Saturday, August 11, 2007

a "D-War" debate?

My buddy Tom sends me a link to this Korea Times article about a 100-minute televised debate over the significance of the movie "D-War," which I reviewed yesterday.

As I hope I made clear yesterday, I didn't find DW painfully bad, though it was indeed bad. It could have been a much better film, but the underlying concept was solid, and the dragon we see at the end was a real treat. In the article Tom cites, we learn that one issue is the patriotic thrust of both the film and its marketing. It is pointed out that the special effects in DW are not the product of ILM, but are entirely "home grown." If you've seen the movie, you also know that in the closing moments we are treated to strains of "Arirang," and that the director includes a message of thanks (and explanation) to his audience before the end-credits crawl begins.

On the subject of patriotism in film, I don't feel Americans have any room to criticize other countries: the American flag appears so often in our films that it would be hard to deny that we market ourselves. True: sometimes, the flag's appearance is meant to be an irony, but in most cases the flag is something we see while following a larger plot-- it's there and gone, registering in an almost subliminal manner. My French buddy Dominique pointed this out to me back when we were high schoolers in the 1980s: on his first visit to my neighborhood in Northern Virginia, Dominique expressed surprise at the number of houses in our neighborhood flying the American flag. Next, he pointed out that American TV series almost always feature a flag somewhere in their running time, and the same goes for our films (obvious exceptions would be the fantasy genre and some sci-fi).

So if Koreans want to show off their culture and do a bit of their own flag-waving, I applaud. I'd rather see more pride like that than declarations of weakness and victimhood (cf. the hostage crisis in Afghanistan). What American doesn't appreciate a can-do spirit?

According to the article, another issue in the DW debate is whether DW represents hope for the future of Korean cinema. To this, I would give an unqualified yes, because it shows that Korean filmmakers now enjoy greater access to budgets that will grant their films more visual polish (DW cost around $70 million to make, which is easily on the scale of a large American film).

Scriptwriting is a different issue. Korean attempts at filming in genres familiar to Americans will require a better appreciation for the rhythm and flow of our action movies, dramas, comedies, etc. This assumes that Korea wants to move in an American direction; they are under no obligation to do so, and probably shouldn't. Still, the quality of Korean screenwriting will have to improve along with the budget, otherwise complaints such as those levied against "D-War"-- which are similar to complaints we hear about many over-produced Hollywood films-- will continue.

Go read the article. Quite interesting.

Thanks, Tom.



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3 comments:

Charles said...

I agree with the role of patriotism in American films, especially the ubiquitous flag, but I don't think this is the same thing as D-War. In American films, the patriotism is present in the film. With D-War, the film itself is the object of patriotism--the fact that it was directed by a Korean, the fact that all the special effects were home-grown, etc. I don't think anyone really had a problem with the Arirang rendition at the end or any of the other references to Korean culture (which are the real analogues to the American flag in Hollywood films). To make a suitable comparison to American films, you would have to have a film that was hyped and succeeded in the States because it was directed by an American and featured American-made special effects.

Honestly, I think the patriotic reaction to the film is kind of ridiculous. If Shim had produced a masterpiece, I could see being proud of his achievement as a Korean. But he produced (or over-produced) a piece of crap. The patriotic reaction is disproportionate to the attention the film really deserves.

Incidentally, something similar happened with Typhoon. I remember that a big deal was made about the location shoots and the special effects (in particular the rolling stage built especially for the end sequence) simply because it was the first time any Korean film had ever done anything like that.

In other words, the hype is not about the film as a work of art (i.e., content), but as a showcase for completely irrelevant technical achievement. In Hollywood, film hype based on technical achievements is a sure sign of a flop. Same goes for Korea.

(Doing my final read through of my review, by the way. Should be up shortly.)

Kevin said...

Charles,

Good points. I would, however, note that Americans do take pride in good ol' Amurrican cinema, especially after they've been exposed to some crappy foreign films. Not all Americans, of course: many of us fall in love with foreign cinema because it's often a human alternative to Hollywood pabulum.

That sort of patriotism (or maybe I should say "nationalism") is evident in other countries, too-- e.g., in France, where director Luc Besson enjoys a love-hate relationship with the French public because he makes films in the American mold-- films that nevertheless do well at the French box office. I see "D-War" as reaching America-ward in much the same fashion as a Besson film might, and I see the French public as generally proud of French cinema.

I think you're right that "D-War" is itself the object of patriotism, and further agree the Korean reaction isn't justified: surely a better film than "D-War" could represent the peninsula to the world! But as DW goes global, the global audience won't know or care much about Korean citizens' own reaction to the film; instead, foreign audiences will react to the explicitly Korean imagery and music they encounter (and I assume they'll react to director Shim's text coda, which I imagine will be translated for foreign screens). That imagery, much like those ubiquitous American flags, will keep viewers conscious of DW's Koreanness.

I've been clicking over to Liminality, by the way, to see whether you'd be writing your own review, so I'm happy to hear you're slapping one up.


Kevin

Charles said...

Indeed, I think it will be very difficult for foreign viewers to miss the Koreanness of the film--and I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It just bugs me how it was hyped here, with the emphasis on national pride, etc.

I have to wonder, though, how many people really went to see the movie out of nationalistic pride. I'm guessing that it wasn't that many. I would imagine that most people went to see it simply out of curiosity (although perhaps not the morbid curiosity that drew us in).

Oh, and the review is finally up. I had to break for dinner (we went out to celebrate HJ's birthday early), so it took longer than expected. Hope it was worth the wait.