Director Won Ho-yeon (원호연) has crafted a beautifully poetic and ethereal documentary with Captain Kang (강선장), an exploration of the life of a fishing captain who lost his legs in a tragic accident. From beginning to end the film is a sensitive depiction of an impaired working class figure, one that never slips into sentimentality or melodrama due to the even-handed direction. Without his legs, Captain Kang still resolutely refuses to quit fishing and his determination, coupled with his philosophical musings, convey a man of humility and dignity.
From the outset, Captain Kang’s attitude on life is superbly combined with the cinematography. As Kang discusses the concepts of freedom and the struggles of life, the stunning open waters and the hard but rewarding tasks of fishing are conveyed; when he explains the precognitive dream he had leading up to his accident, the waters are filled with supernaturals mists. In every case director Won conveys how Kang and the sea are united spiritually, and the gorgeous visuals and compelling fisherman make the documentary an enthralling experience.
In developing the life of Kang, director Won contrasts the captain’s life at sea with that of his family on land. Such scenes are interesting as they convey the support of a humble family involved in the fishing industry, diligently working together at all hours in order to earn a living. Yet what is fascinating is that, while happy in the company of his family, Kang never seems wholly comfortable on land. As such the film loses some of its compulsion whenever the ship docks, as the captain’s character and his life at sea is so absorbing and interconnected that when they are separated it is keenly felt by the audience. Yet director Won attempts to make other members of the family interesting, notably the relationship between Kang and his son. The captain’s guilt for losing his legs – especially when he had a premonition – requires that his son join the family business rather than pursue his own desires. Yet the wonderful irony is that Kang’s remorse blinds him from seeing his son’s faults, adding another dimension – and a little comedy – to the proceedings.
Yet as great as it is to see the captain as a family man, Captain Kang always soars when on the ocean. The symbiotic nature of the humble captain and the sea – simultaneously his love and his nemesis – is constantly enthralling, and watching the leg-less fisherman brave the perils of the job is as entertaining as it is fascinating.
Captain Kang is a beautifully ethereal documentary about a fisherman who refuses to let his lack of legs stop him working. Wisely eschewing any sentimentality, director Won Ho-yeon captures the humble and modest captain’s life with dignity, conveying their symbiotic relationship through the wonderful cinematography and Kang’s philosophising. Poetic and captivating, Captain Kang is a consistently compelling exploration of working class pride.