WARNING: If you have anything around you that might damage your computer screen if thrown at it, I suggest you remove it before reading on.
Anyway, Yonhap reports that Lee Sang-woo has completed work on his film on the Nogeun-ri incident. Want to learn more? OK:
After many news reports and documentaries about Nogeun-ri came out, director Lee Sang-woo felt obliged to make a fictional film to tell the story. He wanted to ask the U.S. government whether there was no other way than war, a question still relevant today.
“Writing the scenario, I asked myself what story I have to tell. This is not going to be about the incident, not the event, but it’s going to be about the people. It is going to tell the relationships that people had in the small community and how intimate and beautiful they were, and ask them (the U.S. military) if they knew what they were doing. They were destroying these beautiful human beings,” Lee said after shooting the film’s last scene in Sunchang, South Jeolla Province, early this week.
I don’t want to use one independent filmmaker’s take on history to be indicative of attitudes as a whole, but after the success of “Welcome to Dongmakgol,” one has to ask whether Koreans and Americans view their shared history in remotely the same way. This is particularly the case with younger Koreans whose collective memory of the Korean War and the role the United States played in it is being shaped by films like this and “Dongmakgol.”
This question is worth exploring, because this shared history is supposedly part of the reason we keep the Korea-U.S. alliance going. If U.S. intervention in Korea is increasingly viewed as a tragedy that destroyed families and communities and kept a nation divided, what reason does Washington have for maintaining the child of that intervention—the Korea-U.S. alliance—especially at a time when the two sides view their national interests in increasingly disparate ways?
BTW, I’m not arguing that topics such as Nogeun-ri or U.S. misdeeds should not be explored by filmmakers. As artists in a democratic society, Korean filmmakers have a duty to explore all aspects of Korea’s past and present. But as Lee clearly points out and as anyone who watched “Dongmakgol” could tell, the films do more than just examine painful incidents pertaining to U.S. history in Korea—they seek to deny any positive role the United States may have played in post-Liberation Korea by constructing fantasy worlds of happy villagers playing in the fields until they were brutally interrupted by the evil Americans and their warlike ways and exploitive capitalism. Even relatively even-handed “Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War” does little more than depict North and South as moral equivalents (with U.S. and UN contributions ignored completely)—there was no “good side” or “bad side,” and the question is never addressed whether the men chewed up on screen died for anything at all. With “Dongmakgol” drawing over 8 million viewers (5 million in its first four weeks), its historical viewpoint obviously resonates with a large segment of the general population. And it goes without saying that it does not bode well for the future of the alliance when the peoples involved no longer share a common memory of even the “foundation myth” of the alliance itself.
P.S.: I would also like to make clear that in no way, shape or form am I suggesting that Koreans emulate the disturbing levels of hero-worship and moral/patriotic simplicity of American war films. My favorite U.S. war film, for example, is Terrence Malick’s “A Thin Red Line,” which is morally ambiguous about the U.S. campaign in the Pacific, to say the least. But what we’re seeing here with “Dongmakgol,” the upcoming Nogeun-ri film and, to a lesser extent, “Tae Guk Gi” is equally simplistic stories that simply substitute ethnic nationalism for the flag-waving of American films. And that’s not a good thing.