You Know What's Scarier, The Human Eye: Address Unknown (2001)

I am currently working on a project pertaining to conceptualizing feminist theory through the lens of New Korean Cinema, which means I will be consuming a larger than normal amount of Korean films as a preparation for the large amount of writing and critical theory involved, I will, hopefully, still incorporate other films within the upcoming month, but if it takes a noticeable shift towards South Korean films made in the past couple years, I apologize, although the film's I plan to chose will be somewhat diverse and probably good I could see it being a bit tiresome to a reader expecting a large amount of variety post by post.  With that being said, the initial film I will be mentioning is Address Unknown, a multifaceted period piece that considers the effects of the a westernized force on rural Korean identity during and after the controversial Korean war.  The director Kim Ki-duk has been mentioned before when I favorably reviewed 3-Iron, as well as The Isle , however, had I not done some research about the film I would never had made the attachment between the three films, because they are distinctly different visually and thematically.  If any connection can be made between the three films it certainly has to do with elements of memory, sexual power and intersectionality.  Address Unknown, leans in the favor f The Isle in some of its more violent scenes, yet possesses the poetic somberness of 3-Iron, suffice to say it currently resides as my new favorite film by the director, although as I now know he has directed a considerable amount of films and most of them have received considerable praise, while I know I am going to be considering quite a few works by Korean directors in the upcoming weeks, I would mention keeping an eye out for Kim Ki-duk, because I am intrigued to study him further as a filmmaker, both for the ways in which he creates filmic worlds, as well as the commentaries that occupy his films.

As mentioned, Address Unknown is a a period piece, although that statement is a bit misleading because the events are arguably transcendent of time, as some of the characters styles and commentaries  clearly exist within the contemporary, yet some of the political concerns and presence of the Army suggest a period of at least two decades earlier.  Yet a narrative is created quite clearly one that centers directly on a handful of characters such as Eunok (Min-Jung Ban) a young woman who has been blinded by an accident during playing with her brother years earlier, who seeks an escape from the rural lifestyle, an opportunity that arises when she is approached by a drug taking anger possessing American soldier.  Similarly there is Chang-Guk (Dong-kun Yang) a young man of Korean and African-American descent who takes his outrage at his otherness out on his mother, who is problematically known as a Western Princess.  Finally there is the unusual Dog Eyes (Jae-hyeon Jo) a slightly of young man who has taken up purchasing dogs from local sellers only to turn around and kill them and sell the meat to a community that is, and has been, living off government rations.  The characters have a certain degree of connectedness, particularly Dog Eyes and Chang-Guk who work together in the dog killing business, or Eunok who befriends a shy neighborhood boy he is constantly being defended by Chang-Guk when he is the victim of bullying.  The characters all possess specific desires many tied to escapism, in some cases literally and in other metaphorically yet, ultimately, they all meet somewhat tragic results.  Dog Eyes dies, Eunok is left with a drug-ridden Army man and Chang-Guk has a mother whose past is so defeat and misguided that he acts violently as a means to separate her maternal connections.  It is a movie with grim outcomes, but a pretty honest depiction of post-war Korea, especially its violent connection to Western ideals.

Address Unknown is a film expressly concerned with critiquing colonial oppression, all be it not in the traditional sense.  In the DVD I own Ki-duk provides a brief introduction in which he emphasizes that American soldiers were, and continue to be, stationed in Korea a theme that will be quite central to his film.  One could hope with a sense of idealism that the depictions would be quite kind, yet in the case of Address Unknown little is left to the imagination and much blame is placed on the American occupation, particularly how it relates to notions of femininity, masculine validity and and capitalist endeavors.  Whether it be problematic sexual relationships with dogs or a latent desire to hurt them, this film ties all of its bizarre behaviors to the equally unjustified presence of hot-tempered and condescending English speaking soldiers.  English even becomes a point of oppression and ungrounded pride as is certainly the case with Chang-Guk's mother, as well as the two town bullies that  believe their ability to speak the Westernized tongue affords them undeserved levels of respect and power.  Finally the film also considers the role gaze plays into this colonization and oppression, dealing with it quite literally in the way a neighborhood boy spies on Eunok or in some of the language involving eyes within the film.  Of course, even Eunok's blindness plays into this notion of gaze, although an argument could certainly be made as to her obtaining of vision as being more problematic than productive.  Ultimately, every character within the film is both involved with and blinded by the gaze of the narrative, something inextricably tied to notions of colonial oppression and a a clear pint of contention for Ki-duk.

Key Scene: When Eunok obtains full vision Ki-duk treats the moment with a great point of care.

This is a fantastic bit of work and one of the few Korean films of notoriety that cannot be watched instantly on Netflix, as such renting will certainly suffice.

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