“16 Takes: The Korean Wave You didn’t Know”

by terebikun (eva)

Iron Horse Documentary Film Festival is a social movement-themed film festival that’s been held in Taiwan since 2005. Organized by Coolloud (a news/commentary site focusing on labor, migrant, media reform), it features films by media activists and independent filmmakers attending to issues both affecting and connecting global and local lives. Last year, in the tiny (less than 50 seats) screening room of the Chinese-Taipei Film Archive, I saw a fresh-off-the-street documentary about the anti-WTO protest in Hong Kong by Hong Kong protesters. This year (held in Taipei 9/7-9/11) I returned to the same room to see a couple of short films and took home the DVD of a Mediact production entitled 16 Takes on Korean Society. I want to share some thought and questions on this collective documentary with you (being part of the collective and all).

16 Takes has a Chinese subtitle, The Korean Wave You Didn’t Know. True, the stories, images, and music in this collaborative film by 16 directors have nothing in common with the Korean TV dramas, the romantic landscape so often featured and promoted for tourism, and the sound of K-pop in what we know as Korean Wave. The subtitle obviously is meant to introduce some complexity into the one-dimensional impression of Korean culture in mainstream Taiwanese society. The 16 short videos tell different stories of ordinary, disenfranchised citizens struggling just to exercise their right to influence decisions that fundamentally change their ways of life–to name a few, the relocation of US military base in Pyeongtaek, the Korea-US Free Trade agreement, the building of video horse race track in Kangwon, the revision of Private School Act to protect nepotistic system.

In my experience, the channels promoting “pop Korea” and “radical Korea” (“protest Korea”? “citizen Korea”?) in Taiwan do not have much overlap. I think it was Coolloud’s reporting of the anti-WTO protest in Hong Kong in 2005 that first appealed to the readers using the rhetoric of “a different kind of Korean Wave”–happening mainly among activists, filmmakers, and independent film festival goers. I come in contact with both kinds of images and channels and will try to integrate both kinds of material in my class (so that there can be an option besides the defensive, nationalist, and often masculinist take on Korean Wave).

However, given that “pop Korea” and “radical Korea” are the two most dominant and not necessarily commensurable images of Korea in Taiwan, I wonder if more work is needed toward connecting them (but I have no idea who will do the work or where the work is required). This was the main question I had in mind when I was watching 16 Takes. The use of music in many of the videos made me think whether, if ever, and how they can be “popular” too.

Since I don’t have the answers, let me just share some thought on the music in three videos from 16 Takes:

(1) Take 2–about how the fishing community in Saemangeum fight against the enbankment project which would destroy the tidal flats and livelihood of twenty thousand residents–probably makes the richest use of music. We hear a female singing voice and drum beats–“my lovely seagulls, don’t leave my beloved sea.” It features two singing-with-guitar performances, one by Star Clef, who sings “To Live in Saemangeum,” and the other by Dream Seekers of Socialist Party who sings “The Story of Gyehwa Tidal Flats.”

(2) Take 9, a video that juxtaposes statements and images about conscientious objectors (those who refuse to serve the army for various reasons like religious) against the popular soccer cheer song which goes like “Oh Pilsung Korea, Oh Pilsung Korea (Victory Korea?)…” by Yoon Dohyun Band and patriotic images. I love the guy featured in the video for saying “can’t we love our country with less fuss?” The juxtaposition pokes fun at the national security myth and helps to de-stigmatize those who are criminalized for their choices.

(3) Take 12 is essentially a music video of anti-WTO protest in Hong Kong. By now the images may be familiar to many. I am just curious about the song with a souna lead-in–does anyone know about the song? Judging by the lyrics (“Comrades, join hands and stand tall, don’t let them trick us again…”), it could have been made for the event or other similar types of protests.

You can watch the video on Internet Archive: 16 Takes on Korean Society

p.s. Many thanks to Jung-yup for the soccer cheer song info!

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