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“2 Doors” is a feature length Korean documentary directed by Hong Ji You and Kim Il Ran, who previously served as co-writer and producer on the recent drama “Miracle on Jongro Street”. The film charts the events of the 2009 Yongsan Tragedy, when a confrontation between tenants protesting against unfair compensation for forced relocation and the police turned violent. With inhabitants of the Seoul neighbourhood occupying the rooftop of one of the buildings marked for demolition and redevelopment, a SWAT team was sent in, with clashes soon breaking out and fires spreading, resulting in the deaths of five protesters and one police officer. Controversy as to who was to blame swiftly followed, with both sides blaming each other, and with the surviving tenants trying to take their case to court while being hit with criminal charges.
It’s only been a few years since the Yongsan Tragedy made the headlines across the country, and so “2 Doors” certainly comes as a relevant and timely release. The incident touched on a number of issues and debates in modern Korean society, including the justice system, human rights, and the on-going concern over forced relocation due to urban redevelopment, and directors Hong and Kim do a solid job of setting the film in this wider context. What makes the film successful is the way in which this is done by a thorough and comprehensive running through of the facts, working in a great many skilfully integrated interviews with protesters, the police and politicians, official documents, news reports, and both amateur and professional footage of the event itself. Although the film is in effect a search for answers and an effort to get to the truth, it still comes across as being balanced, and this allows it to have a certain air of authority and objectivity, while remaining clearly being passionate about its subject.
There’s definitely a great deal of meat to be chewed over regarding the incident itself, and Hong and Kim give a real impression of having looked under every stone in their search for the truth. Rather than spending too much time trying to investigate one particular side or aspect of the case, the film logically follows the incident from start to finish, effectively depicting the heightened tensions and the ways in which neither the police nor the protesters were prepared for the courses of action the other would take. Though the film reveals attempts by the authorities to cover up the incident and deflect claims of police brutality (which, everything else aside, do seem merited), what caused the tragedy clearly has many different factors, crucially including the SWAT team being unaware of the protesters having flammable materials and having only one crane for reaching the roof instead of two, making their task all the more difficult and less safe.
It’s all fascinating stuff, and the film is for the most part gripping and revelatory. However, this isn’t to say the film is without faults, chief amongst which is the fact that at an hour and forty minutes it’s undeniably a touch on the long side for a documentary. As a result, it does lose focus during some stretches and is prone to repetition, and while this isn’t serious enough to derail the rest of Hong and Kim’s good work, it would undoubtedly have benefitted from some judicious editing. The other issue for non-Korean viewers is the fact that the film lacks English subtitles for some inter-titling, onscreen captions and shots of newspaper reports and documents, many of which are clearly very important to the incident. Though this doesn’t actually detract from the overall level of understanding, it’s frustrating at times and might well result in interesting facts being lost for some.
Even with these problems, “2 Doors” is still a very worthwhile watch, and an important piece of documentary film making. The title apparently not only refers to the fact that the rooftop lookout built by the protesters had 2 entrances (a vital detail that the SWAT team were unaware of), but the two choices between truth and lies, and on this score, Hong Ji You and Kim Il Ran have certainly succeeded in raising awareness and offering a searching and substantial investigation into a still raw and unresolved tragedy.
Hong Ji You, Kim Il Ran (director)