WonYong ParkDec. 15, 2017ALL 3556 Shiri and The Political Background ofthe Korean Peninsula The Korean peninsula functions under aunique political situation. Korea is divided into the North and South, and theyare at odds with each other.
Although they have been maintaining a ceasefirefor last over 60 years, the Korean War between them is not over yet. For thispolitical reason, relations between North and South Korea is a significant and aunique theme. Shiri, which was released in 1999, covers the unique themethat other contemporary movies have avoided showing.
Even though there are alot of other blockbuster films about war and melodrama, Shiri has anoticeable difference due to its successful reflection on the Koreanpeninsula’s uncommon political background. Shiri integrates the ethos ofa blockbuster, a war film, and a melodrama. It creates a unique kind of filmgenre. With the emergence of the large,family-owned corporations known as the chaebol and their financial support of the Korean film industry,specifically Samsung entertainment for this movie, the financial needs ofmaking films such as Shiri have been satisfied. The chaebol’sfinancial support was a critical help for making the movie, because large-scaleblockbuster movies require a stable and continuous financial investment.
According to Paquet (39), one of the first remarkable effectsof the emergence of the chaebol was an increase in film budgets. “Withlarge amounts of capital available, budgets rose from an average of 500 to 600million won in 1992 to 1.5 to 2 billion won four years later.” The chaebol’ssupport eventually allowed new directors to make their ideas into reality.Specifically, in the movie Shiri, there were particular scenes that neededa big budget to make them, because of special effects such as explosions usinghelicopters, cars, and a stadium with thousands of extras. These scenes wereessential to the flow of the movie and to illustrate dramatic tension. Thesixth revision of the Korean Motion Picture Law abolished restrictions forimported movies (Paquet, 35).
As a result of this revision, the number offoreign movies released in Korea significantly increased from twenty-seven in1985 to 264 in 1989 (Paquet 35). This change has positively affected the newgeneration of filmmakers, especially young movie directors. Compared to theolder generation of directors, they have had easier access to experiencingforeign movies. Since the young directors were able to witness these advancedand diverse film environments firsthand, they were naturally and subconsciouslyinfluenced by them, and they were able to develop their inspirations andcreativity for the enrichment of the Korean film industry as a result. Thedirector of Shiri, Kang Jae-kyu, was one of the younger generation ofdirectors who was able to take advantage of the benefits of the sixth revisionof the Korean Motion Picture Law. Moreover, he was able to receive funding forhis film from the Samsung corporation.
Atthe same time, the chaebol also took advantages of this involvement withthe film industry. For example, at the beginning of the film, Shiri opens with a full screen visualsaying, “Samsung Entertainment Group Presents…” Also, viewers were exposed,almost subconsciously, to the Samsung logo, which was attached to a helicopterin the movie. Such placements influence people to have familiarity with certainbrands and companies.
As a consequence of the chaebol’s investment,the movie was a success. Shirihas a remarkablecinematic meaning, not only from the perspective of genre but also from thelines of dialogue presented in the movie. These lines from the movieeffectively portrays the political issues currently existing on the Koreanpeninsula. For example, in the film some of the lines said by the character Lee Myung-hyun, are, “All Iwant is you love me and never leave me whatever happens to me. That is all.Because you are the only one who truly understands me.” She obviously trulyloves Yu Jong-won, but inthe end, she could not have a relationship with him, because she is a spy from North Korea.
Also, Lee Myung-hyun says, “I was stupid. I thought I could be Hyun. But I am just Hee who has to kill her man.” Thisscene illustrates the pain of the partition of the Korean peninsula. The coupleis truly in love, but killing each other is their destiny due to their dividedcountry and their divided loyalties. Additionally, the scene from themovie when Yu Jong-won findsout that Lee Myung-hyun isa spy from North Korea is a good portrayal of the national tragedy of havingtwo Koreas. The movies of Hollywood or, infact, any other countries’ movies, can never illustrate the pain of the Koreansituation. North and South Korea are the only divided country in the world, soonly Korean filmmakers can depict this pain.
During Yu Jong-won and ParkMu-young’s conversations, Parksays “Revolution always comes with pain. Sacrifices are necessary.”and Yu replies, “Therewere people who thought the same as you in 1950.
Remember the pain.” Afterthat, there is Park’smeaningful line, “What pain the war and separation left us is our people in theNorth are dying on the street. They barely manage to live with roots and barks.Our sons and daughters are being sold off for fucking 100 dollars.
Have youever seen parents eating the flesh of their dead kids? With cheese, Coke andhamburgers, you would not know.” By comparing objects such as roots and barks withhamburgers, cheese, and Coke, the movie effectively and subtly illustrates eachpart of the country’s political and economic environments. At the end of thismovie, the scene where Lee Myung-hyunand Yu Jong-won aimguns at each other points to the current political situation of North and SouthKorea confronting each other. Following this scene, Yu Jong-won shoots his lover Lee Myung-hyun. Even though they love each other, thesituational problem they face triggers them to become enemies, and it makesthem accept the inevitable destruction of their love. The background of themovie, which is drawn from the current Korean political situation, empowers thedirector to describe the overarching national grief through the context of the movie.
Shiri shows the potential of a Koreanblockbuster as a domestic phenomenon and as an international force. Accordingto Shin and Stringer (57), the movie Shiriis not only a big hit, but it is also a cultural phenomenon. The authorsalso insist that “Such was the magnitude of this success that the mass culturalreception of Kang’s film constitutes what has come to be known as “the ShiriSyndrome.” Shiri has expanded the international appeal of Koreancinema. It was a top box office hit, and it even beat the world winning recordfilm, Titanic, in profits.” This movie has remarkable significance forKorean cinema history.
The story could happen in real life under the currentpolitical situation. Therefore, this movie gives viewers to have a considerableopportunity to re-think the relations between North and South Korea beyondwatching and enjoying the movie itself. Moreover, the emergence of the movie Shiriis a separate, independent genre. As a result of being an independent genre, ithas inspired a lot of directors to discuss this new theme and genre, which aremainly about the political situations between North and South Korea, leadingthem to produce such as Joint SecurityArea (2000), Iris (2009), The Berlin File (2012), and Suspect (2013). All of these movies aregreat examples of dealing with North and South Korea political issues anddepicting the national grief. Allthings considered, Shiri has a significant meaning as a turning point inKorean cinema history and also as a point of departure for the new independentgenre in Korean film industry.
Shiri is significant in terms of combiningthe action film, the blockbuster, the melodrama, and the spy movie genres intoone Korean style movie genre. The chaebol’s financial support for the movie and the symbolic linesfrom the movie which reflects the current political situation have provided astepping stone for Shiri’s huge success. The director’s decision to namethe movie, Shiri, which is afish found only in Korea, suggests to viewers that although Korea is a countrydivided, it is, in fact, one nation. WorksCited Paquet, Darcy.
“TheKorean Film Industry: 1992 to the Present.” New Korean Cinema, 2005,pp.13-24Shin,Chi-Yun, and Julian Stringer. “Storming the Big Screen.” Seoul searching:Culture and Identity in ContemporaryKorean Cinema, 2007,pp.55-72