April 9, 2011

The Coast Guard: Making an Anti-War Statement That Makes No Sense

You can always count on a little bit of crazy in a Kim Ki-duk film. Here in The Coast Guard, you get a double dose via PFC Kang (a somewhat embarrassing Jang Dong-gun) and civilian local girl Mi-Yeong (an ultimately disappointing Park Ji-a), who are practically in a competition to see who can out-kook the other: He's irrationally obsessed with killing a North Korean spy; she's drunkenly reckless about getting banged by her boyfriend Young-gil across the forbidden border. And that's when they're at their most sensible! Once they both get what they want -- in a twisted way, naturally -- as Kang shoots her lover in a fatal instance of coitus interruptus, the two officially go off the deep end. He keeps thinking that he's still in the army although he's been discharged for being mentally unfit. She starts having sex with any man in a uniform, none of whom mind a bit that she's freakily damaged goods. Aside from his former comrade (Kim Jeong-hak) and her loyal brother (Yu Hae-jin), no one appears overly sympathetic towards their descents into madness. Insanity is tedious. Best to steer clear in case derangement is contagious!

And if you think that it can't get any worse, you don't know director Kim. Kang's inevitably bound for the nuthouse then escapes to go on a killing spree; Mi-Yeong's destined for an involuntary abortion without anesthesia. You may classify The Coast Guard as an anti-war movie if you wish but it's really so out there that it's not really anti-war at all. The more you consider the horrors, the more you realize that none of them would've happened if she hadn't lured her lover into a war zone and he hadn't been so dead set on being a hero. War isn't crazy. Unstable people near or on military bases are. No one -- whether they're pro-war or pro-peace or anti-war or anti-military-establishment -- is likely to change their stance after seeing The Coast Guard. They might not agree that shin-kicking, face-slapping and rolling around in the mud are the best ways to restore order among the ranks but they'll probably not have a strong opinion as to what to do instead. Marching and soccer are great ways of team building. Putting on war paint and looking at the ocean through night goggles are two soldierly activities that have lost none of their cool.

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