Ethnic Korean pursues a stark reality

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Ethnic Korean pursues a stark reality

A big attraction of film festivals is the chance to see movies before the rest of the world does, and this year’s Pusan International Film Festival boasts more than 60 of these chances.
One of the most awaited films in Busan was “Blood and Bones,” by Yoichi Sai, also known as Choi Yang-il, a second-generation Korean-Japanese filmmaker. Mr. Sai appeared on stage at the sold-out screening on Saturday and congratulated the audience members, many of them squatting in the aisles and standing in the back, for being the first ones to see the film.
“Blood and Bones,” based on the novel with same title, follows an ethnic Korean, Jun-pyeong, or Shunpei, who moves to Japan in pursuit of a new world during the Japanese colonial rule. Takeshi Kitano, also known as Beat Takeshi, stars as a Korean-Japanese who is violent, incorrigible and more beast than human.
Mr. Sai has dealt with the issue of ethnic Korean identity in another movie, “Where Is the Moon?” (1993). Unlike “Moon,” which took a sharp yet humorous look at the community, “Blood and Bones” barely gives the audience a chance to relax, with more than two hours of extreme violence and tension.
Characters are constantly dying. The lead, Shunpei, is a borderline psychopath who rapes women and eats fermented pork crawling with maggots, among other crazy acts.
To add to the controversy, the movie has a very strong pro-North Korean sentiment, using North Korean flags and songs, but Sponge, the film’s Korean distributor, expects it to open in South Korea soon.
Starting the film with Shunpei’s hopeful move to Osaka as a teenager, the director tenaciously depicts how the Korean turns into a monster-figure who only acts in his own interests, no matter how much his family members suffer as a result of his selfishness.
His offspring, especially his son, blame their tragedies on the “bad blood” running through the family, a self-fulfilling prophecy that becomes clearer as the son, who has always seen his father as the enemy, slowly transforms into Shunpei as he becomes an adult.
In the question-and-answer session after the screening, Mr. Sai was asked about the “bad blood” reference.
“I wanted to describe people who were not just born with bad blood yet were shaped into such characters by their time,” he said. “They had no choice. And that is the sad part.”
Asked about his own identity as an ethnic Korean in Japan and his job as a film director, Mr. Sai, who speaks only Japanese, replied, “I always move around between my [ethnic] roots, making films.”
Then he described his duties as a director as rendering “dreams into reality.” He also said he pursues a thoroughly realistic approach in filming, without trying to manipulate scenes to be more dramatic.
Among the overwhelming number of questions, one was about the Japanese master film director Nagisa Oshima, under whom Mr. Sai started as an assistant director. After someone asked him about how Mr. Oshima influenced him, a common question at these sessions, Mr. Sai said with an air of impatience, “Well, nothing about filming, yet much about drinking and making friends with others. Now we are friends who can have arguments when we’re drunk.”
Mr. Sai didn’t have good memories about his first visit to South Korea in 1993, at the invitation of a local filmmaker, after a reporter criticized him for daring to wear sunglasses at a press conference. On his return visit, however, he was all smiles, saying, “Throughout my career, I will not forget the energy I felt today here at the screening.”

by Chun Su-jin
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