Thursday, July 26, 2007

May 18th or HWARYEOHAN HYUGA (or "Splendid Vacation"), it was the code name the military had for their operations in Gwangju in 1980.

Opened in Korea: 25 July 2007.

How I saw it. CGV

Plot. The story of events leading up to the 1980 Gwangju incident in South Korea.

As I write a review, I try never to bring any of the past hang-ups that I have and try and judge each film. For the most, I can do it. In this case. I can not. A while back one comment asked me why I stated in a preview what i think and what I believe and how the past has make me think and react the way I do. I think that, you the reader, deserve my honest opinion and need to see the bag that I brought with me when I saw this film.

It was 1991 and I was stationed in Camp Carroll, (Waegwan South Korea) and the First Gulf War, had just ended. A friend of mine was going to spend the weekend at one of our Katusa's hometown. (Korean Assigned To US Army)He was really looking forward to it. When he came back it was a different story all together.

To me, my friend just looked very different. I went and asked him, WTF happened? He told me about how all of the town just hated him and they were chased back to his parents place and how they were yelling at him. I then asked what city he went to, he said "Kwangju" (The unit knew that I was a history major) so he asked me WTF about Kwangju (Gwangju). I explained to him about what had happened and how a lot of people blame the USA for letting that happen. He understood it. Then his KATUSA friend came over, and I went off on him! I yelled WTF? Are you trying to get him killed, you know damn well he nor any US Army can go their, WTF were you thinking. It had never dawned on him that his friend could have gotten into serious trouble. We talked about what had happened and he told me that he had lost a few of his family and how they always thought that there was a mass grave with over 10,000 people buried there. We never talked about that weekend for the rest of the time that I was stationed in Korea.

It left a very bad taste in my mouth and to be honest, to this day, I refuse to ever visit Kwangju again. I had a short stay at Camp Ames (near Kwangju) but I did not react with anyone who lived in that city.

I knew that I was coming back to Korea in early 2005 to work in Korea as a teacher, so i decided to touch up with my studies of Korean History. When I revisited my studies of this subject. I flat out could not believe WTF I was reading.

(Now readers, please remember something. This is version 1 of this review. I have asked and hope that a few people, who are more aware of all of the story for help n editing, so this review may change a few time for historical accuracy.)

Now lets talk about the background of the film.

A huge red flag came up when No USA INVOLVEMENT article came out.

What I would like to point out are these various comments.

Here’s what Wicham said in his book “Korea on the Brink” (2000):

Neither Bill Gleysteen nor I knew that the Special Forces brigades had been ordered into Kwangju on May 18. We did know, however, that the ROK 20th and 30th Infantry Divisions, both of which had special training for riot control duty, were being withdrawn by Defense Minister Chu from CFC Operational Control. My permission to withdraw these units was neither sought nor required under the terms of the CFC Agreement. Rhu told me that some units from the 20th Division were being dispatched by ROK authorities to the Kwangju area, but that the 20th Division’s troops had not yet been involved in suppressing the riots.

and this......

Gleysteen’s “Massive Entanglement, Marginal Influence”. Here’s what he has to say on the topic at hand in a nutshell:

The basic source of controversy about the U.S. role in Kwangju was the widespread public assumption that General Wickham in his capacity as head of the Combined Forces Command must have known about the deployment of Korean army troops in the Kwangju region and approved their role. In fact, none of the Korean forces involved in the mayhem on May 18-21 were under Wickham’s operational control. Nor did he or I have any knowledge of what those forces would be ordered to do.



I think it was Lee Jae-Eui’s accounts of the situation in Kwangju that I found the most difficult to digest.

Most Koreans, except older conservative ones, want you to believe Kwangju was a shining example of resistance to dictatorship by heroic advocates of freedom and democracy —- basically a boomerang interpretation from the “bunch of commie bastards” one the authoritarian government sold after the massacre.

Outsiders, especially foreign reporters, influenced by the global times in which Kwangju 1980 happened, the same people who championed “democratic” uprisings in South and Central American nations and Africa when “socialism” was still deemed a viable alternative to the ills of liberal capitalistic democracy, have also wanted to paint a best or better picture of the protest leaders and members in Kwangju.

But, from bits and pieces I have caught here and there, I can’t swallow this interpretation well.

I can’t bring myself to saying Kwangju was Korea’s Tiananmen.

And what bothers me is that there is a concept worth saving that gets destroyed if we make Kwangju Korea’s Tiananmen:

It is hard enough for mankind to follow the wisdom of Gandhi.

If we dilute it by applying it to situations like Kwangju, it becomes even harder.

Non-violent resistance to oppression — rather than turning to violence and bloodshed - even when right is on your side — even when excessive violence is being used by the authorities against your movement —- is something to be praised and it has been proven to make progress in places like India or the US or the former Soviet Union and so on.

I’m still conflicted about Kwangju 1980 — because I can accept the use of violence by citizens against an oppressive government. I don’t rule out that means altogether.

And I can’t say one way or another if Korea 1980 was a place and setting in which I would have accepted the use of violence or not…..

But I know which I prefer greatly —- the use of non-violence.

And it dawned on me today

didn’t Kim Dae Jung fight hard for democracy in Korea for decades — effectively push the government (though ultimate success to a long time) —- without preaching the need for violent resistance or a violent defense against oppression?

That is praise worthy….

I’m not too sure at all the leaders in Kwangju 1980 deserve such praise or the same level of praise…..


No, sticking it to leftist students is not the only reason. ‘Kwangju Satae,’ has been used in the Western academic community for decades, and I seen no need to conform to South Korean revisionism, especially in the case of a mob mentality ‘incident’ now, in my opinion, inappropriately romanticized. If people get upset for having a spade called a spade, oh well.

As I said, I used that terminology in Kwangju with absolutely no problem. The only odd looks I got were a bit of astonishment from locals when I understood what they were talking about.

NoW for those who have no idea what happened that day may I please now direct you to this web site HERE!

Now lets talk about the USA-Korea military alliance. Short Version.

1. If South Korea is attacked by a foreign power, the USA will defend South Korea.

2. If it is an internal problem, then South Korea will deal with it in a manner that they seem fit.

To be honest, I have always felt that if South Korea wants to blame anyone for what happened in Kwangji, all they need to is to look in the mirror for the answer.

Korea pop war review Mark has some great information about the movie and some interesting photos.

Now for the review.

I have to ask a question, if this incident is so important in Korean History, then why was it treated with too many fictional people and the main hero/villain was a person of fiction.

from csm

In the film, the rebels, led by a fictitious former colonel, revel in defiance and mayhem. Troops fire point-blank into a boisterous crowd – minutes of carnage that didn't happen that way. "Too much dramatization", says Chi. The director, Kim Ji-hoon, he says, "may have overdone it".

Mr. Kim says the film shows the rebels "not as terrorists but as people who wanted to defend their country". Yes, they "were fiction", he says, "but I tried to venerate them so the 10 days of revolt were as close to the facts as possible".

The truth was terrible enough to deserve an accurate retelling, says Chi, sounding like critics of Oliver Stone's "Platoon", about Vietnam.

"The people of Kwangju will be embarrassed by so much divergence", he says. Other Koreans "will think it's what happened, and the younger generation may have a wrong understanding of history".

The film took the very simple approach that soldiers were evil killing machines and the people were just in the wrong place in the wrong time. For a film that claims to try and show all sides of this incident, to leave out the voices of the soldiers was a damn disgrace.

I was hopping that the film would at least attempt to be a t least a good piece of propaganda, it was not even that. The film was cut very badly and at times I had no idea why the next shot was even added, it was a mess to watch with no real timing and pace, it all seemed very rushed.

I have no idea why they insisted that it was 1980 but actor Lee Joon-ki looked like he had just left a 2007 Korean dance party. I never believed him in the high school student role.

Another major problem I had was the stupid love story between Min-wu (Kim Sang-kyeong) and female nurse Sin-ae (Lee Yo-won). Why do movies insist on calling it history but give us these stupid and tired love stories that take away from the historical importance OF the actual events as they went down?

The only good thing about the film was that the film did talk about the US, it did not blame the US for the incident happening.

To make a very long story short, the film ends with Min-wu and Sin-ae getting married, but its a wedding in Sin-ae mind. The wedding will never happen because he is dead and so is most of the wedding party. I could not believe that they ended the film like a modern Korean Music Video. What a huge waste of the crew, and the Director.

In trying to tell a story of a major event in Korean history, the director, Kim Ji-hoon, blows in and had the audience treating the actors who died as heroes and forgetting about the real cost of those days.

Please pass on this film at all cost.

Grade. F

1 comment:

eric said...

where is the spoiler warning?!?