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[Herald Review] ‘Marching for our Beloved,’ important message, ineffective delivery

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Updated : May 13 2018

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May of 1980 marked one of the bloodiest and greatest moments in modern Korean history, as citizens of Gwangju rose against Chun Doo-hwan’s rule after his military coup the year before.

Thirty-eight years on, plays, movies, comic books and even songs have been made to commemorate the hundreds killed and many more scarred for life.

“Marching for our Beloved,” directed by Park Ki-bok, is among them.

“This is not the first film about the May 18 (Gwangju Democratization Movement), but I felt we have to keep talking about it because it is not an incident that we can be done with,” said Kim Kkot-bi, who plays the role of Hui-su, whose mother in the film suffers from mental issues after being shot in the head during the Gwangju uprising.

The film tells two stories in parallel; one is of Hui-su and Myeong-hui in 2018, and the other is of Myeong-hui and her boyfriend, Cheol-su, in 1980.

In 2018, Hui-su’s fiance leaves her after his family is appalled by the fact that Hui-su’s mother is -- as the infuriated parents put it -- “a commie.” Hui-su struggles with the weight from her mentally unstable mother -- played by Kim Bu-seon -- whose sanity hangs by a thread as she constantly returns to the moment soldiers held her by gunpoint.

In 1980, Myeong-hui persuades herself to join Cheol-su in his fight for justice and democracy.

The film touches on many prejudices still prevalent in the Korean society today against the movement and people of Gwangju, and the Jeolla provinces in general.

“Movies of the past (about the Gwangju movement) have been stories that have been confined to May of 1980. ‘Marching for our Beloved’ is about the history that continues even today,” said director Park, who was present in the city on May 18, 1980.

The film is both a tribute to the victims and cry that the tragedy should never be forgotten. It focuses on those today suffering in the aftermath of the events nearly four decades later.

Kim Bu-seon and Kim Kkot-bi’s acting brings out the emotional scars of those trampled under an ironfisted regime, and the superb acting of the two female leads wins the audience over.

Park’s choice to move back and forth between the past and present is effective in showing the ongoing issue.

While the message is heartfelt and commendable, the delivery is clunky. Its relevance notwithstanding, the film falls flat on its back.

The villains are clearly written just to be evil, like they’ve come straight from a cartoon. While torturing one of the good guys, police officers cackle and say “You are crawling just like a hungry wolf cub.”
Who talks like that?

A man in the shadows -- clearly representative of Chun -- smiles as he is debriefed about how the people of Gwangju, and team leaders in charge of propaganda, kidnapping and evil deeds actually shout out “Propaganda!” and “Kidnapping!” in a sort of a twisted roll call.

Compare the villains to those in last year’s historical drama about democratization, “1987: When the Day Comes.” The villains in that movie have a motive and background story that shows viewers why they act as they do. That doesn’t justify their actions, but it builds the characters. This is good storytelling: allowing the audience to see the faults of their way, rather than just telling them “they are evil.”

That was the biggest issue with the film: It is talking about a very real, very gritty tragedy, and yet it resorts to a simplified showdown between “good vs. evil.”

The message itself is relevant, but the movie made me feel like it was being shoved down my throat. It was most unfortunate because I think many people would have been ready to accept it, had it been told within the narrative of a good story,

“Marching for our Beloved” opens in local theaters on Wednesday.

(minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)

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