February 2, 2009

Military Train: Getting on the Right Track for the Great Hereafter

History can have a fascinating effect on interpretation. Take a look at Military Train for instance. When it came out in 1938, a moviegoer might have considered Seo Kwang-je's bit of agitprop to be the story of an engineer whose obsession with a comfort woman drives him to commit a traitorous act that leaves him so wracked with guilt that he throws himself under a locomotive and thereby becomes the patron saint of the rails. Viewed today, you might see this same scenario very differently. Maybe he's a noble proletariat whose love for a helpless prostitute inspires him to a revolutionary act against the oppressive regime until a boomeranging self-doubt sends him over the brink into madness. Personally, I don't know if Military Train fits neatly into either analysis since it's lovelorn lead registers primarily as a superficial naif with a good haircut and a charming smile. He doesn't seem good when he's rescuing the maiden, when he's breaking the law, or when he's taking his own life. His pudgy buddy has a much clearer sense of right and wrong and a less drastic approach towards love. His attitude with his girlfriend is basically, it's nice to have someone like you. He's right about that.

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