The story in "Jing Bi-rok" is quickly catching up with the more well-known parts of history. King Seonjo hasn't quite completely destroyed the backbone of the Korean military just yet, but he's working on it. It's sad watching Seong-ryong do his best to try and move the political edge of the story back into coherent sensible territory, knowing that he's doomed to fail. In this way King Seonjo is something of a tragic figure, too heavily mired in his own paranoia to realize that the purges have gone too far and are only making Korea more vulnerable.
Hilariously, the Japanese have caught on to this. It's funny because they're absolutely gleeful about the way political forces appear to have aligned to once again make invasion a realistic plausibility. But pretty much nothing about this situation has anything to do with the Japanese. While their invasion was what provoked the purges in the first place, they could hardly have predicted that it would lead King Seonjo to make terrible national security decisions.
It's another history lesson that goes well beyond the scope of the Japanese invasion of Korea. Pretty much any time you hear someone claim a military conflict has "turned the corner", what they actually mean is that circumstantial factors have (most likely temporarily) changed in the favor of whoever wants the war to continue. Remember the Surge, and how that was supposed to resolve the Iraq problem once and for all? The Japanese "strategy" here is fundamentally identical in that it doesn't address the root reasons why the first invasion failed.
That remains the most interesting aspect of "Jing Bi-rok"- that it's less a story about heroes as it is about the people who screwed up. On the fundamental level "Jing Bi-rok" is a much more honest anti-war story than most traditionally artistic films in that genre. Usually such pictures, especially American ones, tend to obscure the actual reasons why the war is taking place to instead offer empty praise of heroes in uniform.
By the time we get to the cliffhanger, it becomes very clear that in the right/wrong political environment, what a soldier actually does isn't anywhere near as important as whether or not he's following them in the correct way that best pleases his superiors. Even if we know the Japanese are going down for a fall, it's hard to ignore the irony of the fact that their terrible ideas are given infinite free reign because the guy running the show happens to be optimistic about the proposed outcomes.
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 email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Jing Bi-rok" Episode 46"
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