Spotlight

Film Screening of The Fortress (남한산성)

On November 2, Director Hwang Dong-hyuk visited UCI for a screening of his film and conversations with the audience.

  “The words sound plausible; we give up Seoul to come back later.” This is the first
sentence of the novel, The Fortress, by Kim Hoon. Since I have read it many times and I was so
struck by the story whenever I read it, I couldn’t wait to watch this film, The Fortress. Although
the sound equipment in the McCormick screening room was not so good, the film couldn’t be
better. Since it is based on a true historical event, what is important is, I think, not a plot or
synopsis, but the acting skills of the actors and they were successful. I strongly agree with what
Prof. Kim mentions, “Watching Lee Byung-hun and Kim Yoon-seok is like watching De Nero
and Pacino together in the same screen.”
  After watching it, the director Hwang came to talk with us. Since he studied at USC, he is
good at speaking English. He said that when he read the original novel at first, he was in a dismal
mood. However, he thought that the audiences these days need to feel such emotion especially in
this time because there are already many films about victory or at least making us feel pride. So
he decided to make this gloomy historical story as a film and the two films, The Last Emperor,
and The Revenant were his motive to make this film, he said.
          One of the hardest things while making this film was the weather. It was winter when
shooting it, but the weather was unsettled, so they had to delay many shootings. According to
Hwang, how we were defeated is as important as how we defeated, which was really interesting
to me. At the crossroad of defeat, our ancestors at that time probably felt despair, but it is not
necessarily tragic. Rather, it could be a sort of sublime and Hwang expressed it by showing the
life of ordinary people. Indeed, the Joseon Dynasty could survive and lasted much longer than
the Qing Dynasty and it was possible thanks to those ordinary people, Minjung in other words.
  When Prof. Kim asked about the absence of woman character in the film, because there
were no any remarkable woman character at all, Hwang answered that it is because there is not
such an woman character in the original novel and he didn’t want to make up a fictional woman
character. Also, he didn’t want woman characters to be just in auxiliary role and I think it was a
good decision. Hwang mentioned that the director’s intentions have no choice but to intervene
even though the film is based on the historical facts. Otherwise, it is a documentary, not a film.
In this regard, Hwang made up dialogues between Lee Byung-hun and Kim Yoon-seok. When
asked choosing between them, Hwang’s answer was really interesting: “My brain will choose
Lee, but my heart will choose Kim.” 
  As Prof Kim also mentioned, the situation depicted in the film can be comparable to
current situation of South Korea. Loyalty or fidelity to the Myoung Dynasty at that time can be
comparable to that of the U.S. Then, ironically enough, the Quing Dynasty could be China. I do
know that comparing the Myoung Dynasty to the U.S. simply is not appropriate, given that the
Myoung Dynasty was almost dying at that time indeed, while the U.S. is still in a superpower,
but what is important is not about country, but about people. There are two sorts of people in
current South Korea, pro-Americans and anti-Americans. Personally I am neither of them. If I
may, I will choose leave-Americans. Here, leave doesn’t necessarily mean literally “go away
from.” What I meant is another meaning of leave, “let them remain.” It is true that the U.S.
helped South Korea a lot historically and they did especially during and after the Korean War,
but I think it is also true that Korea actually “paid it off” given that the Vietnam War and the Iraq
War. Korea doesn’t have to feel a sense of indebtedness to the U.S. and now is time to “leave
well” to the U.S. in my humble opinion. All things considered, the film, The Fortress, “leaves” a
significant message to “us” and “the U.S.”

Seungchoul Ryu, Undergraduate Student