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An omnibus film by five of Korea's brightest, If You Were Me 2 is charged with political and social commentary.
South Korea's Korean National Commission on Human Rights sponsored the five short films featured in it's second series of cinema that address socio-political issues specific to identity, discrimination, homophobia, revolution, and equality. If You Were Me 2, combines the directing force of filmmakers Park Kyung-hee (A Smile), Ryoo Seung-wan (Crying Fist, Arahan), Jung Ji-woo (Happy End), Jang Jin (Someone Special, Guns & Talks), and Kim Dong-won (Repatriation) to expose the often buried vices of humanity.
The first of five films, Seaside Flower directed by Park Kyung-hee, reminds us that there's more to one's physical appearance than meets the eye. In this re-dramatization, Eun-hye, a young child with Down's Syndrome, is regularly teased at school with slurs like "fat catfish" or "old lady." Her only friend is a distant elderly woman, who lives far away. As a result, Eun-hye sometimes talks to her other friends -- who all happen to be imaginary. The film isn't a depressing spotlight on children with debilitating disorders, but rather, it humanizes them as people, and not by medical labels. Eun-hye is just like any child -- she stands up for herself when she's bullied, she gets frustrated when she can't play her flute perfectly, and she literally dances to her own rhythm.
Immediately, our depth perception is out of whack and somehow, losing your three lifelong friends in one night is easier than walking a straight line. In Ryoo Seung-wan's Hey, Man!, the director toys with the idea of crude honesty by intoxication. Stumbling in a late night drinking space, four friends discover more about themselves than they could ever have face to say to each other sober. Ryoo hits an uncomfortable chord with issues of being homosexual, being uneducated, and being poor -- all among a trusting circle of so-called friends. Refusing to hold his tongue (or liquor for that matter), the drunken main character is left alone, as he continues his rampage of discriminatory accusations. But Ryoo keeps it light-hearted at the end, when the now-friendless drunk mistakes two passed-out women for men. The film highlights the extreme of dangerous drinking and the seemingly unforgivable words that can't be ignored.
In this experimental film about North Korean refugees in South Korea, director Jung Ji-woo seeks to simplify even the most complex issues of identity. Minimal dialogue and activity, in a sense, becomes a metaphor for silence. Loneliness, felt most dramatically by a young North Korean girl who knows first-hand the stereotypes of being an unwelcomed citizen in a divided country, punctuates the sorrow of people torn by their ethnic belonging. In shots of a motorcycle going through in a tunnel, the unmarked highway, possibly interpreted as Korea's own future, is itself, ambiguous to those travelling on it.
Brutal interrogation practices become an unlikely comedic twist in Jang Jin's Someone Grateful. When a young student revolutionary has to endure every physical torture imaginable, the overworked contract worker whose job it is to force a confession finds himself eventually befriending the person he was made to harass. Jang creatively investigates the ideals of democracy and equality through subtle comedy. Even with characters like the student protester, whose optimism and unflinching activist nature gives the contract worker hope with the line "Good days will come," it's unsure whether Jang hints that the Korean youth have the answer, but at the same time, it's intuitive that they are at least on the right path.
Last but not least, the only true documentary short, Jongro, Winter directed by Kim Dong-won, is number five in the series. Through interviews with real Chinese Koreans immigrants, Kim reveals the social injustices of Chinese Korean workers by focusing his film on Kim Won-seop, a Chinese Korean who died of starvation due to neglect on December 9, 2003. It is this neglect for hundreds of Chinese Korean laborers that fuels the film's indignation of government apathy. It's hard to find a reason to be ignorant after Kim's emphasis of what it means to be treated as equal.
Date Posted: 2/8/2008