A guilty pleasureIt took 27 years to make the movie “Splendid Vacation.” The film is the first one to seriously describe what happened in Gwangju in 1980. It is a blockbuster that cost about 10 billion won, or $9.2 million, to make. The movie deals with a real, monumental event in the modern history of Korea and follows in the wake of films such as “Island Silmi” or “Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo,” which more than 10 million people watched.
The movie deals with the 10 days in Gwangju surrounding the May 18 democracy uprising. It illustrates how the ordinary citizens of Gwangju took up arms against their oppressors. The main characters are inspired from real personalities, and the film portrays compelling images of Gwangju in the 1980s. Citizens are dragged out in their underwear and battered by military clubs, a boy holds a funeral picture of his father, coffins are covered with taegukgi, Korea’s national flag, and tanks in the street demonstrations yank us right back to those historic days.
The biggest virtue of the movie lies in its emphasis on the “liberated Gwangju.” As film critic Hwang Jin-mi rightly pointed out, it is the first film about Gwangju seen from the point of view of the civilian militia.
It bravely counts the history of resistance by the citizens, who fought against the unjust state violence. The movie does not stop at portraying the brutal massacre. Instead, it focuses on the humor, solidarity and human dignity that flourished amid the tragedy.
However, the touching description of the “liberated Gwangju” still contains some disappointments. The movie seems to illuminate the 10 days of Gwangju in detail, but in reality, the incident is confined to the traps of typicality and abstraction. For instance, the citizens of Gwangju before the massacre lived a very peaceful life, equaled only by the life of Dongmakgol, the imaginary village of the 1950s that was distanced from the woes of the Korean War as described in the popular Korean film “Welcome to Dongmakgol.” Innocent people who lived in the vacuum of politics suddenly fell victim to soldiers, demonic outsiders against their will.
The movie succeeds in recalling the collective memory of 27 years ago, yet that’s where it stops. The movie does not clearly describe the meaning of the Gwangju democratic movement. It touches upon a completely different aspect ― the feeling of guilt that people have who closed their eyes to Gwangju and the poignant appeal for the historical victims. This is why the viewers feel ill at ease after having a good cry. Just as someone said, “Splendid Vacation” is a movie that targets people who want to ease their feelings of guilt.
The writer is a deputy culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Yang Sung-hee [firstname.lastname@example.org]