A comedy of contraceptive campaignIn 1962, the Korean government launched a national campaign aimed at the country’s rural development and initiated by former president Park Chung Hee. A significant portion of its government funds were used to educate and support family planning programs by distributing free contraceptive pills, condoms and other contraceptive services to citizens.
“Let’s Live Well,” the title of a film about the government’s family planning services of the period, is an actual catchphrase from the campaign song for what was called “a new village movement.”
The story follows Hyun-ju (Kim Jeong-eun), a family planning counsellor hired by the government facing a backlash from feudal society when she is dispatched to a small rural village that has the highest population growth in the country. Her mission is to cut the village’s fertility rate to two children per household.
The film is a mix of silly sex jokes on top of nostalgia about the absurd political situation of the past, which handled the country’s family planning policy the same way it built highways and factory sites. The film questions whether a population policy should be considered a subject of control for the benefit of the nation’s economic policies, or whether one’s social values and behavior can be restricted for the public good.
It focuses on the tension between tradition and modernity that was rampant during that phase of urban development. The director Ahn Jin-woo, however, maintains a balance between the two.
On one hand he defends the government for taking the role of the bad guy to fill its peoples’ stomachs, while on the other he supports traditionalists as the country’s cultural backbone.
A woman in the village falls pregnant anyway after sleeping with her husband whose sterilization had been reversed after an earlier operation. A wealthy landlord is desperately trying to have a son to pass on his male lineage, but finds out that his wife has been secretly taking birth control pills.
While the film avoids direct political connotations, it sneaks in scenes that depict villagers as happy and innocent though poor and “uncivilized.”
Perhaps it was an inevitable conclusion from a city director that happiness is not a matter of having more.
The film is being shown at a time that partly suffers from the result of the family planning campaign. Recent moves by the government to boost Korea’s birth rate show that the nation is undergoing the opposite situation 30 years later.
“Let’s Live Well” is more than a comedy because of the absurdities used to control individuals’ lives. Like the blunt slogan from the campaign, “The life of a beggar awaits people who procreate,” the same strategies exist in modern society to intimidate and increase the birthrate of the people.
The shame that’s heaped on families who go against social conventions proves that reality hasn’t changed much after all. Perhaps the only difference now from the past is that people are no longer as innocent as they used to be, not even in rural farmlands that have lost touch with urban capitalism.
by Park Soo-mee