Taiwanese military movie resonates with Korean audiences at BIFF

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Taiwanese military movie resonates with Korean audiences at BIFF

BUSAN - When the Taiwanese film “Paradise in Service” was selected as the opener of the 19th Busan International Film Festival, which embarked on its 10-day journey Thursday evening, critics were intrigued about the intention behind the nomination.

Although the film’s director, Doze Niu Chen-Zer, is widely known in the movie business as an actor, his career as a filmmaker has not stood out much.

“Paradise in Service” is only Niu’s fourth feature-length film, and during BIFF’s past 18 editions, only one has opened with a Taiwanese film.

But when the military-themed movie was unveiled to the public, the audience at Asia’s largest film festival was astonished at the similarities the story has with modern-day Korea.

The 133-minute feature was inspired by the director’s father, who served in the Army during the 1960s, when Taiwan was in a standoff with mainland China. The film hones in on the hurtful consequences of war while at the same time depicting hopeful attitudes.

“I believe that Koreans have very close ties with Chinese-speaking people,” said Niu at a press conference held Thursday at Wolseok Art Hall in Busan.

“I believe that they share similar historical wounds and are thus able to sympathize with the pains like being separated [from] family.”

The movie’s protagonist is newly recruited soldier Pao (Ethan Juan), who is assigned to the Taiwanese military’s Unit 831, a state-run brothel that provides sex workers to soldiers. Conscripts call the place “paradise,” but for the women who work there, it is a temporary ordeal they undergo in order to make money and find a better future.

One of the working girls, Nini (Qian Wan), catches Pao’s eye and the two start to build a friendship. Romantic moments ensue, such as when the two hold hands and run through reed fields lit with fireflies, but the relationship’s focus leans more toward providing each other with spiritual relief in a bitter reality.

At one point, the film reveals the illogical treatment of young conscripted soldiers. One of Pao’s colleagues is bullied and abused on a daily basis, leading him to desert the Army with a girl he meets in Unit 831. The scene is bound to remind Korean viewers of the string of shocking military incidents that stirred the country this year, such as the death of a private who was beaten to death by his superiors in the barracks.

When the credits roll at the end, the characters are shown in a montage of happy scenes years later.

When asked why he added this epilogue, Niu said that he wanted to pay respect to those who lived in turbulent times by showing them leading a happier life later on.

“What I wanted to tell was the hope and desires that people had for a better life despite the fact that they are living in a cruel time,” Niu explained. “I didn’t care about the logic that much when I was making the movie.”

This way of thinking could be what led Niu’s film to open the festival because BIFF’s director, Lee Yong-kwon, said he considers that evoking this feeling of sympathy is more important than creating a logical plot.

“Whether it is a fact or a fantasy, or even an earnest desire, I think the film gave us a calm resonance,” said Lee, who also attended the press event.

“Thank you for showing enthusiasm about the movie. … We appointed the movie as the opening film because we believed that the film will work as an important means of reconciliation in Asia.”

BY JIN EUN-SOO [jes@joongang.co.kr]

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