Korean film Poetry, by Lee Chang-Dong

Poetry, film poster

David Walsh wrote in 2003:

The Asian films in general were disappointing, particularly the South Korean and Taiwanese works, continuing a trend that has deepened in the last few years. In this region especially, an enormous crisis of historical perspective “weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living”—a crisis perhaps epitomized by the fact that one of the most sensitive and observant of the East Asian filmmakers, Lee Chang-Dong, is now the culture and tourism minister in the South Korean government!

Lee Chang-Dong was born in 1954 in Daegu, which some consider the most right-wing city in South Korea.


served as the minister of Culture and Tourism in the South Korean Government from 2003 to 2004.

FC: How did you come to hold government office?

LEE: At the time of President Roh Moo Hyun’s election campaign, one of the things he promised was that his Minister of Culture would be selected from the field of culture and art rather than a professional politician. Well, he got elected, and a lot of people recommended me as this new Minister of Culture. I never thought that this was an outfit that suited me particularly well, but had to accept it as one of those bitter cups one has to accept in the course of life.

Lee is no longer Minister of Culture. The, for South Korea, relatively liberal party of Roh Moo Hyun has been replaced in office by far Right hardliners with links to earlier military dictatorships. Roh Moo Hyun himself committed suicide in 2009.

Lee Chang-Dong is making films again. Today, I saw his film Poetry.

This video is the trailer of that film.

There is a red thread of, indeed, poetry throughout the film. The main character in the film is Yang Mija, a cleaner and care provider for the elderly in her sixties (played by actress Yoon Jeong-hee). She has lots of trouble in her life: beginning Alzheimer’s disease, financial trouble, sexual harrassment by a male client, a grandson with wrong friends whom she has to take care of …

Nevertheless, she tries to find beauty in her life by joining a poetry course.

The film starts with images of the dead body of a teenage girl called Agnes in a river. She, the daughter of a poor peasant widow, had been repeatedly gang-raped by schoolmates. Five members of the rape gang were from well-off families. The sixth boy was Yang Mija’s grandson.

The fathers of the five boys from rich families intend to whitewash their sons’ crimes by giving 30 million won hush money to Agnes’ mother to prevent her from complaining to the police. All families, they say, should pay an equal share for the hush money fund. Including Mija, who cannot pay that.

There is a note of criticism of corruption in South Korean society in the film. The boys’ fathers presume that poor people can be bought off with money (and so can the police and the media). The film has, as a minor character, a fellow poetry course pupil of Mija’s; he is a policeman, sent away from the capital Seoul to a small town for acting against corruption among fellow cops.

Mija prostitutes herself to get the five million won the rape boys’ fathers insist she should pay. Then, she still does not have the money. Finally, she manages to get the five million by blackmail.

This does not save her grandson Jong Wook of being arrested as a rape suspect toward the end of the film. The film leaves many questions open. One of them is: will the cleaner’s grandson be punished for gang rape, while his partners in crime from higher income families will get off more lightly, or scot free?

The final images of the film are about a poem written by Mija (the only pupil in the poetry course who turns out to have managed that). It is a poem for Agnes to console her. The scene is filmed on the bridge where Agnes committed suicide by jumping into the river. In the last images, Agnes hears Mija’s poem. The film leaves the suggestion that, if Agnes would have heard the poem before jumping off the bridge, she would still have been alive.

ACT Now: Support Imprisoned Vietnamese Migrant Workers in South Korea: here.

Korea: Workers resist lockout, violence: here.

Labour advocates have expressed scepticism at a report released today that cleared electronics giant Samsung of responsibility for six semiconductor workers at its South Korean plants developing cancer: here.

9 thoughts on “Korean film Poetry, by Lee Chang-Dong

  1. Thanks for nice info. It’s useful for me. Can you give me some more information with details? I will wait for your next post.


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    The Asiana Airlines flight carrying 119 people from the Chinese city of Chengdu was undamaged in the incident, the airline said on Saturday.

    No one on board was hurt or aware of the shooting and the South Korean Marine Corps informed the airline of it later in the day, it said.



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    Two hundred Vietnamese construction workers employed by Taehung Construction, a subcontractor for Hyundai Construction, took limited industrial action at a container wharf project in Incheon, a port city. They held brief stoppages over a 12-month period over short pay for hours worked, poor working conditions and excessive deductions for meals and accommodation.

    At a hearing on May 26, prosecutors pushed for prison sentences from one to three years. If convicted, the workers are likely to face deportation.

    One of the catalysts for the strikes was the management’s decision to charge 240,000 won ($US223) a month for breakfast and dinner. Workers demanded the reinstatement of three free meals, an end to forced night work and to be allowed to have visitors, food, drink and alcohol in their company-provided living quarters.

    Migrant workers typically work 12-hour shifts with only a one-hour break, 7 days a week, despite their contracts stipulating a 5-day week and the Labour Standards Act guaranteeing a minimum one day off a week. They are paid the minimum wage of just $US3.80 per hour.

    The Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions (KFCITU) has not organised any campaign among its members to have these workers released or to improve the conditions of workers on construction sites.



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    A district court earlier sentenced Reverend Han Sang-ryol to five years in prison for entering the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and praising the state.

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    Rev Han appealed to Seoul High Court, which reduced his sentence to three years.



  5. Korean police attack shipyard occupation supporters

    Hundreds of protesters were injured and 50 arrested when police, using teargas and water cannon, attacked a procession of around 10,000 protesters on July 9. The demonstrators were on their way to Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction’s (HHIC) Yeongdo shipyard to support 12 union members and a union official occupying a 35-metre crane in the yard in defiance of a return to work order. The demonstrators, who came from around Korea, planned to meet up with around 100 HHIC workers holding a 24-hour vigil outside the shipyard.

    Workers are protesting against Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) officials who concluded a secret deal with company management and the courts to end a 190-day strike by shipyard construction workers on June 27. The strike, which had been attracting mass support from workers in and around Seoul, began last December over the axing of more than 400 jobs.

    Under the deal, 170 terminated workers will receive redundancy payouts, HHIC will “minimise” legal claims for damages incurred during the walkout, and all other charges and accusations against the strikers will be dropped. There will be no withdrawal of the layoffs.

    Korean bank employees’ strike in third week

    Up to 3,000 unionised workers at Standard Chartered (SC) First Bank, or half its workforce, are maintaining a strike begun on June 27 to oppose a new performance-based pay scheme and restructure. The bank was forced to close 43 of its 400 branches on Monday due to the strike.

    According to the union, the planned restructure and new pay scheme would cut salaries by up to 46 percent and close 27 branches. Workers have rejected the company’s offer to establish a performance management taskforce, withdraw the labour restructuring, and increase the union members’ average base pay by 5 percent.

    SC First Bank is the first lender in South Korea seeking to introduce a performance-based pay system. Employees held a nationwide stoppage on May 30 protesting over the issue.


    Korean bus drivers end strike

    Samwha Express bus drivers in Incheon, 40km west of Seoul, ended a three-day strike on Monday after management agreed to pay dues and enter negotiations for a wage increase. Management also said it was willing to negotiate workers’ demands that 20 percent of temporary workers be regularised. The snap strike affected over 50,000 commuters on 20 routes between Incheon and Seoul.



  6. War games are ‘provocative’

    KOREA: The North slammed South Korea and the US today over war games being played out on land and at sea near the country’s borders.

    The annual war games involve drills by thousands of soldiers, armoured vehicles, missile launches and naval patrols.

    The US maintains that the operation is “designed to enhance the interoperability of the US and South Korean military forces and the combat readiness of the alliance.”

    But the North sees the manoeuvres as rehearsals for an invasion, describing them as “extremely provocative” and as undermining peace.

    The Foreign Ministry warned that such drills encouraged the North to pursue its controversial nuclear weapons programme as a deterrent.



  7. Pingback: South Koreans against military environmental destruction | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  8. Pingback: Parasite film, first ever non-USA Oscars victory | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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