Wednesday 30 August 2017

From the archives - Barrie Pattison retrieves Kim Ji-hoon's Gwangju massacre drama MAY 18 (South Korea, 2007)

With A Taxi Driver running in the multiplexes, I dug out my coverage of Hwaryeohan hyuga/May 18 which also covered the Gwangju Massacre and and showed here to Koreans ten years back. I was sufficiently impressed then to want to put it into the Chauvel Cinematheque but that didn't happen. Notice the protagonist in the earlier film is also a cab driver and incidents occur in both films.

While the attempted South Korean Military Coup of 1980 doesn’t register outside, the nationals with whom I watched watched this film were reduced to tears.Some simple-minded framing stories kick things off. It focuses on some cab drivers, one of whom is looking after his student brother and hankers after a winsome nurse, while one gets into a punch up with-the drunk who brings doggie do into his vehicle. The cheery Catholic priest organising picnic games, is prominent.However the street action, confrontation between troops and the mob is as imposing as anything in Nicolaichirke, Potemkin or Medium Cool. Soldiers baton charge students,  Ranks open to show the armed troops behind. One of the brother’s class mates is killed.
Student demo, May 18

In the set piece, believing that the soldiers will withdraw at noon, as arranged, the
Gwangju agitators jeer at the military, till the National Anthem plays with both groups paying respect, only to have the army open fire. Shock on shock - a girl is wounded in the legs and starts to drag herself only to be shot dead on the road, the hero’s brother is cut down in front of him. A doctor, outraged that all the people brought in are already dead, decides to take an ambulance to the scene and only the nurse will help him. He too is gunned down for helping wounded demonstrators.

The impetus carries for a while, with the hero, among those stripped and piled into trucks, taking out the guard and jumping off the river bridge with bullets smashing round him as he runs and shelters in the yard of the blind woman, waiting for her son. A soldier, swinging his baton, takes off after the nurse and, in the fight with our hero, pulls a vicious looking knife, only to be shot from behind by her. Lee, the mature ex-officer outraged, organises the raid on the arms dump and there’s the stirring cut to him operating the medium-sized machine gun against the trucks. They have had it all their own way to that point.

The teacher who stood in front of the gates forbidding the students to join in now spreads cream to protect their eyes. The lead sends the military a case of TNT to warn that they will detonate Gwangju City Hall if they attack. 

Things spiral down, with the nurse proving to be the ex-soldier’s daughter and much deciding who will die defending the City Hall, knowing that the military will strike before the Americans roll in to stabilise things. There are still telling scenes, like the wives begging their husbands to come home to their children before they die.

Pity about the weak ending, though the leads’ wedding with all the now dead characters smiling is a nice touch.

Good Korean ‘scope and colour filming.

Hwa-ryeo-han-hyoo-ga / Hwaryeohan hyuga/ May 18 
Directed by Ji-hoon Kim     
Script Hyeon Na, Sang-yeon Park         
Produced by In-taek Yoo
Original Music by Sung-hyun Kim
Yong-gi Lee    ....     colorist
120 min.  CJ Entertainment, Keyweckshifde Pictures, South Korea 2007

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