January 31, 2009

Volunteer: Short on Gold and Silver? Go for Army Brass

Among the world's universal truths is this: If you're poor and your dad's dead and your mom and sister are financially dependent on you, and your girlfriend just weighs you down with all her self-deprecation, and the family's status has been demoted by the landowner whose property you work, and you're young and energetic and looking for a new life, a new opportunity, you can always join the army. It's true today; it was true in the early 1940s when Ahn Seok-young's Volunteer was made. But even as a large group of joyous kids play at being soldiers midway through the movie, no one thinks a military life is going to translate to the same level of fun. Furthermore, since the army in this case is actually a branch of the occupying Japanese forces, an enlistee won't even get those warm, fuzzy feelings of patriotism that could help him through a cold night sleeping on a cot or an early morning simulating battles. The best he can look forward to may be a comfort kit and a sincere letter from his sister. As a propaganda film, Volunteer should be praised for its ability to sell the message of its oppressor in a way that doesn't encourage you to buy.

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