March 21, 2018

South Korea: Success at All Costs: No Critical Thinking

There's something irresponsible and upsetting about the hour-long documentary South Korea: Success at All Costs for while directors Barbara Necek and Aline Hoorpah definitely presents damning evidence about pet cloning, plastic surgery, long work hours, charlatan shamans, abandonment of the elderly, and staggering suicide rates (the highest in the world), all these facts are dropped amid an endless list of success stories that sabotaged in asides. What's the point of hearing that one young man has eyelid surgery in order to improve his chances of getting a good job then learning a few months later that he still doesn't have that job if you're going to end it with "It's just a matter of time before he gets it"? Why claim to get unique access to a factory town, a town in which every aspect is owned by the company — schools, apartments, stores — if your guide is a stooge employee speaking as if from a company script? How can you show clips of people jumping off a bridge (quite possibly to their deaths) as little more than interstitial content?

Is it that Nacek and Hoorpah had to get institutional sign-off so that they could use much of this footage? Are they intentionally subverting a propaganda film by striking one jarringly cheery tone then constantly sounding the note of discord? Is this cinematic sarcasm? Whatever these two are trying to do, it didn't work for me. South Korea: Success at All Costs is a missed opportunity to celebrate what South Korea is doing right, where they've gone wrong, and how the two overlap. Missing as well: any thoughtful examination of international cultural influencers like K-pop, K-drama, and Korean cinema. They would've been wise to dig deeper instead of simply presenting a mixed message, as if culling facts from warring pamphleteers. The additional choice to layer on a British-accented voice-over instead of simply adding subtitles to the Korean speakers was also a grave mistake, although likely not one made by the co-directors themselves.

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