Friday 17 January 2014

Review: JSA Joint Security Area

In a tiny border outpost on the tensest frontier in the world, an incident happens which leaves two men dead and two more injured. The outpost is in North Korea, and the two dead men are both North Korean, an officer and a private. The two injured men are both sergeants – one a North Korean, the other a Southerner. Everyone agrees that it was the Southerner who killed the two North Koreans and injured the third. But what was he doing in the border outpost – and what was the reason behind the shooting?

This beautiful film is one of the most affecting I’ve seen in a long time – a film set in what is officially still a war, between two countries of the same people, sharing the same language, culture, and both aching to be united; albeit under radically different and incompatible socio-political systems.

Officially, this is a mystery thriller about the death of the two North Korean soldiers in a border outpost; but, like two novels I could mention (Umberto Eco’s “The Name Of The Rose” and Orhan Pamuk’s “”My Name Is Red”) the “mystery” is merely the framework around which the story is hung; and the story is that of the tragic and deeply affecting tale of the separation of the two Koreas.

On patrol one night, a South Korean military unit accidentally crosses into North Korea. One soldier is left behind as the unit hurriedly withdraws, and he gets tangled in the tripwire of a land mine. A couple of North Korean border guards find him and disarm the mine. This leads to an increasing and affecting friendship between the three, who meet in the Northern border post for cards and gossip – later between the four, because the South Korean soldier brings along a sidekick.

In this kind of film it’s not possible to really give spoilers, because the facts are already known; who is going to end up dead, who will be injured, and who did what to whom. The one surviving North Korean soldier, and the South Korean soldier who admits to the shooting, give radically opposite and incompatible accounts of what happened, though both agree the South Korean soldier killed the two Northerners. One of them, it seems, has to be lying. The detective story here is the search for a motive; just who is lying about what happened, the South Korean or the North? Or maybe they are both lying; and if that’s so, why are they? What is it that both sides are so eager to hide?

It is to find out this that a female Swiss officer of Korean ethnic origin arrives at the border between the Koreas. Let me just summarise her role in a sentence or two, because in my opinion all she does is act as an irrelevant distraction in the plot, and by the end is reduced to an observer with nothing whatever to contribute. The film would have been shorter, but otherwise completely unharmed, if she’d been left out altogether. This isn’t the kind of film where one needs eye candy to hold the plot together.

As an Indian, myself, I know the yearning of separation; between the peoples of India and Pakistan, separated by politicians and entirely artificial borders, condemned to enmity not of our doing and indoctrinated from childhood to hate the other. That hatred is really only possible if we don’t meet and mingle, because when we do we discover that the “other” is just like us. That’s why nations divided against themselves detest the idea of the people being able to meet freely. It makes hatred impossible.

And so it is in JSA. The truth the two sides are desperate to hide, even at the cost of lying through their collective teeth, is the simple and tragic friendship between the border guards on both sides, men thrown apart and together out of no fault of their own, and finding a little warmth and pleasure where they can. By day they posture at the de facto border at Panmunjom, pretending they don’t know each other. By night they smoke, play cards, admire photos of each other's girlfriends, and scoff down cupcakes together, and play children’s games in the woods. One only wishes it could go on forever, but one knows – because the facts are laid out at the start – that it will end badly, and how. In the end, there is nobody who comes out undamaged – not even the Swiss officer, whose career goes down the drain.

Though this is a South Korean film, there’s absolutely nothing biased about it. The South Korean military is just as obtrusive and bullying as the Northern, the ordinary soldiers just as eager and at the same time fearful of the “other side”, both deeply human and as deeply conflicted. The tragedy is that so much potential happiness can be turned so easily into unending tragedy.

About the acting, I’ll disregard the Swiss detective and her Swedish superior officer, who chews a pipe and speaks English with a wince-inducing accent (“Your chop is do...”). The film belongs to the four soldiers, and most especially to Song Kang-ho who plays North Korean sergeant Oh Kyeong-Pil and Lee Byung-Hun who plays South Korean sergeant Lee Soo-Hyeok. The entire film is structured around the friendship of these two men, and the final tragedy is more theirs than anyone else’s.

According to Wikipedia, Kim Jong Il was given a copy of this by then South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in 2007. I wonder what Kim thought of it.

 The film can be viewed online here.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Report: North Korea Creating Zombie Army Against South

By Juno Kuttigranchu

HONG KONG/SEOUL | Wed 15 Jan 2014 5:33 am

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un

HONG KONG/SEOUL (Rueters) – A statement from a recent top-level North Korean defector claims that the reclusive nation’s leadership has begun researching a radical new weapon which has the potential to create havoc in nations like Japan, South Korea and even China.

According to Pyongyang-watchers here, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has become highly insecure in his position, even after having his uncle Jang Song Thaek executed recently for threatening his power. “Kim is poised between the military, on one hand, which wants to protect its position, and reformers backed by China on the other,” one expert on the Kim dynasty told this agency. “If he chooses the military, he risks angering his only remaining backer, China, and with the North Korean economy at a vulnerable state, he can’t risk that. But if he ditches the military, a coup d’état is not just possible, it’s almost certain, especially since the army’s upper ranks are filled with officers loyal to his father and grandfather who already blame him in private for diverging from their vision.”

Professor Won Hung Lo of the Institute of North Korean Studies in Seoul told this writer that Kim is considering a desperate throw of the dice in order to save his power. “He thinks that if he can manage to throw the neighbouring nations, especially Japan and South Korea, into total chaos, he can claim that North Korea is much better off in comparison, and the worse things get elsewhere, the better he will look.

“Kim is aware that he cannot possibly risk open war,” Professor Won continued. “Even if he could trust his military to carry out his orders, which he cannot, the North Korean army is incapable of winning a war. It can cause damage to South Korea as far as Seoul by heavy artillery barrages, and might conceivably hit Japan with a couple of ballistic missiles. But the response will be overwhelming, and he knows that as well. His tiny nuclear arsenal won’t be able to save him then.”

Professor Won also said that Kim cannot send commando units across the border to commit acts of sabotage like his grandfather had on many occasions. “The damage these units could do would be strictly limited, and easily discoverable,” he said. “Also, they would inevitably infuriate China, which is now closely engaged with the South Korean economy and does not wish any kind of disruption in business. So Kim has to look for another route to achieve his goal – something which can’t be traced back to him, but which can cause widespread destruction nevertheless.”

This writer was then given access to a statement made by a recent top-level North Korean defector, who claims the North Korean regime has started serious research into creating a “zombie virus” intended to cause extreme and uncontrollable aggression in anyone infected with it. According to the defector, Kim first got the idea from the zombie movies of George Romero. It is not generally known that Kim has always been a Romero fan, and is also an avid reader of zombie fiction.

“Research is continuing in underground laboratories near the city of Hungnam,” the defector stated, in the transcript made available to this agency, “under the direction of Major General Ho Li Kaw. Ho, who has a PhD in biotechnology from Beijing University, is known to be experimenting with different strains of viruses derived from bioengineering rabies and Ebola.

“Ebola,” the report said, “is extremely virulent and spreads with extreme rapidity. Rabies, on the other hand, causes a severe encephalitis and in most animals like dogs results in highly aggressive behaviour. What Ho is aiming for is a combination of the traits of both in one virus, which could then be introduced into a target nation and cause nationwide chaos and breakdown.”

In this 2012 file photo, Major General Ho is seen second from left with other officers and Kim Jong Un (right)

According to the defector, General Ho has already produced several different versions of the virus and has been trying it in test subjects obtained from labour camps, with varying but encouraging levels of success. “A few strains worked extremely well, but killed the test subject in too short a time to spread the infection far. A couple of strains proved more durable, but the aggression produced was too low to be of much utility. However, recently Ho is known to have achieved considerable success with two strains which combine high aggression with reasonably good survival of infected subjects. He is now working to refine these strains.”

The defector claimed that he had heard that, on the special orders of Kim, the subjects these tests were being carried out on were Jang Song Thaek’s relatives. “Kim is extraordinarily vindictive towards Jang,” he stated. “When he heard that there was a rumour in the West that he had had Jang fed to 120 hungry dogs, he expressed regret that he hadn’t thought of it himself.”

If the experiments being carried out by Ho are successful, North Korea will almost certainly seek to infiltrate infected subjects into South Korea and Japan – as well as possibly China – via midget submarine. “North Korea has a large and extremely capable midget submarine fleet,” Professor Wong said in Seoul. “Yono Class midget submarines can operate undetected in very shallow water, and can be used to approach the South Korean shore very closely at night. Spies, saboteurs, or in this case infected individuals can then be put ashore by rubber boats. Long before they are discovered by the authorities, the submarine will have slipped away.”

Illustration of a Yono Class midget submarine

 “The consequences of any such ‘zombie’ attack would be extremely grave,” a South Korean military official told this agency, speaking on condition of anonymity since he was not authorised to interact with foreign media. “North Koreans look like us, speak the same language, and are indistinguishable in all particulars. If a couple of dozen infected individuals were put ashore in this country at widely separated points, we could not possibly neutralise them before they started attacking people who in turn attacked others, starting an epidemic. And we could, of course, never prove that Kim was behind the attack.” Asked about what his government planned to do to counter the threat, he refused to elaborate.

But it is significant that zombie movies have disappeared from the DVD shops of Seoul.

Raghead: Waltz With Bashar (Part I)

Copyright B Purkayastha 2014

Sunday 12 January 2014

Hitler finds out about the civil war inside the civil war in Syria

Downfall parody created by me.



They speak of the love affairs of celebrities

And the scores of sport stars
On live TV.
They speak of gourmet meals
And reality shows, and tell us what should matter
To you, to her, to him and to me.
And meanwhile, drones still fly
Over weddings and schools
Children die, and parents weep.
And meanwhile
The shadow of imperialism stalks 
Foreign lands. And meanwhile, freedom marches on
With boots blood-drenched with the souls of the 
Innocent, and the tears of the 
Unwillingly forsaken.
And meanwhile, countries scream
Under the bloodstained knives of freedom's warriors, 
Wherever and whoever they may be.
And, meanwhile, the planet bleeds oil
The air reeks poison, and the rivers seethe.
Not a word of that
Will they speak.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2014