As fun as it is to analyze "Jing Bi-rok" in a comparative context to modern events, trying to be too rational about this can get us into a confusing place. One early scene features a large group of characters darning a bunch of ropes. In a modern industrialized context, where important materials can be fabricated at factories, there's something almost absurd about troops having to create their own important stuff. But that's what total war means- not having easy access to stuff all the time.
Something else I should clarify is that while most of us watching "Jing Bi-rok" don't properly understand what total war is like, the characters in "Jing Bi-rok" are the same way. Historically speaking, the mainly military conflicts China and Japan went through were civil wars. Outside of Hideyoshi's invasion noone ever really saw much point in trying to invade other countries consisting of completely different ethnic groups. And in many ways "Jing Bi-rok" is the story of just why that is.
Note how the Japanese are completely taken aback and frustrated by the full-scale intervention of the Chinese into this war- even though the entire point of the invasion in the first place was to attack China. Listening to their council meetings it's hard to escape the feeling that just, what were these guys expecting? That they'd march across the entire Asian continent with no resistance?
The Japanese do get past their overconfidence though. Unfortunately. That's the other problem with total war is that it's really easy to, at a moment's notice, suffer a complete reversal in fortunes. As amazing as it may seem even without factories enabling the process war doesn't actually kill people fast enough that a decent-sized country ever has to worry about actually running out of people.
That much is another uncomfortable abstract part of "Jing Bi-rok". A lot of these obviously disastrous decisions are enabled because no one thinks about the war in terms of being a major event that involves actual people. To the general and politicians, casualty numbers are just a statistic that can be used for or against their favor. And even as the Japanese resort to a tactic so monstrous as to be completely desensitizing...well, look. As much as the drama's anti-Japanese stance makes me bristle, there's not anything all that implausible about what they do here. This is a protracted war. And deliberate or not, in that context tragedy is unavoidable.
Review by William Schwartz
"Jing Bi-rok" is directed by Kim Sang-hwi and Kim Yeong-jo, written by Jeong Hyung-soo and Jeong Ji-yeon and features Kim Sang-joong, Kim Tae-woo, Im Dong-jin, Kim Hye-eun, Lee Kwang-ki and Lee Kwang-ki.
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Jing Bi-rok" Episode 31"
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