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[MOVIE REVIEW]'Hanbando' makes viewers feel uneasy

2006/06/29 Source

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Everyone, as far as I know, knows that murdering is not cool. Are all films with strong antiviolence messages wonderful films then? No. It's a totally different matter.

If giving out a message is what filmmaking is all about, school teachers, pastors or even politicians could have made wonderful films. A good film, however, isn't supposed to "press" viewers to agree with its message, but rather make them "feel" it and accept it voluntarily by artfully processing the raw ideas.

In terms of this, "Hanbando (meaning Korean Peninsula)", director Kang Woo-seok's new film, is a huge disappointment, if not a disaster. Except for its almost unrealistically big cast including Ahn Sung-ki, Cho Jae-hyun, Moon Sung-geun, Cha In-pyo and Kang Soo-yeon, the film doesn't provide anything that can't be found elsewhere with better quality.

The film is set in the near future, when the two Koreas are on the verge of reunification, which is scheduled to coincide with the reopening of the long-disconnected railway between Seoul and the North Korean city of Sinuiju. It is when Japan claims the ownership of the railway, based on a 100-year-old contract, which was forced by the then Japanese government against the will of King Gojong of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Holding the key to saving the country from another war on the peninsula is Choi Min-Jae (Cho Jae-hyun), a patriotic, one-track-minded historian who seeks to reveal historical secrets behind the forced contract.

To prove that Gojong's seal used on the contract was forged, Choi tries to discover the long-missing seal of the king with the help from a professional grave robber (Kang Shin-il) and the South Korean president (Ahn Sung-ki).

In the film, director Kang overtly wields the ready-to-fight sword of nationalism against Japan. From the beginning to the end, his all star cast keeps "preaching" to the audience about what they think is true patriotism, which seems to make even right-wing film fans (film fans who are right-wing, not fans of right-wing films like this one) feel uneasy.

He might want to give a warning signal to Japan about the disputes over the Dokdo islets through the film, which could have worked far better with a tighter plot development.

For sure, Kang's patriotism cannot be questioned, but his film's completeness can.

Or he might want to make a pseudo-historical mystery like "The Da Vinci Code", but they, not with such pseudo-patriotic claptrap in which right is right because it's right. In "Hanbando", the historian traces the seal by his sheer intuition plus lots of shoveling. There is no brain teaser or stunning action sequences which would have made the film much more endurable.

For the production of the film, 9.6 billion won is said to have been spent - sorry, melted away because it's hard to tell where the heck all the money went. The film does feature many battle ships and aircrafts, but that gives nothing more than a feeling of television news reality.

Even his brilliant line-up of super stars doesn't look very good with each other. They surely do what their fans probably want to see - Ahn's gentle charisma, Jo's passionate acting and Cha's... well, he is good-looking - but altogether, it looks so dispersing, like an all-striker soccer team.

Yet the worst part about the film is that it forces viewers to fit into one of two extreme attitudes toward Japan - detest them or worship them - although the relationship between Korea and Japan spans a far wider and much more complicated spectrum.

No doubt the Dokdo islets are inalienable part of Korea's territory, but making a decent film based on that premise should take much more than "anger". Considering his past works, Kang could have done much better than that, which is why disappointment lasts longer than ever after seeing the film. A sloppy film will only kill us, however flawless its theme might be.

The movie will be released nationwide on July 13.

By Lee Yong-sung

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