Drawing some inspiration from my last post on KOFFIA, this week I decided to do some further examination of Korean crime cinema. The Thieves (2012) a high budget, high impact heist movie with an all-star cast, is my next patient.
As I am pulled into the first scene, I immediately notice a young woman dressed in expensive clothes with a hat five times bigger than her head strutting down a hallway, her ten inch heals click on the ground while an older lady trails behind. Suddenly, the young woman seems familiar. Anyone seen Oceans Twelve? She [Yenicall, played by Gianna Jun] is very much like Julia Roberts’ character, Tess Oceans. The two characters wind up in an office greeted by the director of the gallery who bows at the older lady when I learn that she is his future mother-n-law. I immediately wonder if ‘bowing’ to senior figures is an exclusively Korean cultural practice. The older lady (Chewingum), says nonchalantly; “so I understand you deflowered my daughter? “Once driven, even a Mercedes is a used car.” I immediately thought it was both perverted and funny. My earlier comparison with Oceans Twelve is validated when I learn that the mother-daughter combination is actually a scam, and that both women are con-artists.
(Skip to 1:24:57)
Another experience, that seemed to resonate with me, was the constant use of the word ‘bitch’. Not that I was offended, but I noticed the frequency of the word. While this maybe a trivial observation, this raised some interesting questions around language and if they could be applied to the broader framework of Korean cinema. Of all the profanities at the producer’s disposal why the constant use of ‘bitch’? Is this South Korea’s favourite word? This quandary of language also surfaced in another scene where the jeweller in the jewellery store writes on a napkin ‘help’. As I was watching this unfold, I was confused as to why ‘help’ was written in English when the movie was originally released in Korean. Is the English version of ‘help’ universally recognised? These questions have naturally emerged from my use of autoethnography as a method of research which is “intrinsically subjective. It brings the researcher/writer into self-awareness” (Custer, D 2014, p8). It is this subjectivity and self awareness that has allowed me to connect my personal experiences with broader Korean culture and its use of cinema as a medium.
Aside from these themes, setting also proved to be just as important. Macau becomes a central focus as the plot develops. In the last few decades or so, Macau has played host to dozens of films. Movies from the ‘west’ such as Johnny English Reborn (2011) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), “were also shot in Macau but only as sporadic scenes in the films themselves (the city itself is more used as a prop than a location in most of them, sometimes even mimicking other cities rather than “playing itself”), (Martins, D 2013, p8). In complete contrast, Asian production companies have recognised the opportunities that Macau presents “due to its beauty and cultural appeal, but, also, due to its closeness to Hong Kong” (Martins, D 2013, p8). Macau’s aesthetically pleasing cityscape and iconic casinos motivated the producers to film there. Does this also make The Thieves partly a Macua production as well as a South Korean production? This certainly complicates the film’s ‘Asianness’.
Custer, D 2014, ‘Autoethnography as a Transformative Research Method’, The Qualitative Report, volume 19, issue p1-13.
Martins, D 2013, ‘the Asian screen: the state of Asia’s film industry and the emergence of transmedia focus Macau’, Hexagon Concepts: media think tank, September, viewed 1 September 2014, http://www.scribd.com/doc/172962172/The-Asian-Screen-3-Macau-film-industry-casinos-gambling-with-transmedia#download