April 21, 2012

The Old Garden: Incompatible Politics

I'm trying to remember if I've ever seen a Korean movie that left me feeling as shut out as this one simply because I hadn't read Korean history, outside of Pearl S. Buck's novel The Living Reed, and Cullen Thomas's Brother One Cell, an expat prison memoir. That said, I do remember seeing The President's Last Bang, Im Sang-soo's cinematic retelling of the assassination of President Park Chung-hee (brilliant) and at least three movies about the courtesan Chunhyang (all good) without feeling gravely uninformed. But The Old Garden -- also by Im -- left me out in the cold.

I eventually figured out that this movie has to do with a bloody student uprising and a fascist president but Im's film spends a lot of time referring to political upheavals, not depicting them. That means, you hear about the psychic damage but generally don't see what caused it. By the time the brutal conflict between students and cops hits the screen, it just feels like another generation's daily news report. Even when one character self-immolates herself, The Old Garden feels pretty tame somehow. Listen as the students softly sing a few verses of "We Shall Overcome" and try not to get bored.

Furthermore, The Old Garden suffers from a narrative that mines its conflict from the inability of one woman (Yum Jung-ah) to understand the sacrifices her radical lover (Ji Jin-hee) is making for the cause. "I hide you, put you up and feed you, and even let you fuck me. Why would you leave?" Clearly, either he hasn't been educating her on the necessity of the movement or she hasn't been listening.

It might also be that he's a secret masochist. Maybe he doesn't really have to turn himself in and get tortured by wearing a leather mask that won't let him spit properly. Maybe he could've gone with her and shacked up in the mountains, hiding from authorities, and making babies. Maybe governments naturally go through dictatorial and democratic phases and it's silly of any of us to think we can change, prevent or overthrow any regime. I'd call that a hopeless viewpoint. But don't be sad. These characters are sad enough without you joining them. They cry when they eat black noodles. They cry when they hug goodbye. They cry when they get thrown in the hole. (The extended sobbing during an on-screen blackout for that last part proved a bit much for my taste.)

1 comment:

  1. Hi, can someone tell me if and when "The Living Reed" 1996, will ever be released?
    Thank you, Ken yesbeaver@aol.com