese is one thing- their intentions are fairly obvious. But Yoo-kyeong is deliberately playing up the fact that no one really knows what he wants to get whatever it is that he wants. It's probably nothing good.
I spotlight Yoo-kyeong because this character brings a badly needed sense of narrative perspective to the normal documentarian style of "Jing Bi-rok". I feel ridiculous admitting this, but sometimes a story needs clearly drawn lines of good guys and bad guys. Seong-ryong has always been fairly limited in this role because quite often he doesn't really know what the best course of action is either. It's part of why he hasn't always been so effective- Seong-ryong identifies bad ideas more than he comes up with good ones.
In terms of good ideas, though, there's a pretty strong offensive push that provides a similar sense of pulpy action. Admittedly my first thought was that the Japanese soldiers must not be very smart, that they couldn't figure out what the ball was. But then again they've probably never seen one in this context. I got the impression that the fuse just stalled by accident, which isn't something that happens all that often.
It's not just pyrotechnics though. The big climax includes all sorts of epic violence that appears to indicate a serious turnaround in the war effort. Of course, we've already thought this would happen several times before. And also the drama is only halfway through at this point. But still, moments of optimism are necessary just for the sake of morale. If "Jing Bi-rok" is making more of an effort at traditional entertainment this time, it's because that's necessary across the board.
Think about it. If you're a soldier working on the front lines in this war, what do you want to hear? That Yoo-kyeong isn't the savior he pretends to be, or that the Korean government has finally turned the corner? In circumstances like this it's easy to see why Seong-ryong's perspective is sometimes ignored. There's time when even from a tactical perspective, keeping morale up is necessary in the short term or else there won't be a long term to fight for.
Review by William Schwartz
"Jing Bi-rok" is directed by Kim Sang-hwi and Kim Yeong-jo, written by Jeong Hyung-soo and Jeong Ji-yeon and features Kim Sang-joong, Kim Tae-woo, Im Dong-jin, Kim Hye-eun, Lee Kwang-ki and Lee Kwang-ki.
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Jing Bi-rok" Episode 26"
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