Cinematic Symbolism with Great Depth in Excellent Film by Ki
Kim Anehall | Chicago, IL USA | 07/01/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ki-duk Kim is in high form criticizing a small aspect of the South Korean society, the Coast Guard, and through a surrealistic approach he throws out everything on the table at once. Nothing is left untouched or too sacred not to be expressed in this film, as he brings the disturbing reality of the tension between the Coast Guard and the civil population in nearby village. Yet, Ki-duk Kim succeeds in turning it into a bizarre analogy of how the Koreans dealt and deal with national divides where the people are without ability to voice their desires on how to form a nation of their own and lack the ability to listen to one another. All of this is in the backdrop of real events that have taken place on the beaches of South Korea.
The Korean division illustrates the aftermath of the Cold War that led to the Korean war, a proxy war, which cost more than a total of four million dead in both civilians and military personnel from Korea, China, US, and other countries representing the United Nations. At the end of the war the boarder between North and South Korea was closed at the 38th Parallel and the coastline dressed with barbwire and bunkers to keep possible North Korean infiltrators and spies away. Nonetheless, North Korea attempted several times to enter South Korea through the coastline and 20 times they were either captured or killed. Thus, the South Korean Coast Guard is in constant alert for possible foreign intruders and ready to shoot anyone who approaches the coastlines after sunset in order to protect South Korea.
Ki-duk Kim opens with men in green pajama uniforms running, rolling, and performing headstands in the tide mud while awaiting further orders from the drill sergeants. This imagery provides an notion of how well they are trained to serve their country and to protect the coastline. One of the recruits, 1st Private Kang Sang-byeong (Dong-Kun Jang), takes his assignment very seriously. When he is ridiculed by some young locals rage raises within him when they make fun of what he holds in high respect. Kang even dares them to come to the coastline after dusk so he can shoot them.
Coincidently, two of the young locals that Kang threatened happen to sneak into the beach for a lovers rendezvous when he notices something moving and shoots. He kills the young man while the young woman, Mi-yeong (Ji-a Park), enters a frantic state of mind after having witnessed the death of her boyfriend. The consequences display a traumatized Kang who finds himself shunned by both the civilians and his military unit. It leaves him wandering in a no mans land between the civil population and the military. This could be interpreted as symbol for the the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Kang drifts further and further away from reality while trying find something to grab on to that means something to him. Meanwhile, Mi-yeong's post-traumatic stress reaches the heights of psychosis, as she begin to slowly mutilate her own persona in several ways. Maybe, Ki-duk Kim intended this to be an analogy for Korea and the bloody war between fellow Koreans that eventually divided the nation in North and South.
Coast Guard has much in common with Ki-duk Kim's other films such as Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (2003), The Isle (2000), and 3-Iron in regards to how he uses visual symbolism. It is easy to become absorbed in this film, as if viewing an action or drama. But underneath the surface the film is drenched in visual analogies that need to be decoded. For example, the scene where Mi-yeong hacks living fish with a cleaver could suggest her hatred for the military, as the fish have the symbol for prowess and fortitude, common characteristics for military people. Another theme common in his film is the use of water, which has symbolic links with life and birth. Perhaps the beginning could indicate some symbolic value to Kang and the other soldiers birth as Coast Guards when they struggle in the mud from the tide like fish splashing about. The entire film plunges into symbolism that can easily be missed if attention is not directed to the screen.
Altogether, Ki-duk Kim directs another remarkable film, which delivers disharmony through a bloody accident at the South Korean seaside. Conscious attention must be directed to his intentional symbolism, which elevates his film far above an average cinematic event. The camerawork is intriguing, but what truly makes this film special is how he frames each scene. It is clear that Ki-duk Kim has everything under control, as he lets the audience experience his inspiring tale that travels the border of insanity and sanity while symbolically dealing with the Korean past, present, and future."
To what degree do we serve our duties?
Mark It Zero | 02/22/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"(the one star review isn't even worth addressing any further than this: haha.)
what we have here is a breath taking look at one man's desire for respect, and the subsequent losing of his mind.
Ki-Duk Kim knows how to tell a story, no more needs to be said in that respect, and especially if said story is to be laced in melancholy and a slight feeling of bleakness.
it's not necessarily a claustrophobic film, but one does feel almost trapped on the beach where the vast majority of the film takes place.
as with any other Ki-Duk film everything is absolutely marvelous. from the acting, to the development, the pacing, and the imagery, it is all the mark of a master film maker who fully understands his craft.
the final image in the film left me utterly speechless."