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Ko - production in Busan
  • by Pierce Conran /  Sep 11, 2018

  • 1992124 MIN | War, Drama, Action
    CAST AHN Sung-ki, LEE Gyoung-young, SHIM Hye-jin, DOKO Young-jae
    RELEASE DATE July 4, 1992
    CONTACT M-Line Distribution
    Tel : +82 2 796 2427
    Fax : +82 2 796 2429

    Whereas the Korean War and even World War II have featured prominently in Korean cinema, less visible on screens has been the Vietnamese War, during which Korean’s involvement as a foreign army was second only to America’s. CHUNG Ji-young cast a rare light on the subject with his 90s classic White Badge (1992), which takes its title from the medal that was given to Korean soldiers upon their return from the Southeast Asian conflict (though the Korean title translates as ‘White War’). Along with actors AHN Sung-ki and LEE Gyoung-young, CHUNG used the opportunity to pose a sensitive political question: ‘Was Korea’s participation in the Vietnam War justified?’

    AHN plays HAN Ki-joo, a writer struggling to finish a novel about his experiences as a Korean soldier in the Vietnam War. The story goes back and forth between 1979, in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Korean president PARK Chung-hee, and the Vietnam War. In the present, Han receives a call from his former comrade Private BYUN, who is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder while the past sequences show their platoon’s experiences during the war.

    By juxtaposing the death of PARK Chung-hee with the Vietnam War, to which his administration opportunistically furnished Korean troops to help fight America’s battles, White Badge, based on a 1983 novel by AHN Jung-hyo, immediately questions the legitimacy of Korea’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Beyond the political dimension of the military industrial complex at work, director CHUNG later delves deeper into the nitty-gritty of the actions of Korean soldiers in Vietnam, a number of whom were alleged to be responsible for large civilian massacres.

    AHN, a major star who had been involved in several highly political works already, such as PARK Kwang-su’s Chil-su and Man-su (1988), suggested the novel to director CHUNG after the two had already worked together on the Korean War project North Korean Partisan in South Korea (1990). White Badge frames Korea’s role in Vietnam as a traumatic experience with both HAN and BYUN clearly seen to be scared by the event. In its depiction of the aftermath of trauma, the film goes so far as to directly reference Michael Cimono’s The Deer Hunter, a great classic concerning wartime PTSD.

    Playing BYUN, who suffers the most from his trauma, is a young LEE Gyoung-young who impresses in a role that sees him turn from the charismatic showman of his platoon to a shell-shocked veteran who stumbles through the alleys of Seoul. LEE earned the Best Supporting Actor Prize from the Grand Bell Awards for his portrayal.

    White Badge, which earned both the Grand Prize and Best Director Award from the Tokyo International Film Festival, stands as one of the most powerful and harrowing works in the filmography of the fiercely political filmmaker CHUNG Ji-young, who is currently serving as the Chairman of the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN).
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