A former 'prostitute' throws candy at evil spirits while cursing American GIs.

Tour of Duty (거미의 땅) – ★★★☆☆

Tour of Duty (거미의 땅)

Tour of Duty (거미의 땅)

The sexual slavery inflicted upon the women of Korea during the Japanese occupation is an oft-discussed topic in Korean culture, with the euphemistically labelled ‘comfort women’ still striving for acknowledgement of the abuses they suffered. Less debated, however, is how the Korean government similarly forced such atrocities upon the women of the country for the pleasure of the American military, which was required in order to keep ‘peace’ on the peninsula. The hypocrisy involved has been a genuine source of frustration amongst feminists, particularly in regards to terminology – as money was exchanged for such sexual services with the American GIs, the women are often referred to as ‘prostitutes’ despite the subjugation imposed upon them.

Tour of Duty (거미의 땅)

Tour of Duty opens with a heartbreaking tale

Tour of Duty (거미의 땅), by directors Kim Dong-ryung (김동령) and Park Kyoung-tae (박경태), is a documentary that seeks to address the experiences of such ‘forgotten’ women. The film explores the lives of women forced to provide sexual services in a military town in the Uijeongbu area, and the affects of a history of sexual bondage. It is a heart-breaking and gut-wrenching viewing experience as the handful of women who still live in the now dilapidated town share their stories, and the poignancy is difficult to overstate. Directors Kim and Park do well in simply allowing their subjects to recount their traumatic pasts and their own distinct personalities, accompanied by some very attractive cinematography that exemplifies the twisted, labyrinthian landscape of not only the area but also the psychological trauma within. Yet despite such initial potency Tour of Duty loses focus and compulsion due to each director attempting to impart their own creativity on the film, resulting in an incredibly overly-long running time of two and a half hours.

A former 'prostitute' throws candy at evil spirits while cursing American GIs.

A former ‘prostitute’ throws candy at evil spirits while cursing American GIs.

Tour of Duty opens in suitably powerful style, as a now-elderly lady discusses some of the awful abuses she suffered when the military town was fully operational. The frank, almost confessional-tone of the conversation which includes the number of sexual partners and abortions she endured in her youth is beyond moving, while the resilience and resolve that developed as a result is incredible to witness. Similarly, the other women within the documentary are also highly compelling as they recount not only their tragic history, but their current life of squalor. One such woman, who became infected with a venereal disease from an African-American soldier, walks around the desolated military town throwing candies to ward off evil spirits while screaming racial obscenities about the man who gave her the affliction. Another traverses the myriad of maze-like pathways searching through refuse, lamenting the loss of her children. Directors Kim and Park employing stunning cinematography for each woman, employing different and very effective cinematic techniques for each in order to convey the disparate characters within the film. One of the most powerful images in the film comes when trying to locate the town itself on a map. As the camera moves across the Uijeongbu district, the sheer number of former military towns starkly articulates that the women featured within Tour of Duty are symbolic of a great many such stories in the area.

Yet the documentary becomes problematic when it begins to explore the life of an African-American/Korean orphan. Her history, involving childhood abduction by the authorities and forced prostitution – in which she often made to ‘service’ up to 15 soldiers a day – is no less harrowing than the other pasts being recounted. However the manner in which her story is told is highly expressionistic and completely at odds with the prior documentarian aesthetic. As such it is very clear that two directors are collaborating, with their alternative visions never managing to form a cohesive whole. The result is two films that have been edited together in a rather rudimentary fashion, which detracts from the incredible poignancy of what came before. This also gives rise to the other big issue with the film in the form of the two and a half hour running time, which is far, far too long. This is a genuine shame as had the two quite different films been edited separately both would be much stronger pieces of film, particularly the superb documentarian aesthetic in which Tour of Duty began.

A Korean-American orphan explores the old brothels she was forced to work in

A Korean-American orphan explores the old brothels she was forced to work in

Verdict:

Tour of Duty is a powerful documentary about the sexual abuses suffered by Korean women in an American military town in the Uijeongbu district. The stories of sexual slavery are harrowing and poignant, while the government role by both Korea and America in the atrocities, as well as the ‘forgotten’ status of the women, makes for an important and sometimes upsetting viewing experience. Yet the film loses traction as directors Kim Dong-ryung and Park Kyoung-tae seek to impose their quite different visual styles – the documentarian and the experimentalist – and the two disparate aesthetic styles never combine into a cohesive whole and make an overly-long running time of two and a half hours. Despite this, Tour of Duty is a potent reminder of crimes from the recent past that should not be forgotten.

★★★☆☆

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International Women's Film Festival in Seoul (서울국제여성영화제) Reviews
The 15th International Women's Film Festival in Seoul

WFFIS 2013: The 15th International Women’s Film Festival in Seoul – New Currents

The 15th International Women's Film Festival in Seoul

The 15th International Women’s Film Festival in Seoul

The 15th installment of the International Women’s Film Festival in Seoul (WFFIS) is due to commence from May the 24th to the 30th, in the trendy Sinchon district of the capital. With the catchphrase, “see the world through women’s eyes!”, the festival celebrates the achievements of female filmmakers throughout the world by screening an eclectic selection of films that focus on women’s issues.

The festival will launch with American director Sally Potter’s Ginger and Rosa, a film that explores the early days of feminism in 1960s London through the experiences of two teenage girls. From there, films from around the world will be shown that will promote and explore a variety of discourses.

For the full list of films you can visit the official website here, but for an in-depth look specifically at the Korean films in the festival – as well as the official WFFIS trailer – please see below.

New Currents Category

Grape Candy (청포도 사탕: 17년 전의 약속)

Grape Candy (청포도 사탕: 17년 전의 약속)

Grape Candy (청포도 사탕: 17년 전의 약속)

Director: Kim Hee-jung (김희정)

Synopsis: Released in 2012, director Kim Hee-jung’s independent drama Grape Candy explores the life of Sun-joo who is busy making preparations for her upcoming wedding. When her fiance is involved in an accident, she bumps into estranged middle school friend So-ra at the hospital and discovers the two are due to embark on a business trip together. Filled with jealousy, Sun-joo joins the trip but in doing so suppressed memories from the past begin to surface. See below for the trailer:

Love Games (연애놀이)

Love Games (연애놀이)

Love Games (연애놀이)

Director: Joung Yu-mi (정유미)

Synopsis: This animated 16 minute short film portrays the different kinds of games that couples play to bring them closer together, from mundane picnic events to more exciting endeavours.

Modern Family (가족시네마 )

Modern Family (가족시네마 )

Modern Family (가족시네마 )

Directors: Shin Su-won (신수원), Lee Soo-yeon (이수연), Kim Seong-ho (김성호), Hong Ji-young (홍지영)

Synopsis: Omnibus film Modern Family is comprised of 4 shorts that examine the family unit. In Circle Line, director Shin Su-won depicts the life of an unemployed middle-aged man. Director Lee Soo-yeon depicts the possible future of motherhood in E.D.571, involving a woman in 2030 who sold her eggs to repay student loans. In Good Company is about pregnant women in the workplace by director Kim Seong-ho. Finally director Hong Ji-young explores family trauma in Star-shaped Stain.

Circle Line (순환선)

Circle Line (순환선)

E.D.571

E.D.571

In Good Company (인 굿 컴퍼니 )

In Good Company (인 굿 컴퍼니 )

Star-shaped Stain (별 모양의 얼룩)

Star-shaped Stain (별 모양의 얼룩)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Father's Emails (아버지의 이메일)

My Father’s Emails (아버지의 이메일)

 My Father’s Emails (아버지의 이메일)

Director: Hong Jae-hee (홍재희)

Synopsis: My Father’s Emails is an autobiographical documentary based on the life of director Hong’s father, who wrote an email detailing his experiences through periods of Korean history.

Nora Noh (노라노)

Nora Noh (노라노)

Nora Noh (노라노)

Director: Kim Sung-hee (김성희)

Synopsis: Fashion designer Nora Noh is the subject of this documentary. Her importance in the world of fashion as the first person in Korea to hold a fashion show, as well as her other contributions, are explored and profiled.

Pluto (명왕성)

Pluto (명왕성)

Pluto (명왕성)

Director: Shin Su-won (신수원)

Synopsis: Festival favourite Pluto has garnered a lot of positive critical response since its premiere at the Busan Film Festival in 2012. The film explores the incredible pressure and bullying that transpires in Korean high schools, as well as the power wielded – and abused – by elite students. While several films have tackled the challenging subject matter, Pluto‘s originality and powerful resonance has led to invitations to international festivals including Hong Kong and Berlin. See the trailer below:

Tour of Duty (거미의 땅)

Tour of Duty (거미의 땅)

Tour of Duty (거미의 땅)

Director: Kim Dong-ryung (김동령), Park Kyoung-tae (박경태)

Synopsis: Documentary Tour of Duty examines a dilapidated camp town that once hosted the US military. Directors Kim and Park follow 3 women, and reveal their secrets and memories.

You Were So Precious (너무 소중했던, 당신)

You Were So Precious (너무 소중했던, 당신)

You Were So Precious (너무 소중했던, 당신)

Director: Baek Mi-young (백미영)

Synopsis: This animated co-production with France portrays an underground world where forgotten things dwell. When a child monk decides to return one to its owner, events are set in motion.

Festival News International Women's Film Festival in Seoul (서울국제여성영화제) Korean Festivals 2013