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[HanCinema's Film Review] "GOGURYEO"

2017/10/21 | 366 views | Permalink

Kim Yong-ok is a professor at Hanshin University, although that rather understates the sheer power of his reputation as a historian. Kim Yong-ok did screenwriting work for "The General's Son" and "Chihwaseon" merely as a historical expert. In "GOGURYEO", Kim Yong-ok uses that expertise to narrate an extended study of the lands of the historical Goguryeo Kingdom, relating it as the true heart of the Korean people, before those hoity-toity southerners in Silla took over, and signed over most of Korean Manchuria to Chinese rule.

There's certainly a point to be made there about how an area not generally thought of as Korea does indeed appear to be Korean in every meaningful way. The people speak the Korean language, most obviously. But more than those kinds of superficial details, all the land Kim Yong-ok surveys, on foot, in tour groups, looks distinctively Korean. The intimidating mountains have Korean names. The burial mounds are all in the classical Korean style.

Even the name Korea actually derives from Goguryeo. Try saying Goguryeo fast in a slurred foreign accent, and there you go. That's where we get into the nationalistic undertones of "GOGURYEO"- for all the talk of Korea as being a hermit kingdom, Kim Yong-ok argues that Goguryeo was a critical cultural intersection between Russian, Mongolia, China, and Japan. Goguryeo could claim to be a world center in its own right. This is best demonstrated in the classical South-North oriented Gorguryeo map. We also see shades of this attitude even now with their trilingual signs.

So...why is there so little information about this internationally? That's because Kim Yong-ok's argument is, rather awkwardly, identical to the official version of classical history pushed by the North Korean government. North Korea, for that matter, is closer to Kim Yong-ok's categorization of the Korean national identity than South Korea is. We briefly see parts of North Korea from the Chinese side of the Yalu River, and that's the point Kim Yong-ok makes. These guys are all us! Why don't we know them better?

This perspective is peculiar to Kim Yong-ok's generation, who see Korea primarily in terms of its natural ambience and sparsely populated countrysides, not the larger cities more twenty-first century minded people are likely to associate with the country. And honestly, it's easy to see the appeal in his thinking. South Korea's general emphasis on Joseon being the true Korea has in many ways become a sick joke. Observe the Hell Joseon derogatory, with its implications on how bureaucracy minded "culture" is nothing to be proud of at all.

But you won't hear anything that cynical from Kim Yong-ok, who waxes on passionately and optimisitically about the ability of the Korean race to persevere, modern Goguryeo itself proof of their ability to stand the test of time. A pity the same can't be said for "GOGURYEO" technically. The visuals alternate between Kim Yong-ok passionately discoursing in his office, very simple computer graphics, and highlight reels from his trips into Goguryeo. Still, his perspective is, to my American vantage point at least, quite novel, and needs any platform it can get.

Review by William Schwartz

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