90s Far East Bracket: Hayan Chonjaeng (White Badge, 1992)

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After a long, long wait, it’s time for the second film in my third match-up in the first round of the 90s Far East Bracket!

Written By: Su Young Gong, Ji-yeong Jeong, Young Chel Jo & Seung Bo Shim
Directed By: Ji-yeong Jeong

The subject of Vietnam tackled from a Korean perspective is a promising start, but it’s only a start, you need to follow up that premise with a compelling movie. I once wrote of a character who wasn’t comfortable in his own skin, and while that was a negative in the terms of the life that character was leading it was a positive in the realm of how the movie portrayed his uncomfortableness. In this instance when I say Hayan Chonjaeng wasn’t comfortable in its own skin, it is decidedly a negative. The movie as a whole lacks any form, it moves aimlessly from scene to scene, as if it can’t quite decide how it wants to give shape to its ideas. If Hayan Chonjaeng isn’t comfortable in its own skin then that leaves the viewer struggling to connect with the film on the most basic of levels.

Hayan Chonjaeng does have some interesting and powerful moments, as well as philosophizing about the actions of Korean soldiers, and by extension all soldiers, against the Vietcong. The soldiers of Vietnam have been vilified for their actions against citizens in the war, and while Hayan Chonjaeng gives you that aspect in some of its more powerful moments, it also looks at the issue from another vantage point. How do you tell who is a farmer and who is Vietcong when the Vietcong live and function amongst the farmers and normal people? This is strengthened by the most powerful scene in the entire movie, when one of our main characters, PFC. Pyon is forced to kill innocents against his own will. This does provide a reason for the rest of the film, which had been shown previously in a non-linear fashion, but the few powerful moments exist as a sort of oddity among the rest of the film. The moments of drama, power and depth are not the norm, they are the exception.

I could go more in-depth about the flawed nature of Hayan Chonjaeng, but its inability to function in its own skin covers all the areas of problem in the film. There was definitely a lot of promise with Hayan Chonjaeng as well as the occasional moment of resonance and power. But, for the most part Hayan Chonjaeng moves aimlessly, unwilling to set in and present a compelling tale or maintain any staying power. Consider Hayan Chonjaeng an interesting curiosity if you want to see the Vietnam War from a different perspective, but also consider it a movie that fails to live up to its potential and can easily be ignored.




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