Saturday, June 25, 2011

Welcome to Dongmakgol: Korean Movie Review

Another movie I saw last week was called Welcome to Dongmakgol or 웰컴 투 동막골. It is a comedy from 2005 that takes place during the Korean war. Dongmakgol is a village so high and isolated in the mountains that inhabitants rarely come down and the villagers have no idea that the Korean war is going on.

Their first visitor drops from the sky in an odd machine. A man with blond hair and blue eyes who can't speak a word of Korean. His plane inexplicably crashed, or was it caused by some kind of magic that protects the village? The town doctor, the only man who can read or speak any English, helps him and tries to talk to him. "How... are... you?" he asks, reading from an English text book. The American soldier is rather angered by this question as he's covered in bandages and has a number of broken bones. The doctor doesn't understand why he doesn't respond as the text book suggests: "Fine, thanks, and you?"

But, then, as they are attending to the American soldier, two South Korean soldiers wander into the village. They make small talk with the villagers and explain that there is a war going on. "With Japan? With China?" they ask. No... with Korea itself. The villagers are quite confused by this. The South Korean soldiers are busy explaining all the terrible things the North has done when three North Korean soldiers then walk into the village and the soldiers of both sides jump up and brace themselves for a stand off. The villagers look on rather amused, wondering what is so scary about the sticks they carry and the strange potato-shaped metal apparatuses in their hands. They face each other down for a whole day, no one moving, scared the other one would move first. Finally a grenade is accidentally thrown and the village's food store house is blown to bits.

The North Korean soldiers feel responsible (plus, they have no where to go as the allied forces are now regaining the South and they have been separated from the main army) so they offer to stay until they can fill the storehouse again. The South Korean soldiers don't want to look bad next to the North Koreans who have so generously offered to stay, and so they decide to stay, too. After a series of strange events, they start to befriend each other, and the American soldier, too. Something about the town just seems to have that effect on everyone.

I really love this movie. It reminds us that North Koreans and South Koreans are just humans after all. They are enemies because of what their governments have told them. In this little idyllic town of Dongmakgol, those problems between them cease to matter and the soldiers just become human beings again. Again, this, like Wedding Campaign, is an older movie and a bit off the radar now, but certainly worth hunting down and watching.


  1. I liked the movie, but there are a lot of people who complain that it is anti-American propaganda, for obvious reasons to anyone who sees it.

    I think the problem may be a lack of balance: what the US military does do (I'm trying to write this so as not to provide a spoiler) is the kind of thing they really did, so it highlights bad stuff from the American side, but without the necessary balance of pointing out North Korea having started the war itself and committing so many on-the-ground atrocities.

  2. I wouldn't call this "anti-american" propapganda as much as anti- american military propaganda. But the thing that I love most about this movie is that it humanizes everyone. The US soldier is a pretty lovable guy in the movie, and so are the North Korean soldiers and the south korean soldiers. I think it just reminds us that war brings out the worst in everyone, but on the inside, we're all human beings capable of love and forgiveness.

    1. I agree with you, it's portraying the negative effects of war, the movie has no physical bad guy, although the Americans due seem bad, it's due to war.Also @kushibo, why is it a problem when Americans are portrayed in a bad light, when many Western or American films continuously portray other countries in a bad light. We do not fully understand the negative effects America has had on other countries. The United States should not be thought of or even considered as the "savior" of all countries.

  3. I also loved this movie and have seen it a few times over the past few years, but I do feel that it is fairly unbalanced against the US, or at least the US military. The pilot is the only sympathetic American; all the others are either callous or monsters.