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Korean War Enemies Team Up in "Dongmakgol"

2005/08/04 Source

By Philip Dorsey Iglauer
Contributing Writer

Due to powers beyond their control, three North Koreans, two South Koreans and one American are stranded in a remote mountain village during the Korean War in the autumn of 1950.

"Welcome to Dongmakgol," based on a popular theatrical production by Jang Jin, is an allegory in which our heroes must overcome ideological division and the blind destructiveness of war to protect an idealized spiritual connection with nature represented by mountain villagers.

Through the autumn months of their exile, they fall in love with Dongmakgol's village dreamland, and with its spirit of the mountain and a girl's innocence.

But eventually, even this "eden" that Dongmakgol offers is threatened by the war; the real world comes parachuting in on top of them. They are forced to search into themselves, as well as rely on each other, to find the cleverness and ingenuity required to protect Korea's "folk essence," but even that may not be enough.

It is based on a popular theatrical production by Jang Jin.

The remote village is the set for most of the scenes of the film's sentimental story. Before they meet the soldiers of the People's Army of the North and the National Army of the South, the villagers do not have the foggiest idea that there is a war underway.

One villager innocently quarries, "Are we in a war?" And another follows up "With whom, the Chinese or the Japanese?"

The soldiers' respective ideological and national identities are turned upside down, because of the disarming friendliness of the not-so-simple rural folk. But in the end, as the tranquil isolation and spiritual harmony of the Korean mountain forest is disrupted, the war turns out to be the real antagonist _ not the U.S., not North Korea and not South Korea.

Indeed, the Korean War was tsunami-like in its destructiveness, bifurcating the country in the twentieth century into two distinct periods: rural and idyllic and urban and cynical.

But the Korean War was not simply a fratricidal conflict _ it has a narrative and mythic component. It is a representation or Korean version of the "Great Deluge" myth _ rediscovering their sense of collective identity after a moment of destruction.

The movie suggests that a continuity linking the divided periods is alive, that it is a spiritual memory stretching to before the war: Korea's "folk essence," so to speak. With saccharin sentimentality, the movie moralizes that this Korean essentialness, including in its collective memory both positive and negative images of foreigners, is worth protecting and preserving.

Starring Shin Ha-kyun from "Save the Green Planet," Jung Jae-young from "Someone Special" and Kang Hye-jung from "Old Boy," the $8-million production will mark the feature debut of director Bae Jong, who made "My Nike."

Music is by Joe Hisaishi, known for his work with Takeshi Kitano and Studio Ghibli. Hisaishi's score adds to the sentimentality in the movie, which at times is a bit contrived and out of place.

Hisaishi, in one close up shot of a soldier with a big foolish grin on his face, creates an over-the-top melodramatic orchestration, which turned irony into parody as bombs explode all around him.

"Welcome to Dongmakgol" is a summertime, fun-filled flick for the whole family _ whether your family is South Korean, North Korean or of any other nationality. It is political, but inclusive and humorous.

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