Mon, Oct 13, 2003 - Page 16 News List

Korean filmsfind new lotof bad guys

For a new generation of South Korean filmmakers, it's Americans, not the communists, who are to be feared

By James Brooke  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA

Korean films like Joint Security Area, shown above, explore relationships between North and South Koreans.

PHOTO: NY TIMESN

The daughter of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, is pouting in the suite of a luxury hotel in Seoul. She has just learned that Daddy has arranged a marriage for her in Pyongyang to a boring old nuclear scientist.

Not for the Dear Leader's teenage princess! Donning a tight white blouse and a hot-red miniskirt, she eludes her amiable North Korean police chaperone, and runs away to a disco, where she shouts in English, "Let's party!"

All goes swimmingly in the movie Whistling Princess until the Americans, dressed in black, arrive at a rock concert. As the princess kisses a hunky Seoul rocker, with a unification ballad reaching a crescendo, the Americans blow up the place with hand grenades and rocket launchers. "I thought I took a creative stance, changing the Americans from good guys to bad guys," said Peter Lee, the filmmaker, in the office of his film company here. "Actually, I like the US. I visit the US two times a year."

Such is the world of South Korean cinema, which has seemingly embraced the government's Sunshine Policy, started in 2000 to extend an open hand to North Korea. No longer are North Koreans portrayed as devils; that role now belongs to the Americans.

These new films are popular among young adults, feeding their anti-American politics. Last December, when Whistling Princess was released, Gallup Korea, a polling firm, found that 75 percent of South Koreans in their 20s had a negative view of the US, compared with only 26 percent of Koreans over 50, the generation that lived through the Korean War.

"From those movies, we can sense that North Korea is no longer a competitor or enemy," said Park Sae-na, a 23-year-old textbook researcher. "When we were young, we got a lot of anti-Communist education. However, we are turning toward reconciliation mood."

In fact, for the last three years, South Koreans have seen a number of sympathetic films about the North: Shiri, a romance between a North Korean agent and a South Korean security agent; Double Agent, a love story about two North Korean moles in South Korea; Spy, about a hapless North Korean agent who falls in love with a South Korean art student; and South Korean Man and North Korean Woman, a comedy about a playboy who tries to seduce the daughter of high-ranking North Korean officer.

In the most acclaimed film, Joint Security Area, soldiers from North and South fraternize across the Demilitarized Zone, playing cards and drinking. Six million South Koreans -- or 20 percent of the country's adults -- saw the movie in theaters. And it was shown nationally on TV on July 27, the 50th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War.

"I wanted to say North Koreans are the same human beings as South Koreans, we should see North Koreans as brothers," said Park Chan-wook, the 43-year-old director of the movie, which has won virtually every South Korean film award. "I didn't have any intention to make a movie which repeated those anti-Communist themes of my school years."

While older South Koreans have denounced the movie as naive and unrealistic, the film has had an enormous impact on current attitudes. Last spring, during joint military maneuvers near the border, several American soldiers complained that their English-speaking South Korean liaison soldiers said they would not fire on their Northern "brothers."

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