Monday, March 12, 2007

Movies and politics: The Host and The Lives of Others

The Korean-Japanese production The Host tries to be a lot of things: A Sci-fi/horror movie, a screwball comedy, a family melodrama, and a political satire directed against the United States, well, Bush's America. The director Bong Joon-ho argued that "It's a stretch to simplify The Host as an anti-American film, but there is certainly a metaphor and political commentary about the U.S." Let's see if you can figure out the metaphor here: The movie starts in the year 2000 at the U.S. Army base in Seoul, where an American mortician orders a Korean subordinate to dump dusty bottles of "dirty formaldehyde" into the sink and this disgusting toxic stuff ends up in the Han River(this part is based on a real event)and gives birth in 2006 to a Monster (yes, this is also a "monster movie"). Most of the movie revolves around the adventures of the Park family as they fight against the Monster. But the Americans show-up again. They are trying to "liberate" Korea from The Monster and the alleged virus The Monster is spreading. But contrary to the U.S. intelligence reports, there is no virus, and the American actions, including the use of their chemical agent "Agent Yellow" produces more death and destruction. I understand from press reports that Kim Jong-il has seen the movie and he is giving it thumbs up. Yo, Kim. So do I. Maybe we can be next Ebert & Roeper.

It seems that Kim isn't the only chubby and pompous reviewer whose taste (in films) I seem to share. John Podhoretz in a review in the Weekly Standard calls The Lives of Others "an immensely rich and gripping film about the moral awakening of two men." It is. In reminded me of some of Costa-Gavras great political thrilles that were critical both of righ-wing regimes backed by Washington as well as communist regimes backed by Moscow. But then J.P.Normanson goes on and on bashing the "cultural elites" for supposedly giving a cold shoulder to the movie. Why have they behaved this way:
The ideological struggle against leftist totalitarianism was something that did not arouse the interest or enthusiasm of cultural elites in the West during the Cold War. Far from it; from the 1960s onward, the default position of the doyens of popular culture was a presumption in favor of the Communist struggle, as personified by Mao, the Viet Cong, Castro, the Sandinistas, El Salvador's guerrillas, and the so-called African liberation movements.
Yeah. Right. The fact of the matter is that as the movie suggests, the most important support that East German's intellectuals had received during the Cold War was from the members of the "cultural elites" in the West, represented in "The Lives of Others" by one of the editors of the left-leaning "Der Spiegel" who helps smuggle and then publishes a manuscript written by an East German writer. It was thanks to the Ostpolitik strategy promoted by West Germany's Willy Brandt -- which was treated with hostility by Washington -- that East Germany's intellectuals could gradually expand their links to the West. And btw, many of these former dissidents are clearly not leading pro-American marches in Germany today. Which brings me to my last point: When the movie ended, someone next to me commented to his friend that "this stuff could happen here one day" I know. I know. This is not a totalitarian system, and let's not draw "moral equivalency," between "them" and "us," etc. etc. But my guess is that thanks to the Patriot Act there is a well-paid bureaucrat in OUR government who is probably reading now your blog or listening to your phone conversation, as he or she monitors The Lives of Others.

On Paulson's Asia tour

Read my Paulson’s Stride Through Asia on The National Interest Online. The site also carries an interesting exchange on Condi's new necon, a John Bolton with a smiling face, Elliot Cohen.