I don't have any particular interest in architecture, and have never really understood why it's considered one of the go-to career choices for smart, interesting people. And "Talking Architect, City:Hall" did very little to inform me on that question. There's some interesting discussion regarding aesthetic design, and a neat sequence at the end where we finally get to see what architectural design actually means in the context of people visiting the building, but for the most part the complex architectural stuff flew right over my head.
For what it's worth, this documentary is not exclusively about architecture. A lot of it is wrapped up in politics as well. The project to give Seoul a new, more modern city hall was spearheaded to help improve Korea's international reputation as a forward-looking country able to do fancy new things. The logic of this was difficult for me to grasp- again, if I knew something about architecture, maybe I'd understand why this was all so important, but after watching this documentary it was still a mystery to me why the international community would care about what kind of building Seoul is using for its city hall.
While "Talking Architect, City:Hall" doesn't explain any of this, it does contain a copious amount of explanation and contextualizing about other people who appear to be about as confused as to this project's existence as I was. The project took far longer than expected and went over its allotted budget, too. Nobody seemed to like the building's design, either, even though a reasonable effort seems to have been made that a decent design from a Korean architect would be chosen.
I suspect that the material in this film would have made a lot more sense to me if I knew more about the politics involved. Construction projects and the changing nature of the Korean landscape are a big thing in Korean film these days. Random places being under no construction for no apparent reason is a frequent motif in many Korean films, often tied to a sense of uncertainty and ambivalence about the future.
The story of Seoul's new city hall project certainly does a lot to frame these metaphorical issues in the real world. While the documentary does little to contextualize this information in a useful, interesting way, the fact that all of this stuff happens for no apparent reason may itself be the point. To a common populace that really doesn't care about architecture or impressing random people from other countries, it's difficult to justify building a new, large, modern, expensive city hall when the old one is doing fine on its own.
Personally, I'd like to see more traditional Korean architecture- but my pipe dreams aren't the ones that get to decide what gets done in Seoul. As far as "Talking Architect, City:Hall" goes, there's really not enough material here to justify watching for the uneducated viewer who wants to learn more about Seoul's architectural politics. For someone who has at least some basic knowledge of the attitudes involved and wants to probe a real-life example for direct political commentary, this is more likely to be a documentary worth watching.
Review by William Schwartz
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 Film Review] "Talking Architect, City:Hall""
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