Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Welcome to Dongmakgol

Imagine a world where Studio Ghibli tried its hand at directing a live-action Korean movie set in 1950 during the Korean War. That is the best way to describe this film. The word "brilliant" would be another. Those two statements basically mean the same thing, anyway. This could very well be the most moving movie I've seen since I watched Grave of the Fireflies. Yes, it's just that damn good.

Funny, too. It's been a bit since I actually watched the movie (I didn't realize that I hadn't blogged about it yet), but I do remember it being ridiculously funny for a war movie. The majority of the comedy comes from the fact that the folks of Dongmakgol don't even realize that the Korean War is even going on at the moment. So when an American Navy pilot crashes from the sky and they rescue him they have no idea why he was even in an airplane to begin with. Much less what an airplane is. They don't know what guns or grenades are, either.

Eventually three North Korean soldiers make their way to the quiet village of Dongmakgol after surviving a deadly gunfight, too. Of course, they don't even know they are going to such a strange village as they make their way through the woods.

Once there they discover that this strange village is not only nursing an injured American soldier back to health, but they are also housing two deserters from the South Korean Army.

I don't want to go any further into the details, but I do feel the need to express that this is a very artful Korean film about overcoming differences without the need for conflict. There is certainly comedy in this film, but that's not everything. At many points you might need some hankies. 

There are no good guys here. In fact, I thought that the gradual bonding that took place between the soldiers stuck in Dongmakgol was great. They didn't bond on "American" terms. In Dongmakgol, a paradise seemingly overlooked by the war, the soldiers really understand who they are fighting against and it isn't necessarily each other. It's a very humanistic (if that's the right word) approach, not one bound by country. 

This film isn't pro-North or pro-American. I would dare say it isn't even pro-South. It just is what it is.

If you aren't used to American soldiers being the bad guys in foreign films then things could get awkward. But, like I said, there are no intentional bad guys here. Shit... just sometimes happens.

And it is painful to watch. I don't normally root against the American soldiers (since that is where my bread is buttered and all of that), but it is tough to take some of these things sitting down. And I love badass John Wayne war movies just as much as anyone. I imagine that a lot of right wing conservative types would not like this film without even giving it a shot. In fact, just about anyone who is overtly-political will be wanting to start a shit-slinging contest. Right wings were just the first ones to come to my mind since I live in Alabama and see far more of their ilk than I'd care to.

There are no politics playing out in this film. It isn't an examination of history. Hell, pretty much all of the soldiers in the film don't know why they are fighting. Neil Smith didn't know why the South Korean soldiers didn't like American soldiers when they were supposed to be allies. The South Korean soldiers didn't even know if the North was invading the South or vice versa. The North Korean soldiers didn't even know why they were invading or why the Americans were getting involved, too.

With no one knowing anything, nothing gets solved... or does it? Dongmakgol seemed to be doing just fine, after all. Of course, once you introduce outsiders to a Utopia then you know that the Utopia won't last for long and shit gets fucked up.

The real question is whether or not this group of misfit enemy soldiers will choose to unite and do something to stand up for this odd village that has taken them in.

If any of you have watched any of the movies I have blogged about on here then you will probably recognize at least two of the Korean actors. Jeong Jae-yeong starred in Confession of Murder as the cop haunted by the one that got away, but in this movie he portrays one of the disenchanted North Korean soldiers taking refuge in Dongmakgol. I think he probably ended up being my favorite character in the whole movie and that surprised me quite a bit. Since he was one of those commies and whatnot. 

Shin Ha-kyun is one of the South Korean soldiers in Dongmakgol that just won't let his resentment toward the North Koreans go despite the fact that they are both stuck in the same place, but you should be able to recognize him as the deaf-mute Ryu from Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Admittedly, I wasn't sure if it was really him or not since he didn't have green hair and actually talked in this movie. Damn good job. 

The American pilot Neil Smith is portrayed by some guy named Steve Taschler. I have no idea who he is. A search brings up nothing. In fact, all of the other Americans in this movie are nobodies and they act like Asians probably think we act in real life. A lot of Asian cinema is like that, too. If you see an American actor it is generally someone who can't act or deliver dialog convincingly. What's even worse is when we get an Asian guy speaking English in a way that is supposed to sound badass, but actually sounds cheesy and stupid. 

Steve Taschler wasn't too terrible, though. In fact, he did his job well enough. I just still have no idea who he is. 

A last note I should add is that some of the effects in this movie are terrible. Especially at the beginning with the plane crash, but that isn't too off-putting. The rest of the film is worth it and then some. Especially the music. Remember when I referenced Studio Ghibli? Joe Hisaishi composed the music for this film. 

All in all, damn good movie. 

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