Diary: Wednesday 29 July
I so enjoyed watching the film Gangnam 1970 on the flight from London to Seoul…
…and Lee Min Ho in the lead role wasn’t the only reason for it.
(Please see update and warning at the end of this post before watching this film)
The scenes were evocative of the era I grew up in, and the stories of land purchased from farmers by politicians who were going to profit handsomely from its development was familiar. Vast swathes of land south of Kuala Lumpur was purchased this way from farmers who did not know of the future plans to build a new international airport and an administrative centre in the area.
Gangnam in 1970 was just farmland. In the early part of the film, we see a how group of conmen (and one woman, who is the lead) contrive to get a farmer to sell his land for a rock bottom price. Later, due to his ignorance, we see the farmer eagerly selling his land.
As in all business dealings and agreements in Korea, a personal seal is affixed or stamped onto the contract. Several scenes follow in which we see different seals being stamped on the documents, signifying the sale of many parcels of land.
The following conversation between Jae-dong and Madam Min explains simply how money can be made from land.
J: We got them for dirt cheap but why bother buying up worthless land?
M: Just you wait. With the lands we acquired dirt cheap we buy and sell to each other and drive up the market, and when others get a wind of it we’ll sell in one full sweep.
M: The market rises when media drops by. The market depends on the rich [man’s] whim. We just have to use that.
Jae-dong and Madam Min then pretend to be journalists interested in purchasing lands in the area, driving the prices up even further as other journalists believe they have some insider information.
I love OSTs (original sound tracks) and the one accompanying Gangnam 1970 was fortunately available from Kyobo Bookstore, which is just round the corner from where I am staying in Seoul. I am listening to this as I write, and thinking of what this film is really about.
At its most basic, it is a story of greed. However it is not only greed for money, but also greed for recognition, power, loyalty and survival. Then there is a greed for love that is not possible to have because of personal circumstances. That for me was the saddest part of the film. I won’t go into detail but you will see what I mean if you watch it.
A memorable scene was a violent one where the two rival gangs clashed at a funeral. Set in the pouring rain, it was not possible to say when the mud ended and the blood began. It was real fighting as it ought to be: with knives, pipes, sticks, spades and even umbrellas. Men should be prepared to get their hands dirty if they want results. I must add that the gang members fought whilst wearing suits and ties. Violent but stylish indeed.
WARNING: Since returning to London I have watched this film again on big screen. In its uncensored version, there are scenes containing nudity and drug use. In the view of the British Board of Film Classification this film would have a 15 Classification. I would still recommend it, especially if you are visiting Seoul, as it gives the story and background to modern-day Gangnam. Across undeveloped areas across the world, similar stories abound, for example in the New Territories in Hong Kong (there is a similar film centred on this theme). As in so many aspects of life, the real cost is not just monetary but lives lost in the pursuit of money.