Chen (played by Park Ki-woong) is a Chinese eel farmer who smuggles himself into South Korea to get his eels tested, in an effort to figure out the transnational reasons behind familial business failures. Incidentally, Chen looks very hot with his shirt off and is surprisingly good at fighting people as long as he's not blindsided. There's just one problem. Try as he might, Chen will forever be marked by the fact that he was "Made In China".
That's the weird thing about international capitalism. Not just products, but actual people are treated as, well, products. Chen's errand in South Korea is a very simple one, but because he's not a rich man with mountains of paperwork it takes quite some time for him to actually resolve the issue with the eels- a process which on the Korean end literally just requires a few minutes to run a lab test. And the big joke on that front is that it turns out the testing process designed to keep men like Chen out of the market rather bizarrely does not keep his products out of the market.
Another layer of absurdity is the fact that Chen can't speak Korean. As one memorable scene demonstrates there are very few words he actually needs to know anyway. But that's just it. The language barrier isn't that big a deal, because Chen knows exactly what he wants. Weirdly enough, it's Mi (played by Han Chae-ah) who typifies the more awkward struggles of modernity, as a metropolitan Korean woman with a bad attitude who takes an arbitrary liking to Chen- even though she can't actually speak Chinese.
But again, verbal communication isn't actually that important. When Chen gets involved with gangsters, the gangsters themselves clearly do not know or care much about the product they're selling- although this revelation takes on obvious ironic undertones given the nativist streak "Made In China" exposes. Frequently it seems like the main thing that baffles Chen is how Korean people can take so little apparent interest in their work and livelihood.
It's a sense of general bewilderment that Park Ki-woong communicates quite effectively. What "Made In China" really demonstrates is that culture shock isn't about abstract nonsense like Confucianism. It's about day-to-day living. And even culture shock's not that big a deal to Chen because he knew from the outset he was coming to a different country. What Chen wasn't expecting was that the people in South Korea would be such blatant hypocrites. And the South Koreans too, are puzzled by Chen's strange brand of sentimentalism.
"Made In China" is a very introspective, very deliberately ironic product that obviously begs for greater analysis. Even though I am neither Korean nor Chinese I found the sheer weird normality in the movie to be fascinating, because it's only from an outsider's view that we can see how weird normality really is. I feel like I should note, for the sake of completion, that "Made In China" reunites the second leads from "Bridal Mask". A strange coincidence to be sure, but that's what this film is full of- odd ironic fates that make sense even if you weren't expecting them.
Review by William Schwartz
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 Film Review] "Made in China""
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