Every nation has a dream. For Koreans, their most sought dream is to wake up one day and witness that North Korea and South Korea merges and be united as one. Such dream is manifested by different Korean movies and tries to prove that there is a means for reconciliation between the two regions. The three blockbuster movie Swiri, Joint Security Area and Tae Guk Gi shows the undying hope of Koreans that in time North and South Korea will unify.
Summary of Swiri (1999)
Swiri is a film directed by Kang Je-Gyu released in 1999 and focuses on the story of Korean national sentiment. The film’s title is derived from a fish (Coreoleuciscus splendidus) which can be found in the fresh waters of Korea set between the North and South Korean streams (Kang 1999). The story revolves around the lives of the characters as they address the longest issue of the reunification of Korea.
The movie talks about the struggle of North Korean soldiers as they try to complete the mission given to them. Leaded by Park Mu-young, they will travel to South Korea and serve as sleeper agents there. Among the troop from the North, Lee Bang-Hee is considered as the most promising soldier because of her sniper ability and how she managed to kill prominent figures from the South Korean government.
On the other hand, South Korean soldiers are in search for Bang-Hee because she is considered as the worst enemy of the region. Yu Jong-Won who leads the soldiers from the south is also having nightmares about Bang-Hee who according to his dreams will murder him and his partner Lee Jang Gil (Kang 1999). The woman that Yu is engaged to is Myung-Hyun who regained her life for being an alcoholic before and keeps herself busy by managing her aquarium and fish store. Their relationship was smooth and easy but Yu cannot reveal the nature of his work to his partner because of security measures. When the couple was contacted by a dealer of arms, the dealer got killed before even answering questions about the quarry. The assassin is no other than Bang-Hee, who digs more information and also discovered that the South Korean government was developing a substance called CTX to kill more people.
CTX is a liquid that is capable of exploding a fifteen story building and can kill many people. In order to suppress the promulgation of CTX, Park together with his agents ambushed the military convoy that carries numerous liters of CTX. In order to use the CTX as a means of fighting against Yu, Park called him to warn about the CTX bombs planted around Seoul. The rival between Park and Yu has a history and the bombing is the continuity of their feud. The first CTX bomb was announced by Park to be on top of a department store but he told Yu and Lee about with an inaccurate time, the bomb did explode killing people and leaving Yu devastated along with his fiancée Myung who goes back to her alcohol binging again.
Doubt occurs between the partnership of Yu and Lee. They thought that a security leak is happening and they investigate each other secretly. But their doubt towards each other was not proven so they set a trap for their enemies which eventually captured Park and Bang-Hee. The said confrontation leads to a drastic firefight resulting to death of many police and civilians (Kang 1999). Agents from the north were also killed while Park and the rest were able to escape. Myung-Hyun/Bang-Hee incurred an injury and tries her best to hide it from Yu (Kang 1999).
Yu on the other hand was able to see the wounds and he struggled hard to discover the true identity of his girlfriend (Kang 1999). He was amazed by the fact that Myung-Hyun is part of the opposing party because he found electronic surveillance devices hidden in fish decorating his office (Kang 1999). Yu decided to bring the fish back and his girlfriend supplied them. The confrontation between Lee and Myung happened in her fish shop but Park immediately shot him leaving him dead (Kang 1999). Yu arrived at the shop with his agents but they were too late because Lee is almost dead and handed him a soccer match ticket (Kang 1999).
That very moment, a soccer match is currently held at the stadium between the South and North Korean teams (Kang 1999). The terrorist aims to detonate bombs of CTX at the stadium and leave as many casualties as possible (Kang 1999). Yu and the rest of the agent was on their way tp the airport which they believe as the next target (Kang 1999). When Yu realized that the ticket given to him by Lee is a clue saying the next target is the stadium, he commanded the group to go to the said area as quick as they can.
Meanwhile on the stadium, Park together with Bang-Hee and the other terrorist already mingled with the crowd and disguised themselves (Kang 1999). The terrorist group did everything to control the situation including the stadium lights that will trigger the CTX explosion (Kang 1999). Yu enters the stadium just before the explosion and their group was able to kill the terrorists inside the control room (Kang 1999). Myung-Hyun on the other hand noticed the commotion in the control room and tries to fire the VIP area but she missed hitting the target. She was chased by Yu who eventually shot her to death (Kang 1999).
The South Korean agent Yu later realized that the woman she killed was actually Bang Hee who is pregnant with his child. The real Myung-Hyun was confined at a hospital and undergoes chemotherapy. His fiancée carefully explained to him that Bang-Hee became a sister figure to her.
The film Swiri is full of twist and turn that eventually amazed viewers. The relationship of Bang Hee and Myung-Hyun is a symbol of unity between South and North Korea. The battle emerges between the agents of North and South but a love child was also made between Bang Hee and Yu. The fish decoration used with an electronic surveillance device symbolizes that the Swiri fish really has no permanent master and place of residence; it freely swims between the streams of North and South Korea. As long as the said fish swims between the two regions, there is a hope for freedom and friendship for North and South Korea. It will be made possible once people commit themselves to change, liberation and unity.
Summary of Joint Security Area (2000)
According to the Korea Herald dated November 9, 2000 the movie Joint Security Area directed by Park Chan-Wook made a box office hit for nine straight weeks. “According to the latest tally, “Joint Security Area” has drawn 2 million viewers in Seoul so far and 5 million na-tionwide while “Swiri” drew 2.43 million in Seoul and 5.8 million nationwide” (Korea Herald, 2000). The film is “about the murder of a North Korean soldier at the Joint Security Area in the truce village of Panmunjom” (Ilbo, 2000)
The search for truth is at stake in the film. As two soldiers from North Korea was killed in the sensitive boarder of North and South Korea, alarms went on and this marks the exchange of gunfire from more soldiers of both parties. Sergean Lee Soo-Hyeok came running from the area of the North Koreans and tries to get in touch with the other side of the South Korean (Korea Herald 2000). He was rescued with his leg injured. Two days after the said incident, a special investigation was conducted by people fro Switzerland and represents Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (Korea Herald 2000). The goal of the Swiss investigators is to make sure that the said incident will not go deeper into more serious conflict.
Major Sophie leads the mission and it is her first time to visit Korea although she is born to a Korean father and a Swiss mother. She tries to investigate everything about the feud and spoke to Sgt. Lee Soo-Hyeok who confessed everything about the shooting (Korea Herald 2000). She listened to his story and keeps track of every pertinent detail. He is the one on duty when the shooting happened. He was kidnapped by the other group and as he tries to escape, he shoots three of the soldiers from North Korea and eventually killed two of them. Sophie added follow up questions but Soo-Hyeok did not cooperate anymore and decided not to answer her queries. Sophie tried to get answers from comrades of Soo-Hyeok but their answers were obviously biased and even praised the courage of Soo-Hyeok as he stepped on the North Korean house.
Sophie tries to get the other part of the story and visit the North Korean soldiers to ask for further investigation. The only person who survived that incident was Oh Kyeong-Pil who narrates a different story to her. He told Sophie that the main shooter during the incident was Soo-Hyeok who enters the boarder and without ay hesitation. Fires his gun and shoot every person he saw. It is a tough job for Sophie because her “investigation is a lot more than routine police work” (Scott, 2005, pg. 5).
The result of the autopsy clearly shows that the shots accumulated by the dead soldiers were all fatal like in the head and in the chest. It is very contrasting to the statement of Soo-Hyeok that he shoots them in order for him to escape (Korea Herald 2000). It shows that the gunshots reflect grudges rather than defense. Solving the case in order to fulfill her mission as a peacekeeper was never easy for Major Sophie.
The story behind the killing is also shown in the film through flashbacks. The said recall of events reflects the once good relationship of Soo-Hyeok with the North Koreans (Korea Herald 2000). He was once saved from a landmine by a Korean officer and he even hang out with them to play cards, smoke cigars and tell personal stories (Korea Herald 2000). The quest for truth is never easy in the film because of the many flashbacks that shows how good camaraderie is between Soo-Hyeok and the opposing parties (Korea Herald 2000).
The film Joint Security Area is popular because of its political theme and at the same time humanist message (Scott, 2005, p.5). It narrates the story of friendship and good times between the North and South Korean people who at the end set themselves in a difficult situation.
Summary of Tae Guk Gi – The Brotherhood of War (2004)
Director Kang Je-Gyu made the film Tae Guk Gi which is also known in English as The Brotherhood of war. Released in 2004, the movie narrates the story of two brothers and how they were affected by the Korean War. The story of Jin Tae and Jin Seok shows how brotherhood works during the time of warfare. The undying conflict between North and South Korea is reflected in the movie in such a way that viewers will think that something good could have happened to the two brothers if there is no Korean war.
The film started with the old Jin Seok and his granddaughter as they recognize the remains found in the Korean battlefield. Upon recognizing the remains as his brother’s body, flashback of scenes was shown during the 1950s when their family was in Seoul. Jin Tae Lee used to be a good brother and provider to his younger brother by means of a shoeshine business. He does everything to send him to school and receive the best education he could offer. Unfortunately, North Korea tries to invade the whole country and in order to combat this, the military arrested men from the south to serve the army for defense. Jin Tae was captured by the soldiers and Jin Seok who tries to get his brother was also arrested.
The two brothers experienced every hardship in the army. There was a time that Jin Seok almost dies of a heart attack. Jin Seok on the other hand remains as strong as he can to stand for his brother. He even compromised himself to receive the highest award as the Taeguk Cordon of the Order of Military Merit in replace for his brother’s freedom. Jin Tae did everything to earn the said award and dedicates his life for the army and in defeating the opponents.
Years of battle had passed and even China entered the scene and tries to invade the North Korea. Series of unfortunate event happened to the two brothers which includes the killing of their close friend Yong man, their shoeshine boy Yong Seok and the fiancée of Jin Tae, Young –Shin. Jin Tae mistakenly believes that Jin Seok already died in one of the battle fires he lost his consciousness and killed one security commander. He became a part of the North Korean allies.
Jin Seok on the other hand was rescued by Uncle Yang and brought him to a military hospital. Battle emerges and the climax of the movie was the time that the two brothers met each other during the middle of North and South Korean encounter. Out of anger against the South Korean soldier, Jin Tae almost killed Jin Seok out of anger but he was stopped by a bayonet strike that wounded him. Jin Seok tries to bring back the memory of his brother by telling him stories about their mother, his willingness to send Jin Seok to school and how they used to live in perfect harmony before the war. Upon learning everything and earning back his memory. He begins firing the North Korean infantry to cover up his brother who is in escape. Jin Tae eventually died while Jin Seok looking at him before he dies on the battleground.
The film ended with full of emotion as Jin Tae speaks to his brother in agony. He cites every promise made between the two of them before the war and he holds with him the silver pen given by Jin Tae to him. A flashback of scenes was shown again and the peaceful Seoul was presented with the young Jin Seok talking to Jin Tae and how he will do everything to send his young brother to school.
The brutality of war between the North and South Korean army was depicted in this film. It clearly shows how the innocence of the two brothers was ruined by the war. Something could have been done if there is no war at hand.
The Three Movies Popularity
The movies Swiri, Joint Security Area and Tae Guk Gi are highly acclaimed Korean movies because of its attempt to show the good and bad side of Korean wars. It affects viewers of all ages about the effects of Korean War and how it constructs and deconstructs relationship in the whole country of Korea.
The three movies was loved and patronized by the audience because it touches the political and historical themes of Korea. The characters presented in the aforementioned movies shows the hardship experienced by every Korean because they are separated by unwanted conflicts (Korea Herald 2000). Most of them are victims of circumstances and they cannot do anything rather than protect themselves and fight for respective regions. There are hidden friendships which cannot be exposed because it is a mortal sin to be friend with people who lives from the opposite region (Kang 2004). The logic of political conflict works itself out in stark, brutal ways that ordinary people, however brave or decent they might be, are often powerless to oppose (Scott, 2005, p. 5). These movies are eye openers for Koreans to unite and stand up as one country that will never fight against each other.
The three Korean films succeed commercially because it captivates the heart and mind of every Korean citizen. The stories focus on loyalty and betrayal, love and friendship, brotherhood and family and the call of duty. The approach used by the directors and producers of the film is more on personal wherein every viewer will contemplate on the idea that Koreans should never battle against each other. North and South Koreans should unite themselves and hope for a better future ahead of them.
Kang, Je-Gyu. (Director) (1999). Swiri. Korea: Kang Je-Kyu Film Co. Ltd.
Kang Je-Gyu. (Director) (2004). Tae Guk Gi – The Brotherhood of War. Korea: Showbox
Korea Herald (2000). ‘JSA’ catching up with ‘Swiri’. November 9, 2000 Issue.
Park, Chan-Wook. (Director) (2000). Joint Security Area. Korea: CJ Entertainment
Scott, A.O. (2005). Dear Enemy: Exchanging Photos and Gunfire. The New York Times, June 15, 2005 Issue, Section E; Column 4; The Arts/Cultural Desk; FILM REVIEW; Pg. 5.