November 15, 2009

White Badge: Survival Is Not Always a Reward

Americans know all about the Vietnam War. They also know something about the Korean one. Yet they probably know nothing about South Korea's role in the former, a participation that was both alongside U.S. troops and at their behest. And if Vietnam remains a haunting conflict in American consciousness, it also appears to have wreaked havoc on the Korean psyche as well. In his allegorical fright flick R-Point, director Kong Su-chang equates that war's terrors to supernatural horrors; in White Badge, Jeong Ji-yeong takes a much more naturalistic approach by exorcising those same demons in a grimly nostalgic memory piece. Grounded by a terrific performance by Ahn Sung-kee as a heavy drinking journalist reluctantly writing a novel about his experiences in Vietnam, White Badge neither shies away from the absurdities of the battlefield (the troops mistake a herd of water buffalo for the enemy) nor minimizes the psychic damage to the soldiers who survive. (Pfc. Pyon (Lee Kyeong-yeong) is a basket case unable to salvage his relationship with a prostitute who was his wartime pen pal.) Children as scavengers, bulletproof panties, the paparazzi of the frontlines... White Badge's imagery is so rich, it really does insist on repeated viewings.


  1. I'd also recommend anyone to check out the novel White Badge, by Ahn Junghyo, that this is based on. He did the great English translation himself, and I think you can get it for cheap off Amazon.