Seventeen years after the end of the Korean War the land is
still suffering from the trauma of those times. In a small
village, adjacent to an American military base, a group of
psychologically damaged characters try to come to terms with
the legacy of the war. Eunok, a young woman who has had her
right eye shot out by her brother in a child's game, is the
secret romantic obsession of Jihum, a quiet loner with a talent
for drawing. The last of the taciturn teenagers which make
up the main protagonists is Chang-guk, the half-cast illegitimate
son of an American serviceman. Chang is torn between his desire
to go to America and his distraught mother, who is doing the
ultimate Madam Butterfly impression, sending endless
letters to her absent lover in the States, all of which come
back "Address Unknown"...
Address Unknown is written and directed by Ki-duk Kim
whose best known work is most probably the creepy and slightly
disturbing The Isle (2000). Kim is never an easy director
to watch, his singular vision of what he wants can sometimes
alienate audiences. The film is a little heavy handed in its
imagery and we are left in no doubt that the existence of
the base dominates both the cinematic frame as much as it
dominates the lives of those who live around it.
film is shot through with disturbing imagery, from the killing
of the dogs for food to the rescue of Eunok's puppy - which
proves that puppy love can have a whole different meaning
for some girls. Her bestiality, and Jihum's voyeurism, makes
the film uncomfortable to watch. Whilst the film claims that
no animals where hurt during the filming it's pretty certain
that they were traumatised, especially the dog that is half
hung before the camera cuts away to Chang-guk's reaction shot
- who looks as if he finds the whole thing as distasteful
as the audience.
faltering attempt to woo Eunok is touching at times, though
he eventually rejects her after she becomes the girlfriend
of a G.I. with a dubious mental state and gets her eye fixed.
To be honest this is not a film with anything near a happy
ending for anyone involved.
The acting by the Korean cast is superlative, though the film
is spoilt by the truly hack-eyed acting by the Americans playing
disc has some okay extras. First up is a director's introduction
which is terse, at best, lasting less than a minute and is
directed at an American audience in the hope that the film
will make them realise just how unhappy their troops are in
Korea. Thankfully there is a much more extensive interview
with the director, where it's is very clear that he is very
unhappy about the American troops in his country. Last up
are five trailers for forthcoming films and it's a fairly
redundant comment to say they all look pretty interesting.
set-up has a generous Korean stereo, 5.1 and DTS with English
subtitles. Visually the film has a gritty feel, which is reminiscent
of footage from the Vietnam War, much in the same way that
Schindler's List was shot in black and white as that's
the way most people remember the Second World War, it is doubtful
that this is not a deliberate choice, to appeal to a non-Korean
is obviously a social cry from the heart which would not look
out of place put against something like Kathy Come Home.
Like Kathy, it is an attempt at a gritty realisation
of individual distress against a world they seem to be powerless
to change. Also, like Kathy, this is an overtly political
film. Not really one for dog lovers, but none the less a harrowing
portrayal of grim ultimate despair.