Thoughtful Korean documentary films arouse empathy this fall

Asia's Tech News Daily

Thoughtful Korean documentary films arouse empathy this fall

A poster for the documentary film, “Burning Flower” / Courtesy of Triple Pictures

By Kwak Yeon-soo

While interest in Korean films is somewhat on the wane due to the arrival of Hollywood blockbusters such as “No Time to Die,” “Venom 2” and “Dune,” as well as Marvel’s upcoming “Eternals,” domestic documentaries are aiming to fill the void when they hit cinemas.

Two domestic films, “Voice” and “Miracle,” opened more a month ago and are currently screening in theaters, giving audiences the chance to choose, but they aren’t doing so well at the box office.

Meanwhile, a handful of documentaries are getting substantial attention for showing how others live and stimulating our sense of empathy.

Director Won Ho-yeon’s “Burning Flower,” which won the Audience Award at this year’s DMZ International Film Festival, centers on the life of illiterate rural resident, Lim Seon-nyeo, 68, who has never left her mountain village in Samcheok, Gangwon Province.

After her husband dies, Seon-nyeo decides to learn to read and write and build a new house for herself.

“This film is about a person attempting to restart her life and immerse herself in the present. I think empathy is part of the charm of documentaries. They encourage us to reflect on our own lives and notions by looking into the lives of others,” director Won said.

Thoughtful Korean documentary films arouse empathy this fall

Gyeonggi Intangible Cultural Asset No. 30 Akgijang Lim Seon-bin in a scene from the documentary, “The Birth of Resonance” / Courtesy of Cine Sopa

Director Lee Jeong-jun’s “The Birth of Resonance” revolves around Lim Seon-bin, Gyeonggi Intangible Cultural Asset No. 30, a master craftsman of musical instruments, or “Akgijang.” He has made drums all his life, but one day he realizes that his hearing loss is worsening. With the help of Dong-guk, his son and successor, Lim starts making a big drum, or “buk” in Korean, with timber he has kept for 20 years.

The craftsman’s drum was played at the 2018 Winter Paralympics opening ceremony.

Director Park Bae-il’s documentary, “Sasang: The Town on Sand,” delves into myriad corners of Korea’s highly stratified socioeconomic classes. The director critically examines the dehumanization inflicted by capitalism and follows the lives of people who were forced to leave their homes due to owner-driven urban redevelopment.

Apart from documentaries about ordinary people, there are others that unearth hidden stories behind prominent figures, including a late politician and a renowned TV personality.

Director Min Hwan-ki, known for his other documentaries, such as “Jeju Note” (2018), zooms into the life story of the late Roh Hoe-chan, a three-term lawmaker who led the progressive Justice Party but whose political career was tainted by a bribery scandal.

Directed by the award-winning Jero Yun, “Song Hae 1927” offers a glimpse into the extraordinary life of a 93-year-old television host and his sources of private grief: having been separated from his family by the 1950-53 Korean War and his son having been killed in a traffic accident at the age of 23.

Song, who attended the film’s world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival, said that his final wish is to host his signature show, “National Singing Contest” in his hometown, Chaeryong County in South Hwanghae Province, North Korea. The documentary will come out on Nov. 18.

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