Saturday, November 29, 2008

WELCOME TO DONGMAKGOL (Park Kwang-hyun, 2005, South Korea) Nestled between hope and hopelessness, the tiny village of Dongmakgol welcomes the weary with open arms and a soft unfettered love. This imaginary haven is a prescient allegory for all of mankind; we argue, maim, and kill those who oppose our views instead of encountering one another as human beings. It’s easy to kill a uniform but difficult to murder your peer, and into this idealistic setting stumbles six soldiers lost during the Korean War: an American, two South Koreans, and three North Koreans. A sprightly young woman beckons them, ignoring the seriousness of their gunmetal threats, her lovely Cheshire smile leading them to their salvation. Hayao Miyazaki heavily influences the poetic lifeblood of this film and I could easily imagine this as one of his animated masterpieces! Director Park Kwang-hyun does not spare the cruel spectacle of war; the first battle scenes are shot with high-speed film, capturing the violent mutilations and gory entrails, the sickening by-product of shrapnel and high-caliber lead. Before the demoralized soldiers can become accustomed to this heavenly cache, they must first face each other and overcome their innate prejudices and racist attitudes, they must stop being enemies and see each other as individuals. The na├»ve villagers are caught in the middle of this explosive situation and are more concerned with their potato fields and harvesting their Winter stores. The protagonists finally learn to work together to survive, tired of the awful bloodletting of their civil war. In one analogous sequence, they must kill a monstrous wild boar and they each take part in saving the village…and each other. But it’s the Korean outsider who brings potential doom upon the village: the American is a pilot who was shot down, and the US forces are going to carpet-bomb the entire area to destroy the non-existent anti-aircraft guns. So all six soldiers decide to sacrifice themselves and create a diversion so the bombardment takes place miles away while the American races towards his airfield to inform them of their mistake. As the hellfire erupts around the five Korean soldiers they have finally saved innocent lives instead of being the cruel harbingers of death: in their last moments they have learned to live in peace…with each other, and themselves. (B+)

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