Ironically enough, the day after I post my review of Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, GreenCine links to BFI’s outstanding article on the violence in Korean cinema, highlighting some of the most recent Korean films to gain notoriety as well as delivering a history lesson of sorts on Korean society and its impact on Korean cinema:
Korean movies do play rougher than we’re used to, but what Park Chan-wook and Kim Ki-duk’s recent films represent is only the latest collision between Korean cinema’s class-consciousness, anti-authoritarian impulses and a long-standing taste for melodrama.
Korea’s 20th century has been one trauma after another: colonisation by Japan, World War II, the Korean War, partition, military rule, presidential assassination, the violent suppression of civil disobedience… By the time the country stabilised in the 1990s and film-makers were freed from excessive censorship no one had anything nice to say about authority. Anyone with power was viewed with suspicion — cops were corrupt, politicians compromised — and so cinema turned to the one class of citizens who could make believable heroes: criminals.
Author Grady Hendrix highlights some of the things that I personally found flawed about A Bittersweet Life and Sympathy For Lady Vengeance, and it’s an illuminating read. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really salvage the films for me personally.
Oh, and Hendrix gets bonus points for mentioning Save the Green Planet.
P.S… there’s more good Korean-related stuff in this GreenCine entry.