Seen in Jeonju

Declaration of Fools (1983)

8th June 2012

declaration of foolsWow..  That was completely unexpected. Declaration of Fools, also known as Children of Darkness 2, took my by surprise with its creativity.  I remember Children of Darkness (1981) being very good, but it was nothing like its ’sequel.’  The DVD box lists a long line of film festivals and awards this movie won, and it deserves every one of them. Of course there are faults, it was the 80s after all and not the easiest time to be making films, but Lee Jang-ho crafts a deeply nuanced and entertaining film nonetheless.

Before I begin the review, I would like to point out that the DVD does not contain English subtitles. However, for about 80 percent of the film, that does not matter as the movie is silent sans music and sound effects. There is some narration in the form of a child. The boy reads his lines in a stilted monotone and uses the grammar style that elementary school students write their picture-diaries in (if you have seen many Korean movies or dramas you have probably seen these).  When the characters finally speak for the first time… more than thirty minutes in… it is jolting and actually ruins part of the mood that had been set up. I was happy when, later in the film, the director returns to the concept he began.  The child’s voice introducing the film is utilized along with children’s drawings as the opening credits role. After that, our ears are assaulted with the sounds of the 80s which include video game music, beeps and blips, Western music (most notably the song Gloria by Laura Branigan).. drowning out the sound of a traditional pansori song. Through sound, the theme of the film is introduced although we do not get directly reminded of this until the movie’s final sequences.

The movie starts with a suicide of a stranger and with that we get a better idea of our main character as he lifts the dying man’s watch in front of  a crownd of bystanders and makes off the unfortunate man’s shoes and carefully folded clothes. This is done in a mildly comical way that somehow makes his callous and criminal act seem amiable. However, his progress acts strain the good will and comedic efforts to make us like him as he next begins stalking an attractive young woman and eventually coming up with a plan to kidnap her.  Fortunately, nothing goes exactly as planned and eventually he, the young woman and a taxi driver who lost his cab are headed out into the world to enjoy their new-found freedom and make a life for themselves.

It was early on in the film, I think with the first dream sequence in the cab, that I started realizing how much like a Charlie Chaplin film this was. It was not just because Declaration of Fools is nearly a silent film. It was more to do with the similarity of the main character (Dong-cheol played by Kim Myeong-gon) to Chaplin’s Little Tramp in his expressions and exaggerated walking style. What differentiated Dong-cheol from his predecessor was a complete lack of innocence. I could not imagine Chaplin’s beloved character plotting a kidnap/rape scenario…

This is a movie that is definitely worth seeing. I was impressed with the story, the creative cinematography and music, the acting and the message. I was also deeply impressed with the risks that the director took with this film..not the least of which was adding the Blue House in the background as two of the characters completely reject society. I only wish that the people who released the DVD had added subtitles so it could more easily be understood by a wider audience. With the lack of dialogue, it would have taken about 20 minutes to translate and write the captions.  But don’t be too discouraged by the lack of subtitles. The movie relies heavily on sound and visuals over dialogue don’t need the subs to enjoy this one. THe DVD was just recently released, so if you find it, but it! You won’t regret owning this masterpiece in you collection.

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