Seen in Jeonju

Summertime (2001)

9th January 2010

summertimeOriginally posted September 6, 2007–Yesterday, I received my monthly order of dvds which included many interesting titles. It also included Summertime.   I had a vague memory about not liking this movie but I couldn’t remember too much about it so I decided to pop the disk into the dvd player to refresh my memory.  It all came back to me–I don’t like this movie anf for more than one reason.

The first thing that I do not like about the movie is its treatment of the Gwangju Incident. Sang-ho took part in to demonstrations in Gwangju and is now on the run from the authorities. He hides out above the house of Hee-ran and Tae-yeol. Tae-yeol is a former policeman who has been laid off for taking bribes and is now working as a securtiy guard. Hee-ran is a woman he raped years ago and later married. He keeps her locked in their house all day for fear that she will run away. The two almost never look at each other and their interactions follow the same routine day in and day out. 

 Sang-ho watches everything they do through a hole in the floor and becomes obsessed with Hee-ran as a sexual fantasy. One day, Tae-yeol drops the keys to the house  and they are found by Sang-ho. The first chance he gets, Sang-ho enters the house and imitates the habits of Tae-yeol so that Hee-ran will not suspect anything or look to see who is in her house. Sang-ho then rapes her while she thinks that she is with her husband. Being the kind of movie that this is, when Hee-ran does eventually look at the man she is having sex with and realizes that she has no idea who he is, she does not call the police or even look perturbed for more than twenty seconds. Instead she kisses him and thanks him for ‘a moment of freedom’ before carrying on where they left off.

I have problems with this on so many levels-including how it relates to Gwangju.  In this film, Hee-ran represents Korea. Her husband, who had taken her by force and who has now lost his true authority while remaining authoritarian, represents the government of the 1970s and 80s when the Gwangju incident took place. And Sang-ho moves from being a demonstrator to representing the whole of the democratic movement, offering a moment of freedom to Korea.

BUT Sang-ho’s rape of Hee-ra is a crime. That plus his bizarre acts of voyeurism and his envy of Tae-yeol do a grave disservice to the men and woman who sacrificed their lives in the opposition of tyrrany.  Furthermore, the director chose only to present the official government statistics of the Gwangju Incident through a radio report which states that only 74 people participated in the demonstrations (or ‘riots’ as the announcer calls them). This may be ok for the radio announcer to say as that is what was reported at the time. However, an alternate and more accurate view is never presented! not even by Sang-ho!  He calls himself an outlaw and states that all his friends have been arrested.  It really makes me wonder what the director was thinking.  By 2001, the facts of the Gwangju Massacre were pretty clear-why does director Park Jae-ho seem to be supporting the view of the dicatorship of old?

Besides this, there are other reasons not to like Summertime. Some of the shots are very uncomfortable.  I do not have a problem with the amount of sex in the film. However, I do not like the scenes that deal with people peaking through bathroom doors or looking up skirts from under a staircase.  It may be one think for us to see a character doing these things–we would simply lable him as a pervert and move on. But when the camera follows these characters’ points of view and lingers on the image, I think it crosses the line into pornography. 

Despite a few acceptable shots and a fairly good performance by Song Ok-sook as the nosy seamstress, this is not a film I would recommend to anyone.  The only reason I am writing about it at all is because it made me so furious!! Avoid this film.

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