central message of Kim Di-duk's film Address Unknown
is how war has no winners, but only casualties: emotional,
physical and social. Everybody in this film suffers,
from nostalgia of the past; from the treatment they
get by the government; from their condition in Korean
society; and from the pain of being away from home in
a new land, brought there for something they don't understand
(the soldier at one point screams: "Where's the
fucking enemy? We're the enemy!").
Chang-guk (Bet on My
Disco's Yang Dong-kun) is a half-breed, whose African
American father deserted him seventeen years earlier.
His mother (Bang Eun-jin) keeps trying to write letters
to her husband, but they're always returned to her (hence
the title). She keeps promising her son they will soon
leave for the US, and live a happy life with his father.
Ji-heum (Kim Young-min) lives with his disabled father,
and has a hard time accepting his condition. He rarely
speaks, but he craves Eun-ook's (Park Min-jung) attention.
Eun-ok herself lives a troubled life: she has a cataract
on her eye, and her only pleasure seems to be "playing"
(sexually) with her puppy. Kae-nun (Jo Jae-hyun, a Kim
Ki-duk regular and star of the hit TV series Piano)
is a a dog butcher who releases his pain beating dogs
to death, but he's gentle with his girlfriend - Chang-guk's
mother - and tries to protect her from her son's fits
The "love story"
between the American Soldier and Eun-ook is an important
part of the story, but it also partly hurts the whole
experience. The character is certainly well drawn and
multifaceted, but Mahlum's performance ruins it all.
Kim's choice can only be understood if he was looking
for spontaneity in the debuting young "actor."
However, Mahlum is awkward, irritatingly over-the-top
in scenes which require emotional release, and above
all "fake." His performance ruins the air
of realism that the rest of the excellent cast creates
with their characters.
tragic tone hints at the consequences of the Korean
War on people without being heavy-handed or overly biased
towards one side or the other. The American soldiers
are an uncomfortable presence due to their sex crimes
and behavior, but there's a deeper understanding of
their fate as well. They're brought to an unknown land
with nobody to talk to, and a cultural and linguistic
barrier which is difficult to overlook. The film reaffirms
Koreans' pride (especially in Eun-ook's resolution of
her relationship with the soldier), and points fingers
at those who use war as an easy tool without thinking
about the consequences. It's a hard-hitting experience,
with many shocking scenes and Kim's usual penchant for
brutality mixed with poetic beauty. The only regret
is that the director chose such an inexperienced actor
for such an important role. Otherwise Address Unknown
would be one of the strongest films of his career. Nonetheless,
the emotional impact remains, and it's well worth watching.