Address Unknown

Starring: Dong-kun Yang, Min-jung Ban, Young-min Kim and Eun-jin Bang
Tartan DVD
RRP: 19.99
TVD 3641
Certificate: 18
Available 26 June 2006

Seventeen years after the end of the Korean War the land is still suffering from the trauma of those times. In a small village, adjacent to an American military base, a group of psychologically damaged characters try to come to terms with the legacy of the war. Eunok, a young woman who has had her right eye shot out by her brother in a child's game, is the secret romantic obsession of Jihum, a quiet loner with a talent for drawing. The last of the taciturn teenagers which make up the main protagonists is Chang-guk, the half-cast illegitimate son of an American serviceman. Chang is torn between his desire to go to America and his distraught mother, who is doing the ultimate
Madam Butterfly impression, sending endless letters to her absent lover in the States, all of which come back "Address Unknown"...

Address Unknown is written and directed by Ki-duk Kim whose best known work is most probably the creepy and slightly disturbing The Isle (2000). Kim is never an easy director to watch, his singular vision of what he wants can sometimes alienate audiences. The film is a little heavy handed in its imagery and we are left in no doubt that the existence of the base dominates both the cinematic frame as much as it dominates the lives of those who live around it.

The film is shot through with disturbing imagery, from the killing of the dogs for food to the rescue of Eunok's puppy - which proves that puppy love can have a whole different meaning for some girls. Her bestiality, and Jihum's voyeurism, makes the film uncomfortable to watch. Whilst the film claims that no animals where hurt during the filming it's pretty certain that they were traumatised, especially the dog that is half hung before the camera cuts away to Chang-guk's reaction shot - who looks as if he finds the whole thing as distasteful as the audience.

Jihum's faltering attempt to woo Eunok is touching at times, though he eventually rejects her after she becomes the girlfriend of a G.I. with a dubious mental state and gets her eye fixed. To be honest this is not a film with anything near a happy ending for anyone involved.

The acting by the Korean cast is superlative, though the film is spoilt by the truly hack-eyed acting by the Americans playing the soldiers.

The disc has some okay extras. First up is a director's introduction which is terse, at best, lasting less than a minute and is directed at an American audience in the hope that the film will make them realise just how unhappy their troops are in Korea. Thankfully there is a much more extensive interview with the director, where it's is very clear that he is very unhappy about the American troops in his country. Last up are five trailers for forthcoming films and it's a fairly redundant comment to say they all look pretty interesting.

Audio set-up has a generous Korean stereo, 5.1 and DTS with English subtitles. Visually the film has a gritty feel, which is reminiscent of footage from the Vietnam War, much in the same way that Schindler's List was shot in black and white as that's the way most people remember the Second World War, it is doubtful that this is not a deliberate choice, to appeal to a non-Korean audience.

This is obviously a social cry from the heart which would not look out of place put against something like Kathy Come Home. Like Kathy, it is an attempt at a gritty realisation of individual distress against a world they seem to be powerless to change. Also, like Kathy, this is an overtly political film. Not really one for dog lovers, but none the less a harrowing portrayal of grim ultimate despair.

Charles Packer

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