A Little Place Called Korea: 2015 K-Popcorn Book P3

Hello. This is Professor AKIA. Thinking about turning that into Doc AKIA.
But that is another matter.
In 2016, I was writing a review collection of 2015 Korean movies. However, life took hold and I had to give it up.Now in 2017, it has becomes somewhat of irrelevant.  So, I decided to just release what I had written up to that point on this blog. This is part 3.

How did you hear about this little place on the edge of someplace in Asia? I assume you have heard about us since you picked up this book. Was it first through K-pop or Korean dramas? Those tend to be gaining a significant niche following on the international stage. Where is Korea? Korea is a little strip of hills and mountains located on the top right corner of China poking out into the pacific. I would tell you to look at a world globe but who has those lying around nowadays.

☺ “Has anyone under 15 actually have touched a globe with their hands?

If you look at Google Earth, the land of Korea is the little peninsula right between China and Japan. I do not expect you to know much about our little country. The folks in America could have learned about us during history class since America actually fought a war over here.

☺ “Does the ‘forgotten war’ ring a bell?”

I wouldn’t want to make some ill formed assumptions. I know that people tend to day dream through the even the exciting parts of the history class. So, knowledge about a war in a distant land may not have stuck especially if Jedis or Hobbits were now involved.

☺ “Perfectly understandable!”

I think most of the knowledge about Korea flowing outside of Korea originates from such “classic” movies as “Team America: World Police” (2004) or “The Interview” (2014). Isn’t movies with fart jokes the only true way of learning history after all? However, although the historical accuracy of those cinematic masterpieces are immaculate, they tend to focus on our cartoon evil brothers and sisters of the North. So, if you want to gather information about South Korea, the only real source to go to are Korean movies and dramas.

☺ “And, yes! Korea is filled with gangsters. Anyone, who isn’t poor peasant folk or people with a little red book hidden somewhere, is a gangster!”

In addition to your typical “Japanese yakuza” type and “Chinese Triad” type street gangers in Korea, you have the gangsters who pretend to be politicians. Even though they are bad, they cannot compare to the evil “Jaebuls” or capitalists. They will eat your babies and have debauch sex orgies and will rape your daughters. Oh the pretty boy third generation Jaebuls are exceptions as they are dreamy misunderstood “Mr. Darcy” types. However, you will have to look carefully as they look quite similar to the standard Jaebuls who will… what else… rape you and rob you at the same time.

☺ “Wow, this article turned sarcastic and dark pretty fast.”

Getting back on track, a movie is NOT an accurate reflection of a society. Rather, what it shows is a point where what some people want to say meets what many members of that audience wants to see. And every one of those people operate on a false or at least distorted view of the world they live in. That’s just the way humans learned to operate as they have to compile fragmented, biased, and very untimely information with a pretty buggy learning process. However, you, as an audience member, can create a patchy image of what the society may look like by digging through these distorted cinematic images. This is actually part of the fun of watching movies made beyond one’s cultural sphere albeit a tricky part.

☺ “Oh and Jaebuls is the derogatory term for Korean conglomerates or just any kind of big business. No one seems to agree on who qualifies as a Jaebuls though”

The issue one encounters when trying to understand a culture through its movies is that you miss stuff because they “do not translate.” This is a funny expression especially because it is more complicated than just not being able to find a one to one equivalent to a term or a word. Just equating Jaebuls with big business is easy. The complicated component is to find what is left out as what is left out is left out for a reason. I mean they are too obvious to those who are the intended audience. Movies, as an art form, is a process of condensing after. This means that the less you actually say and the more you imply is better especially if what you are implying is not the point of the story being told. So, even compared to literature, a movie will have massive holes that are simply not there to “translate.”

For example, even if I said Jaebuls was big business and thus try to link up two similar cultural ideas with each other so that an American can get the basic idea, I have only made a superficial connection. There is a huge amount of context being lost. What Americans conjure up when the word “big business” is very different from what Koreans conjure up. And, if this resulted in one just missing out on the subtle richness of the story, that would be a shame but nothing to decry to the world about.

☺ “Boo hoo!”

The problem is that a story is not just a story. Rather, it is a delivery device for ideas and many times these ideas are coded with the purpose of slipping ideas through one psychological defenses and fester there. If the story was intended to promote specific political agendas, the coding could be more subtle. Thus, if you are an un-initiated or just a foreigner, not only will you miss a lot but also the understanding you get about the movie’s intentions may be way off. In regards to Korean movies, this is actually more serious since Korean movies are generally more political than a typical American movie as Koreans are far more political in their nature than the average American. This is because the society is more hierarchical and power over that hierarchy is far more valuable than anything and I mean anything else.

For example, the Korean movie “Oldboy” (2003) is pretty well known amongst the cinephiles overseas. They seem to like it for its artistic direction and radical images. At the same time, they do not really seem to get what the point was with the movie. This really shows in the 2013 Hollywood adaptation directed by Spike Lee. All the radical violence and shocking plot points are in the service of one big middle finger to the Korean right wing saying that they are violent, sadistic, criminal, and… what is the real kicker… incestuous perverts that should just die a gruesome death. In this vein, it has a lot in common with the Swedish movie “The girl with the dragon tattoo” (2009). Not the Hollywood remake.

☺ “Although that Hollywood remake had some interesting things in it. I prefer Rooney Mara over Noomi Rapace any day”

I find it interesting that many of the American cinephiles don’t catch on to this aspect of the movie. I get that “Oldboy” (2003) is a bit more coded than “Snowpiercer” (2013) since that movie was so obvious and also based on a French graphic novel but still… In fact, “Oldboy” (2003) falls into the first wave of radical left wing Korean movies with mainstream appeal and financially success. Afterwards, this trend has been continued into the 2015 where left-wing leanings are the only guaranteed success factor in a market in transition. The fact that “Snowpiercer” (2013) actually was a huge success in Korea is just an example of this. Sci-fi movies have never done well in Korea. Sci-fi movies with social commentary have done worse. Korean sci-fi movies have done even worse.

☺ “Darn! I really should get a decent editor. What I just wrote could be very dull and convoluted if not phrased well.”

☺ “Since you are reading this, did I not get a good editor? I don’t know since I typing this in the past”

This was the long about route to just say that you need to know a bit about Korean history and culture going in and that I would cover some of the basics. So, let’s try it again.
How did you hear about this little place on the edge of someplace in Asia?

Foreign Movie References
“Team America: World Police” (2004)

“The Interview” (2014)

Korean Movie References
“Oldboy” (2003)

“Snowpiercer” (2013)


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