국제시장 (Ode to My Father)

국제시장 (Ode to My Father)

A JK Film/CJ E&M Production
Distribution: CJ E&M
Rating: 12 and Over
Genre: Human Drama
Running Time: 126 Min
Shooting Time: 2013/Aug/14~Dec/25 (80 Dates)
Release: 2014/Dec/17

WITH 황정민 (Hwang Jung-Min) as Deok-Soo; 김윤진 (Kim Yoon-Jin) as Young-Ja; 오달수 (Oh Dal-Soo) as Dal-Gu; 정진영 (Jung In-Young) as Deok-Soo's Father; 장영남 (Jang Young-Nam) as Deok-Soo's Mother; 라미란 (Ra Mi-Ran) as Deok-Soo's Aunt; 김슬기 (Kim Seul-Gi) as Ggeut-Soon; 이현 (Lee Hyeon) as Seung-Goo; 김민재 (Kim Min-Jae) as Yoon Do-Joo; 태인호 (Tae In-Ho) as Yoon Gi-Joo; 

CREW Director 윤제균 (Yoon Je-Gyun) Executive Producer 윤제균 (Yoon Je-Gyun) | Screenplay 박수진 (Park Soo-Jin) Adaptation 윤제균 (Yoon Je-Gyun) | Director of Photography 최영환 (Choi Young-Hwan) Lighting 김호성 (Kim Ho-Seong) Editor 이진 (Lee Jin) Music 이병우 (Lee Byung-Woo) Art Direction 류성희 (Ryu Seong-Hee) Costumes 권유진 (Kwon Yoo-Jin) 임승희 (Im Seung-Hee) Action Choreography 최동현 (Choi Dong-Hyeon)

KOFIC Nationwide
TOTAL REVENUE: 110,902,664,930 Won
BUDGET: 18,000,000,000 Won

Photo ⓒ JK Film/CJ E&M


Amid the chaos of refugees fleeing the Korean War in December 1950, a young boy, Duk-soo, sees his fate change in the blink of an eye when he loses track of his younger sister and he leaves his father behind to find her. Settling in Busan, Duk-soo devotes himself to his remaining family, working all manner of odd jobs to support them in place of his father. His dedication leads him first to the deadly coal mines of Germany, where he meets his first love, Youngja, and then to war-torn Vietnam in this generational epic about one man’s personal sacrifices. [KoBiz]


If having the honour (?) of being the only director with two 10 million ticket selling films to his credit wasn't enough to prove that Yoon Je-Gyun is a shrewd, clever businessman, the way he handled the controversy that quickly emerged after the release of his latest blockbuster bonanza is quite the prime example. Much in the same way other directors rose to fame in decades prior (Kang Woo-Suk and Kang Je-Gyu in the 1990s, Shim Hyung-Rae in the 2000s), Yoon has mastered the rules of the game, first and foremost opportunism. Back in 2007, Shim Hyung-Rae took a tacky mix of overblown special effects and tragicomically overwrought clichés and turned them into a veritable national obsession – simply by riding the wave of national pride and scorn against the criticism that limited its expansion that found resonance in the (mostly younger) public. Shim was smart to make occasional critic and TV personality Jin Joong-Kwon the flagbearer of the “annoying eggheads” who dared to contend the fact that 디워 (D-War) might not have been the epochal achievement it was lauded as, forever inking what's little more than a straight-to-video-worthy sensory overload into the pages of Korean film history.

Yoon is being even subtler this time; he's not even mentioning the politics, but essentially repeating the International title of the film: “It was just an ode to my father, and all the fathers from his generation.” Enter the magic keyword needed to open an ordinary potboiler that would have done reasonably well on its own merit to record-breaking numbers, riding the same wave of nostalgic guilt that Seoul's “pragmatic city slickers” feel whenever their glorious past of sacrifices is brought to light once again. Some critics and bloggers incautiously began wondering why the film conveniently averts any (and all) criticism of the period it portrayed, particularly when it comes to the democratization process – a bit of a contextual blunder, as that movement didn't involve Deok-Soo's peers as much as what would be later known as the 386 generation, more or less people Yoon's age. And then the diatribe about the film caught fire (drenching the Korean net with anachronistic McCarthyism and outrageous strawman tirades), much more so than the film itself; it turned it into something you needed to discuss, and that would obviously require watching the film. Because you can talk about trends and currents, development and regression in Chungmuro all you want; but for the average Korean, films are still nothing more than a catalyst for social participation – just like TV dramas and variety shows.

I'm not going to bother making a political argument – it's no secret where Yoon stands in ideological terms, so I can't fathom why people would expect from him the kind of satire and historical consciousness you'd be more likely to see in something by Im Sang-Soo or Bong Joon-Ho. What's curious to me at this point is not so much evaluating the film in a sort of contextual vacuum where none of the arguments for and against it can make an impact; it's more of a sense of awe witnessing how slickly Yoon managed to push the audience's buttons while at the same time being as direct and manipulative as possible. If you take his supposedly poignant confession that the film is “an ode to all fathers of yesteryear” as Yoon's alibi for the total absence of character development, then you might even be inclined to believe that Deok-Soo acting as a sort of non-playing trait d'union that very loosely connects conveniently topical events (the Hungnam evacuation and the rush to Busan during the Korean War, the use of Korean technicians in the Vietnam War, the spectacle of separated families reuniting on live TV… Jesus, quite the eventful life!) is something that makes sense; that his indomitable resolve and strenuous sense of sacrifice is – here's that slogan again – an ode to all the fathers of that glorious generation who with its selfless efforts helped created the Korea of today. But then something ironic happens: this manifestly apolitical popcorn flick full of broad slapstick, fancy explosions and facile melodrama turns decidedly political – compassionately conservative, I'd call it.

You rob Deok-Soo and all the other bystanders (like his lost, and then dramatically found, sister) who contribute to the creation of the endless array of cinematic manipulation and shameless tearjerking littering the film of their individuality as characters, and suddenly their “ego”-less sacrifice in some way parallels the mantra that characterized Korea's postwar rebuilding and productive rush – the so-called Miracle on the Han. You do that, and suddenly it sounds like the worst red menace-tinted 1970s propaganda flick, when nothing overtly political would be featured, but everything else indirectly pointed to the only solution – sacrifices for the nation, sacrifices for the rebuilding effort, sacrifices for the next generations. Sacrifices, sacrifices, sacrifices. For a better future. For some, at least a good 1% of them, anyway.

Not that it bothered anyone at the box office, particularly when vertical integration made sure that the film would be shoved down the public's throat for far longer than they would have wanted at the expense of just about every other film, bandied about on every possible medium (often owned by the same people who made the film), and even heralded by (some… guess which) politicians as a proud example of how far this nation's cinematic output has come. That deep down this is a crassly derivative (a bit of Forrest Gump here, Good Morning Vietnam there, assorted clichés from other Korean period films, not to mention the copious amounts of illustrious “cameos” by people who would go on to become Korean icons, like Andre Kim and Hyundai chairman Jung Joo-Young), narratively haphazard pastiche that wastes the talent of well-meaning thespians like Hwang Jung-Min, Oh Dal-Soo and Kim Yoon-Jin, it matters to few people.

Because once you've mastered the art of opportunism, and understanding what it is that people want to talk about, what can stimulate their instincts and activate their “guilt sensors,” then even manipulative drivel like this becomes gold. It becomes topical, the bestseller event Yoon and the corporate Chungmuro he represents were looking for. The same old themes that shallowly animate an audience that loves to bask in nostalgia, despite having a dangerously (or to some people conveniently) short memory.



77 황정민 (Hwang Jung-Min)
72 오달수 (Oh Dal-Soo)
71 장영남 (Jang Young-Nam)
70 김윤진 (Kim Yoon-Jin)
70 정진영 (Jung In-Young)
68 라미란 (Ra Mi-Ran)
67 김슬기 (Kim Seul-Gi)
62 김민재 (Kim Min-Jae)
60 태인호 (Tae In-Ho)
60 이현 (Lee Hyeon)


~ Last Update: 2015/04/30