hilsu and Mansu" is a familiar movie. Taken in context as a South
Korean movie, made at a time when the country itself was going through a
tremendous upheaval, the movie might be better than I give it credit for. At the
time the movie was made and released, South Korea was, quite literally, a nation
in turmoil and at the crossroads. It was not only planning on hosting the 1988
Olympics in Seoul, but it was going through a tremendous change in democracy and
all that entails. Protests filled the streets and students demanded free
elections from a supposedly already "democratic" government.
With the whole world watching, South Korea's government couldn't simply crack
down on the protestors like they usually did, so in a way, winning the Olympic
games did in the South Korean's dictator-like government and paved the way for
election reforms and South Korea's first real democratic elections in 1992. This
is the background in which "Chilsu and Mansu" is told.
Despite all of the above, "Chilsu and Mansu" is just not a very
good movie. It's good in the sense that the director knows what he's doing, but
it's bad in the sense that the movie offers nothing new to the international
viewer. Perhaps, from a South Korean perspective, the movie might seem daring
and even new. But to an outsider who has seen hundreds of movies of every ilk,
this one comes across as just...good.
The movie is about two down-on-their-luck blue-collar workers -- Chilsu, a
smart-aleck 20-something and pathological liar; and Mansu, a 30-something
not-so-smart-aleck who is constantly getting drunk to forget his problems. The
two men are obviously the stand-ins for the nation of South Korea.
Like other films that focuses on the much-ignored working class,
"Chilsu" concentrates on the two main characters as they struggle
through life, overcoming one obstacle after another. The obstacles are courtesy
of the world around them, which they have no control over. Our leads, you see,
are two ants in a big ant farm, and they are so low on the totem pole of social
stature that they don't even exist. Both men are painters, and while they paint
parking garages and movie billboards within the burgeoning and growing big city,
they are nevertheless invisible and do not count in the large scheme of things.
It is not coincidence that whenever we see the two men interacting with the
ever shifting and ever-growing South Korean world around them they are placed
against gigantic and towering structures like billboards. These things make our
characters look small, insignificant, and most of all, unheard. The movie's
central motif is the lack of ability by the leads to be heard.
"Chilsu and Mansu" is not at all subtle in its message, so be
prepared to be hit over the head. Otherwise it's a good film with terrific
performances by the two leads.