29 March 2011

AJEOSSI / THE MAN FROM NOWHERE (Dir. Lee Jeong-beom, 2010, South Korea) - Cinematic Agenda Setting

A predictable yet solidly well made revenge thriller, The Man From Nowhere, was 2010's highest grossing film in South Korea. This might not come as a surprise given the film’s mixture of sentimentality and violent discourse but what is perhaps more surprising is the fact such a populist film in South Korea has by passed cinema exhibition completely in the UK arriving instead straight to DVD. Now, one could easily formulate a simplistic argument stating why - the absence of a notable or well known South Korean cast and crew made it potentially unattractive to UK film distributors but this seems like a feeble position to adopt given the deluge of pretty shoddy Hollywood films currently besieging multiplexes across the country. If one was to compare it the Liam Nesson starrer Unknown a similar thriller in many ways and currently on release, The Man From Nowhere would arguably would win hands down given it’s polished cinematography, superior action choreography and an emotionally resonant revenge narrative. Of course, The Man From Nowhere does not have the presence of Liam Nesson who after the unexpected commercial success of Taken has suddenly been awarded box office kudos. Additionally, subtitles might be another reason and potential barrier for audiences who simply want to get lost in the spectacles of escapism.

A few years back, The Man From Nowhere, may have been granted a noteworthy distribution deal but discouragingly the UK film market tends to respond to marketable trends within world/global cinema and the interest in South Korean cinema is currently quite low when compared to the way in which it was represented at the height of the new wave. However, whilst it may have dropped down the cinema cultural agenda in the UK it does not necessarily mean the same has happened in South Korea - many new film makers continue to emerge alongside the now more familiar festival favourite auteurs. I think it would wrong to say that no such audience exists in the UK for South Korean cinema because a film like The Man From Nowhere bears many similarities with Hollywood genre cinema yet its blatant dismissal points to an inherent favouritism to American and European cinema in general.

A similar precedent is evident in the pages of many of the UK film magazines and journals which regularly report on European cinema but are somewhat suspicious and ignorant of Asian film industries and cinema - Indian cinema rarely ever gets a look in Sight and Sound, the bastion of so called inclusive film journalism. I will return to the way in which Indian cinema has been ignored and continues to do so in prestigious film journals like Sight and Sound in a later response but currently I am yet again disappointed and largely frustrated by the way in which our cinematic cultural sensibilities are being limited and contained to serve the purposes of elitist tastes, the despairing Hollywood hegemonic impulse and an altogether more suspicious and unexcused xenophobia lurking in the midst of many print publications. What I wanted to say was quite simple - The Man From Nowhere is a terrifically entertaining film and much superior to Hollywood and equally as gripping as European thrillers, only you will have to resign yourself to the dispiriting thought of watching South Korea's biggest film of 2010 on DVD.

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