faces that made me love Asia (3): Seol Gyung Gu- 설경구

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It starts with a face, his face, close up. Almost too closed. He is in pain, drunk, desperate. He wants to shout. He wants comfort but it’s too late, it’s over, he is too old, he has seen too much. He must die, so everything can start anew.

That face is the one of  Seol Kyung-gu (설경구). His intense way of acting embraces perfectly the 20 years of Korean History developped in the movie “Peppermint candy” (박하사탕).

While watching the movie, I couldn’t get my eyes of the screen. It was a painful  and beautiful experience at the same time. The way, the brilliant and unforgettable director Lee Chang Dong (이창동), is showing the suffering, the violence of what Korea had to go through those years were like a slap in my face. It all takes place from the late 70′s to the 90′s, and I had no idea  at the time I watched the movie, that Korea went through all those tragic events before being the one we know and live in (military dictatorships, Gwangju massacre, students being repressed and tortured by the police).

When raised in France in the 80′s, at no moment we heard about what was going on in Korea. I felt betrayed by my country’s media. Why this silence about Korea? Where were they when, hundreds of people ( probably more) got murdered by the army ?

Watching that movie, you can barely breath but beyond the horror, it is a great message of hope that Lee Chang Dong seems to give us. It’s about making peace with your own history, accepting it and moving forward. Some get lost in the process, some don’t but that’s what makes a country. Its ability not to forget but to accept its past mistakes and improve itself in order to help the new generations.

Lee Chang Dong made that movie in 1999. The last one of the century. He wanted to say goodbye to his old Korea, to its suffering. Now Korea has to reinvent itself.

Seol Gyung-gu’s face during the one hour and a half of the movie beacomes Korea’s face. And at the end, it’s peaceful and happy that he welcomes us in the 21st century. Hope it lasts.



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