August 13, 2012

A Little Pond: The Big Picture for the Little Fish

In a generation, most of us will be forgotten. In another generation, most of the rest of us will be forgotten, too. There's a hierarchy to history and the little people (i.e., you and me) aren't destined for the annals of time. At most, we'll get a headstone that'll act as a backrest for a picnicker in 100 years. If we're really lucky, maybe this movie by writer-director Lee Sang-woo will stick around to tell our story too.

His war movie, A Little Pond, focuses almost exclusively on barely individuated civilians, who find themselves in the middle of a battlefield through no fault of their own. When we meet the villagers they're living a life of no consequence. Suddenly, they're commanded to desert their hometown Nogunri. Then they're commanded to evacuate their hiding place up the mountain. Nothing they do will save them though. Neither their needs nor their lives are important to their so-called protectors who order them around in English, a language they don't understand.

That language barrier actually explains too why the American soldiers are initially so paranoid of them. Unable to get instructions followed quickly, the soldiers perceive any reluctance or misunderstanding as possible subterfuge and resistance. The tension between the two cultures is inevitable and when the battle inevitably begins, the villagers find themselves dodging bullets and bombs which take some of them out indiscriminately. Stay behind to help someone and you're doomed. Run ahead and your chances to survive are slim.

Accidental deaths, sadly, are succeeded by intentional ones. This is war and mass slaughter is the order of the day. The American saviors become the American butchers as the helpless and unarmed hiding beneath a bridge leading nowhere are shot down one by one as what must be some sick form of damage control. There's a great moment near the end where a juvenile soldier for the Korean Communists asks if there are any survivors, and a young boy his age stands to face him. The safety of neutrality has always been a myth!

Tearjerker reunions cap this war pic for the people, a film that has plenty of schmaltzy moments throughout. But "life as a sentimental mess" is a valid point of view and what's a Korean movie without magic butterflies.

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