Hanbando (2006) Movie Review

(Movie Review by Eric Choi) I had my doubts about “Hanbando” from the very beginning. It was clearly a nationalistic film, the sort of patriotic movie that exploits a very current situation in order to grab an audience. In this case, the issue is the continuing confrontation between South Korea and Japan , something that has been going on for decades between the two countries. “Hanbando” is directed by Kang Woo-Suk, whom some may remember for his very entertaining film “Silmido,” a true story about Korean soldiers secretly trained to assassinate the North Korean dictator, but who ultimately were killed and forgotten by their own government. While I loved “Silmido” and enthusiastically introduced it to others, I must admit that Kang has been developing a bad habit of late, in that he is producing films that are just too darn long and dull. “Another Public Enemy” is a prime example of a simple story stretched into 2 and a half hour. The same happens here with “Hanbando”.

“Hanbando” is about the desperate search for the real Gukswei, a government stamp that approves important documents. Supposedly, the previous Gukswei used to approve so many documents that benefited the Japanese government for the past few decades was fake. The real one was concealed by one of our past king before he was poisoned by the Japanese. By finding the real Gukswei, the Korean government can regain control over the informal Japanese occupation that is still happening today, only with less violence and more financial debt issues.

If you don’t follow any of this, it’s okay, as the story is not all that interesting. There are a whole bunch of characters, including the Korean president, an obsessive historian, and at least a dozen others thrown into the mix. It’s not too hard to figure out who these people are, as they are played by recognizable actors, but the real problem is the fact that “Hanbando” is just so darn boring. People continue to talk in rooms again and again to the point where you just want some kind of action to move things along. There’s only one scene that qualifies as action, and it’s pathetically short.

Otherwise, nothing seems to ever happen in “Hanbando”. Take the sequence where battleships are deployed at sea to prepare for a possible war between Korea and Japan . There is an entire segment in which the President speaks directly to the commander about their difficult situation, after which the commander declares his undying patriotism for some agonizingly long minutes. In the end, the battleships end up doing absolutely nothing.

Point is, despite the issues addressed in the film that are guaranteed to add fire to the already serious anti-Japanese sentiment in current Korea, watching people constantly talk is just not all that fun. And someone has got to tell director Kang to hire an editor that knows how to cut down a movie. “Hanbando” has no business being as long as it is. On the flip side, the ending is too abrupt. However, one nice editing technique I noticed was the film’s juxtaposing of the past and the present during conversations. By the way, what is it with Kang’s movies never having a female character, or at least a proper one?

Foreigners will have even a harder time enjoying “Hanbando”, as its patriotism is all that really makes it somewhat watchable for the Korean audience. It’s all about stirring up Korean nationalism, but unfortunately I didn’t really buy any of it. I’m as patriotic as they come, but this is ridiculous. If people want to see a Korean political film done right, check out “The President’s Last Bang.” It’s filled with priceless moments of dark comedy, something this movie could have used more of.

Also worth noting is “Hanbando’s” portrayal of the pro-Japanese faction, which is very negative, and is an obvious way of avoiding any bad word of mouth within the Korean community. However, I actually found the pro-Japanese faction to be more reasonable, despite the filmmakers’ best attempts. After all, they are only looking at the modern world realistically in declaring that Korea needs Japan economically; the main characters are people who are too preoccupied with history to care enough about what is happening in the real world.

Simply put, “Hanbando” bored me to death. The filmmakers spent so much money on production values and CGI, but forgot to make their film involving. The locations look very nice and expensive, but they do nothing for the film’s entertainment value. “Hanbando” is easily the most boring and pointless film I’ve seen all year, and the fact that it’s making so much money in Korea only adds salt to the wound.

Woo-Suk Kang (director)
CAST: Sung-kee Ahn …. President
In-Pyo Cha …. Lee Sang-hyun
Tae-hyun Cha
Jae-hyeon Jo …. Choi Min-jae
Shin-il Kang …. Kim Yu-sik
Soo-yeon Kang …. Empress
Sang Jung Kim …. King Gojong

Buy Hanbando on DVD