The Gwanghwamun protests of late 2016 and early 2017 were not just about Park Geun-hye's corruption scandal. While the revelation that Park Geun-hye was in thrall to a cult leader was what sunk her presidency, a large number of people from vastly different backgrounds were all infuriated by Park Geun-hye for wildly different reasons. The protests became a sort of open mic for these grievances. "Candle in the Wave" is a tapestry that mimics the structure of the protests.
That's why there are so many directors. Sometimes the subject matter is just footage of various speeches. Other times it's footage of political agitators far away from Seoul explaining their own grievances. There's even an extended section that uses side by side footage to compare the Gwanghwamun protests to previous major South Korean protests, and then there are on the street interviews with non-politically aligned people who came out for their own complex reasons.
There's a band of young people in Gangreung who feel compelled to participate yet also feel like they are being treated as kids by older agitators. They're skeptical that change is possible, and feel their technical skills are being taken for granted by political movements that have little interest in their own issues. These objections seem reasonable, although they feel ironic considering we also get a segment about actual teenage kids agitating for the voting age to be lowered.
Another fringe protest involve South Korean feminists who make a point of objecting to the sometimes problematic language of the protests. The opening segment, just a live feed where a gregarious man refers to them as "maidens" has a point, as does the frustration they have about South Korea's first woman president being so awful that she's probably discredited future female politicians. Then the big issue is about how some men at the open mic call her Miss Park Geun-hye and uh...yeah, I had a lot of trouble seeing the slur.
But there are plenty more emotionally powerful moments elsewhere, like when a Sewol survivor describes how she and some friends escaped, and begged rescuers to help their friends stuck back inside, to no avail. And you know, in the context of stories like that, I can see why festival organizers would just try to prioritize solving the sexist language issue. Because that's the main universal premise of the Park Geun-hye regime that inspired the protests in the first place. No one was listening.
In South Korea, at least, the protests were such a huge part of daily life that they couldn't be ignored by anyone. They had a giant whale, for pity's sake, and even the "Blue Butterfly Effect" people might make an appearance, if it was theit turn. Also, another one of Park Geun-hye's problematic nicknames was as the chicken woman (because she forgets everything), which is offensive to chickens. That gets you the segue into animal rights and- well, it's like I wrote before. "Candle in the Wave" is a tapestry, a sampler off all the varied beliefs that make up the left side of the South Korean political spectrum.
Review by William Schwartz
"Candle in the Wave" is directed by Choi Jong-ho, Emmanuel Moonchil Park, Hong Hyung-sook, Hwang Yoon, Kangyu Ga-ram, Kim Cheol-min, Kim Jeong-Keun, Kim Sang-pae, Kim Su-min, Lee Chang-min-II, People's Action for Immediate Resignation of President Park Geun-hye
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 email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Candle in the Wave""
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