A review of two Korean films I recently watched
협상 The Negotiation
I grew up in a large extended Chinese family and very early on realised that to thrive in relationships, a lot of negotiating would be necessary. This is not to say that I always wanted to engage in it, as sometimes I just wanted things done my own way.
Sometimes the negotiating would not be with family members. The hardest piece of negotiation I had to engage in was when a gangster called up the house (I grew up with one fixed-landline telephone) and demanded to know where my father was. I figured out quickly that being a businessman, my father had guaranteed some money for someone who did not pay up. So my father was now being hounded for the money.
As I remember it, although I was still at school, I did not feel frightened. All I knew was that I had to calm the man down and try to talk some sense into the situation. My father really was not in the house so what else could I do? At one point, having threatened to kill my father, I said to the man that it really was not worth killing for this amount of money. His reply was that he would kill for a cigarette, why would he not kill for money?
I have largely forgotten how the threat was resolved but 40 years on my father is still alive. From time to time I get a sudden thought that if necessary, I must be prepared to negotiate my way out of a dangerous situation. Sometimes I actually dream that I am negotiating something but not in English. Best not to dwell on it.
In the film The Negotiation one of my favourite actors, Hyun Bin (Secret Garden is one of my top Korean dramas), is weapons smuggler Min Tae-gu, who threatens to kill his hostages unless his demands are met. Son Ye-jin as the crisis negotiator Ha Chae-yoon, from the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency’s crisis negotiating team, is sent to speak with him.
Hyun Bin as weapons smuggler Min Tae-gu
Son Ye-jin as the crisis negotiator Ha Chae-yoon
However things do not go as planned because in reality the good guys are not always as good, and the bad guys are not always as bad, as we think they are.
The thing that struck me was that Chae-yoon made a promise to Tae-gu to bring the real culprits to justice, which she kept to the end. It was not an empty promise to make Tae-gu give up his position and to release the hostages. I admired Chae-yoon’s tenacity very much and her pursuit of the truth made for a very satisfying ending.
This film stars another one of my favourite actors, Ma Dong-seok who is so adept at playing different roles I can believe him to be anyone from a love-struck boyfriend (결혼전야 Marriage Blue) to a Joseon nobleman (상의원 The Royal Tailor) to a modern day hero (부산행 Train to Busan).
As an ex-gangster turned devoted husband, Dong-chul is trying his best to secure a bright future for his wife Ji Soo despite many previous business failures. When Ji Soo is kidnapped by an international human trafficking syndicate he is desperate to find her. Desperation turns to anger which fuels a rampage with the intensity of a raging bull.
One good thing about the film was that it relied on old-fashioned fist fighting, sometimes with flick knives, rather than going on a shoot-out. Listening to the fighting was almost as satisfying as watching it. It recalls the time when you were a kid and reading hero comics you wondered what Bam! Thump! Wham! Pow! would sound like in real life.
Our hero here really does throw some mean and heavy punches and he breaks a lot of limbs in the process. I had to close my eyes at times. The final confrontation between Dong-chul and the head of the smuggling gang leaves you feeling giddy but at the same time thinking: I would do the same if I were twice my size, ten times as strong and a hundred times as violent.
Underneath all the bravado, what frightened me about the story presented in the film is that global human trafficking is real and happening under our noses within our communities. We must not deceive ourselves that slavery no longer exists. Even if it is not human trafficking, just by being consumers we all own slaves, and this website tells you how many.
I watched these two films on British Airways flying long-haul and the third film I watched was 완벽한 타인 Intimate Strangers which I will review later if I find the time. If I don’t then all I can say is that the best policy when meeting up with friends around a dinner table is not to bring out your mobile phone. In fact, it is best not to even bring it to the party.