masterly master lee

a home for forgotten and famous korean pulp, its heroes, its heroines, and its pulpeteers

Haan! 한길수 2005

HaanHaan. It’s Dutch for rooster or cock. It’s also the slightly unfortunate English title for the Korean version of Pearl Harbour: Han Kilsu 한길수. Based on honest-to-god true facts, this is the story of Han Kilsu, a Korean expatriot in 1940 in Hawai’i. As Korea had been colonized by Japan, Korean citizens in the US, who had often fled there to escape the brutal oppression at the hands of the Japanese Government General at home, were ironically seen as Japanese citizens. Han Kilsu, the eponymous hero of the story, works at the Japanese consulate in Honolulu, pretending to be a good Imperial citizen during the day and stealing Japanese secrets and giving them to the Feds at night. And these secrets were no ordinary secrets, either. This was real Eric Ambler, John le Carre stuff: Han Kilsu found evidence of the impending attack on Pearl Harbour. His contacts at the FBI were incredulous to say the least and as everyone knows Pearl Harbour was not prevented. Han Kilsu was not taken seriously. Given that this is a real-life story (the real Han retired from spying and lived out his years on a ranch in California), this could have been a fabulous if bitter movie. But as its inclusion in this blog may lead the nimble-minded among you to deduce, it is not. It is a truly horrible movie; the acting is not as atrocious as most B-movies, but the direction is incredibly stereotypical, hackneyed and so nationalist that is hard to stomach for just about anybody who is not a member of the director’s (Lee In-su 이인수) inner circle of flag-waving potential Tokdo (or Takeshima) invaders. And without tongue-in-cheek moments or even the faintest traces of humor, it is hard going from beginning to end. The Koreans are good (if they are properly independent-minded), the Japanese are villains in the tradition of ’60’s war movies German Nazi villains, the protagonist (Ahn Jae-Mo 안재모) is suitably single-minded and his love interest pretty and inconsequential. This could have been overcome, or as should happen in a B-movie turned into strengths, but the singular absence of anything but pitch-black seriousness and nationalist sermons that do not allow of human beings as multi-faceted persons, make this impossible. Consequently, the movie is no fun, Han Kilsu’s tragic story does not touch the viewer, the potential riches of the war past of Korean Americans are left unexplored and the low budget shots positively aggravate. Everything and everybody is harnessed into the director’s conception of nation and of its history. A more creative or quirky perspective could have made something of this movie; this director, however, seems to have been cast from the conventional mold of die-hard nationalists. And there is one thing that unites die-hard nationalists from all over the globe: lack of humor and a grim take on the world. That’s this movie in a nutshell.
Good points? Well, I have to admit I was surprised to see the Japanese villains speak Japanese. And Han Kilsu and other into the airKoreans also speak Japanese when talking with Japanese characters. Another good point: well, not really good maybe, but I was secretly relieved to see that the director decided not to break the old Korean TV and cinema tradition of hiring really, really bad foreign actors for the American characters. More good points? Nope, unless you think it is funny that American buildings have those typically 60’s/70’s Korean turning knob locks on them.
I’ve still got another movie (창공으로 Into The Air) to watch from this director. This one is set in the same period, is again about Korean Americans and the plot is supposedly about a number of Korean pilots learning how to fly in the States in order to bomb the Japanese Imperial Palace into oblivion. Oh yummy, I’ll keep you posted.

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