2007 offered some fine Korean films, although journalists had a tendency to focus on the decreased numbers and percentages for Korean films; "Driving With My Wife's Lover
", "Hansel and Gretel
", and "M" are arguably among this year's outstanding films.
The three films display diversity in Korean cinema and also interesting commonalities. In varying degrees they seize upon the opportunities offered to them by science in an imaginative way in order to explore different dimensions of reality.
We no longer see the world as that privileged place created by a god(s) for humans. Earth is part of the universe and obeys its laws. Subsequently, classical physics' clockwork universe has been challenged by Einstein's relativity and the 'strange' world of quantum physics.
Without applying the incorrect and dangerous notion that everything is relative, the curvature of space and time, and quantum physics' overthrowing of what used to be logical thinking according to the common Aristotelian understanding of the world, are elements incorporated into the magic film worlds of some Korean cineastes for their own purposes (which are often not scientific).
Especially, "Hansel and Gretel
" and "M" use the curvature of space and time concept without meditating on it to explore humans from a new angle in alternative and time defying worlds. "Driving With My Wife's Lover
"'s realms are in a familiar world, but apply the possibility for unexpected phenomenon to create absurd situations which effectively paint the characters and propel the story development.
The three films interlink these alternative situations and worlds with the exploration of humanity. In sciences' aftermath Friedrich Nietzsche declared 'god is dead', when he argued that religion is a human creation and that later it is 'forgotten' that humans created it themselves.
Subsequent philosophers like the somewhat out-of-fashion existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre celebrated the new context by elaborating on the inherent freedom and humanism; while Albert Camus pondered, "There is but one truly philosophical problem, and that is suicide", thereby centring the question: is life worth living?
However, Michel Foucault would state the 'death of humans'. He critically analysed the concept and meaning of humanism in a historical and social context as a tool for inclusion of some and exclusion of others. A construct to expel certain people, based on various grounds.
Foucault among others would also go on to declare the 'death of the author', as he argued that cultural expressions are not so much the creation of an individual writer, but a product of it's societal context; in the process criticising the tendency to write history from a 'great man' perspective.
The alternative worlds prove efficacious settings for the development of characters and the exploration of humanism. "Driving With My Wife's Lover
" and "Hansel and Gretel
" portray marginalised people, but with affection.
In "Driving With My Wife's Lover
", the protagonist is faced with several obstacles, but primarily, he must face himself and come to terms with his life while on a road trip that includes the chasing of watermelons down a road.
"Hansel and Gretel
"'s characters are abused orphans, excluded from society since childhood, whose perception on the world is sadly naοve and unrealistic. Their misconception of the celebrated social institution family and the concept of parents, lead to a longing for those things they idealise, but never knew.
In Korea, orphanages were not professionalised and are mostly temporary passages for numerous international adoptions. "Hansel and Gretel
" sides with the children who must learn that they are responsible for their own happiness and that they don't necessarily need parents for that.
The fairy tale setting within the real world allows the film to properly represent the childlike perceptions of the world and how they created their life according to their unfulfilled desires.
"M" also optimally uses a fantasy world to explore its protagonist, a troubled writer. Through the scenes in alternative realities, the writer comes in touch with his forgotten past and his forgotten first love. This allows "M" to contemplate on human's greatest and darkest sides in relation to the concept of love.
This makes the writer in "M" highly individual; his individual experiences shape his being. The same applies for the directors Lee Myung-se
("M"), Yim Pil-sung
("Hansel and Gretel
"), and Kim Tae-sik
("Driving With My Wife's Lover
") to a high degree. Their films obviously deal with Korean social issues, but display their own personal flavours that distinctively authorise their works. No matter how Korean films are linked with its society, the author is far from 'dead' in Korean cinema.
These films creatively rather than trying to be accurately employ opportunities offered to them to create their own takes on reality for rich and challenging settings that allow supportive backgrounds and insights into the characters; while contemplating the universal questions in a local context which bring forth alternative interpretations and conclusions, not always in sync with the interesting theories posted by philosophers concerning us, humans.
Suicide is not addressed; these films deal with the freedom people have to shape their own lives, but first must search within themselves while treading in an unfamiliar world. The three films share troubled protagonists struggling with what is reality, however, the characters may be flawed and/or marginalized by society, the three films don't exclude them, but show humane compassion for them while they try to retrace the bread crumbs in order to find their way back.
Yi Ch'ang-ho (KOFIC)