Recently I watched the 2013 South Korean movie Berlin File because my favorite Han Suk Kyu is in it. I was very impressed with his Great King Sejong portrayal in Tree with Deep Roots and I wanted to see how he’d look like in a modern setting.
The Berlin File is about two North Korean agents who are a husband and wife stationed in Berlin and were set up for treason by a powerful father and son team taking advantage of the transition of governmental power in their country in order to protect their private agenda. So they worked on changing the personnel at their embassy in Berlin. The plot starts with an international deal involving the Mossad, Arabs, the CIA, and South Korea. There are bits of English, German, and Arabic in the dialogues, and the musical score as well as the action shots reminded me of the Bourne movies. But the flavor of the movie is over all akin to the South Korean films and dramas I have watched. I sort of felt at home with it, so to speak.
To compare-&-contrast and for old time’s sake I looked up on the Bourne films, initially just thinking of re-watching them at some time maybe, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith did a Bourne Identity in 1988, with a tiny part shot in Regensburg. I will take the time to watch that in full and check out how faithful it was to the Ludlum novel, as some accounts claim.
The Bourne Legacy was the only sequel that I wasn’t able to watch (’til this week) despite having learned that part of it was shot in Manila, so I decided to watch it right away. I felt good when it got to the Manila part, which was nearing the end, because it was done true to the everyday street scenery. I heard Filipino distinctively being spoken, the laughter in the streets, the automobiles willy-nilly. One of my favorite actors, Lou Veloso, is there with just a tiny part and projecting a familiar Filipino aura without over-acting. It was as though what I felt while watching the Manila scenes is similar to Katsuhiko’s pleasure at seeing his face on the screen, in that very charming Japanese movie The Woodsman and the Rain. The Manila scenes reminded me of Bourne in Tangiers. So in order to compare them, especially that now it’s Cross and not Bourne in there, I decided to rewatch all the three prequels, stat. Legacy is in fact not a sequel but, in the timeline, it is at about the end of Ultimatum. There’s a short part in here shot in Seoul.
Ah, so desu ka. There’s always an exciting street chase in each film. Paris, Moscow, Goa, Tangiers, Manila, I forgot the rest. There’s always a pretty and competent female character, and Bourne/Cross consistently provides a way out for them, out of his personal business. Good for Bourne, and Cross, too. I have nothing to complain about them especially that their ruthlessness as assassins are not played up in the plots, and they never display aggression towards the non-enemy.
Yesterday Orabeoni Jung (older brother Jung) finished with his doctoral studies and in the course of the conversation, during the lunch celebration with our teacher and his guests, his friend Mr. W. said he really likes action films. I had to keep quiet at that point because I didn’t want the attention to be directed to me. Slightly earlier I caught my thumb at the car door, immediately treated it with ice, and everyone had already given me sympathetic words and feelings.
Near the end of the drive home to the dormitories with Orabeoni and Mr. W. (in his car), Orabeoni was heartily thanking him for having been his “driver” the whole day to which Mr. W. jokingly responded as having been his “transporter”. Otoke? (what-to-do?) Whenever I can I have been babbling to my Korean friends about the Korean dramas and movies I’ve seen so far and so without thinking twice I blurted right away, “Orabeoni, Transporter is good, you must watch it.” (Earlier I had been recommending Berlin File to him at the lunch table since we were seated next to each other and it was easy for me to do so.) Mr. W. then added to my remark, “Yeah, and I have seen all of it.” But I couldn’t talk anymore because we were already getting out of the car. Belatedly I realized that he may also have meant the recent Transporter series on television, and not just the three films. I haven’t seen any of the ones on television because I had cut my television addiction about a year ago, and so I wouldn’t have anything to say about it after all.
Since I couldn’t do much with my sore thumb, when I got to my room I simply decided to re-watch the remaining Bourne film I haven’t gotten around to do, and then continued on to the Transporter ones.
I’d say the current action films are not much different from those since of the 70’s… they’re on the masculine prowess, attraction to the feminine, human capacity spectrum physically and mentally… Berlin File, Transporter, Bourne stories, The Saint, Hitman, and a hundred others feature the male physique glorified in ancient Greece and Rome, and the female form glorified since the advent of the popularity of corsets and eventually of the runway-hanger body shape. They’re about the alpha male unbelievably overcoming aggression that are stationed at a perimeter of decreasing radius enclosing him. Precise movements, always. Like the way Dae Gil (Jang Hyuk of Chuno) could gracefully orchestrate his disciplined mucles. Frank Martin (of Transporter) reminded me of Lee Bang Ji, Ddol Bok’s Sonsaengnim (Teacher) in Tree with Deep Roots. Aaron Cross’ (of Bourne Legacy) instant improvisations reminded me of McGyver. Simon Templar/Vincent Ferrer (Val Kilmer in The Saint, 1997) is a mathematician and a painter. Tarzan is like all of them: handsome, smart, quick, strong, sleek, and wealthy. The alpha males of the jungles of trees and of concrete, and the Janes who are at the same time weak and strong though preferably ‘complicated’ like in the way the French Inspector Tarconi (of Transporter) would want them to be.
Wahnsinn. Not Everyman can have the resilience of David Webb (a.k.a. Jason Bourne) and the accomplishments of sweet Dr. Emma Russell (physicist in The Saint, 1997). Not Everyman would stay sane after the behavior modifications experienced by Bourne and Cross. Not only that Bourne undergoes psychiatric crises, a memory yo-yo from brainwashing to amnesia to recovery, but Cross moreover undergoes a viral-induced evolution jump not dissimilar to what happened to the X-Men.
Although I could now chide myself at having loved all of these action films I could not help recalling that, in the academic discussions I’ve come across, this proliferation of adulation for the Tarzan-like prowess is integrated in the way the human psyche copes with the changing times. It’s an offshoot of the way the heads of families, especially in the West, perceived as emasculation, along with the rise of female independence, during the economic upheaval at about the advent of the industrial era. There’s got to be an image that the psyche can hold on to against the encroaching panic at the helplessness over the rise of the huge conglomerates and the societal havoc that result. Thus the popularity of Wild West heroes at first and then of the strong men in popular media. The way Frank Martin can leap and grab at things while falling remind me of Superman sans cape, not that it’s the cape that makes him fly.
I like these films because, well, for one, they transport me back home to where my father’s copies of Robert Ludlum et cetera paperbacks are stacked together on the shelf, with the Encyclopedia Americana and the Reader’s Digest Comprehensive Dictionary that were our school-homework staples. Wilbur Smith. Frederick Forsyth. Peter Maas. Robert Ruark. I can’t remember the others and of course I didn’t get to read all of them because I had difficulty in sustaining my interest over plots that I couldn’t visualize, the works that make up the bulk of these novels like high-profile espionage and sophisticated weaponry plus tactical language. Even so then, I did finish the first novel that my father handed over to me to spend away time with while I was not feeling well. It was William D. Wittliff’s Raggedy Man and I was only ten years old so I didn’t understand all of it (it’s about a disfigured ex-soldier coming back to secretly look over his family, so there was lot of emotional undercurrents). But I will always remember that book.
The familiarity of reading such paperbacks eventually led me to James Clavell, hence Eiji Yoshikawa’s Musashi, to one of Kobo Abe’s, one of Masuji Ibuse’s, and to several more of differing genre that included those of Edward Rutherford, Tolkien (who led me to take a peak at Irish folklore), C.S. Lewis, R. Tagore, K. Gibran, and Pearl S. Buck. Then maybe a couple each of Stephen King’s, Alice Walker’s and Maeve Binchy’s, one from Chaim Potok. Others I can’t recall anymore. Roots. On the U. S. Marines. About a tribe in prehistory Alaska, My Sister the Moon. Earlier than these there were Nancy Drew and Sweet Dreams, which led me to Agatha Christie and Mills & Boon — light ones that could be finished in a day. (I did plow through Jane Eyre, Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina, and attempted The Scarlet Letter. Wahnsinn. Of course I couldn’t understand them the way they should be understood because I had no idea of the pomp of Russian nobility, of the coldness of the prevalent weather there until Siberia, and of the sensibilities of the English gentry. I couldn’t appreciate their literary peculiarities. They were of worldviews at the other side of the globe.) Anyway, simply Wahnsinn. So many words eaten, not properly digested, I simply cannot remember the majority of them. They happened in another lifetime and I was a different person then. However they did teach me the love for the dictionary and hence erased my apprehension for the English language.
With which, all of them, led me to conclude later on that any other paperback fiction on action, fantasy, or love story out there will just be similar to what I’ve already come across. That cured me of fiction addiction and I wasn’t tempted to go back even after more wonderful authors came out. Of which, furthermore, I was not surprised in my conclusion that Bourne, Cross, Martin, Templar, and Tarzan are almost just the same guy. These kinds of films are made of the same stuff. I could say that there’s nothing really new in them. Seen one, seen all.
But still why do I like these films? Okay, so, I guess the sound tracks are very good. The Saint and Bourne led me to Moby, of which reading up on him made me better understand his song Extreme Ways (Bourne theme song). It’s one of my favorites and once while listening to it I got really serious. It came to my mind to ask who in the world could afford to say “I’ve seen so much in so many places… So many heartaches, so many faces… So many dirty things… You couldn’t even believe” — where are these people, what are they going through, and could I ever have a very good idea of what they’re talking about… like Jason Bourne who actually retraced his path and owned up to the killing of a girl’s parents, in Moscow, thereby freeing her of the sorrow of living with the thought that her mother shot her father and afterwards commits suicide.
There it is. It’s because these films sit on the boundary between what’s possible, and the dream zone. What’s possible is the caring for children and women, at which Simon, Aaron and Jason do a better job than Frank. Templar, Cross and Bourne can argue reasonably with women without grabbing at their wrists and dragging them forcibly. Except that in the 1988 Bourne film he and Marie (R. Chamberlain & J. Smith) behave the way Frank Martin and his girls do to each other, similar to Tarzan and Jane of the first book Tarzan of the Apes. Seemingly Tarzan’s attraction to Jane overpowers him, but actually it comes out that it’s always Tarzan who has the upper hand. The dream zone is right there: power over someone and something and everything that comes along. That’s the fantasy there: that the odds don’t count. That if one just acts decisively enough, fast, then whatever it is, it is possible. However, in real life reckoning the odds do count.
More importantly on the other hand, it’s not just the odds against safely landing a car on top of a speeding train, but the odds against surviving a severe drug dependency, like Aaron Cross. Like getting free from mind manipulation and struggling at forgiveness, like David Webb. Like leading a hopeful life after so much tragedy, like Simon Templar. Like producing almost costless energy source, like Emma Russell. For Frank Martin, well, although he just cares about the money, several times he’s shown to choose ethics that value the person…
…nah, they’re not really nasty guys… they do have soft spots… But how would all these ingredients wrap up in real life? Do such persons really exist, and how many are they? It would be nicer for the world if it were so, and it doesn’t hurt to hope that it were so. That’s the dream part of it. Though, not to be blinded by the nice part, consideration must also be given to the “backgrounds” of the fellows who are “bad” in these movies, the antagonists. If the movie was about that “bad” character then that person could be very well ethically defensible, too… right? … ah, but this is already a quagmire I wouldn’t know how to navigate over… I haven’t read Fletcher’s Situation Ethics. Ajik.
… however, for the simplicity of the plots, to be palatable to the viewer who must not be scared away from watching films in the future, who the good and the bad are among the guys must be simply put across so that there’s no ambivalence at the end of the show. Schluß. Weiter. The same formula with Wonder Woman and Star Trek. Things have to be neatly wrapped up in the end so that viewers will keep coming back for that good feeling they get after every show. If I continue with this ramble it will continue onto economics, and I’m not yet ready to explore that. Ajik.
There’s nothing really new about films of the masculine-prowess genre. Remington Steele. A-Team. Knight Rider. Stingray. Misssion Impossible. McGyver. Airwolf. James Bond, of course. T J Hooker. Even of the procedural genre, like my favorite CSI: Miami reminds me of Hawaii Five-O in my childhood, and Grey’s Anatomy of Doogie Howser, M. D. But I see, though, that their charms can be found in the tiny human issues incorporated within the plots, in the decision-making parts, in the outcomes of such decisions, in the coping of crises, and in the perception of the individual viewer. This is the facet that has endeared Star Trek: The Next Generation to me. There’s always freshness found in these parts. I’ve actually learned so much from Capt. Jean Luc Picard’s team.
I’d like to think of it as similar to the atoms, at least all the naturally occurring ones, basically known to science, and they’re all just the same everywhere whether be in stars or in the bloodstream, but these few atoms neatly named in the Periodic Table of Elements are able to form the countless number of compounds existing, making up the countless variety of objects around us, in solid, liquid, and gas forms. They’re all the same intrinsically — the same protons, electrons, neutrons, and binding forces — but they do come out differently depending on the combinations and permutations of such parts.
Or, viewing it from another direction also applies: the human dramas, or affairs/concerns, have basically been of the same stuff ever since — fear, doubt, redemption, revenge, bliss, rage, tranquility, want, need, naivety, security, passion, understanding, empathy, camaraderie, love, obsession … — and these basic ingredients are packaged in different ways and come out as the stories that are continually churned out. The action films, fiction paperbacks, and television series will never run out of customers.
Seriously, though, I don’t have a film genre that I would label as favorite. I don’t go gaga over action films as much as I don’t go gaga anymore over the Disney and Marvel ones. I treat them on the same level now. If a film can talk sensibly about the real human situation then it’s fine by me, and it could be fantasy even, either of the fairy kind or of the scientific kind, both of which I also like. However, they shouldn’t be made as lamp posts for morality and ethics because they are heavily influenced by the love for money.
Stories in the mass media could serve as societal mirrors. But I’m not coming back to my paperback fiction and television addictions anymore. I’ll be content in re-watching, in case I miss them, the American-made movies I’ve already seen. Aeon Flux. Blade. The lot. Only when there’s really lots of extra time will I then indulge in the newer ones, at several years from now. Hopefully, and more importantly, I’ll have the chance to explore those that are popular in the countries immediately surrounding mine — Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the rest nearby. Definitely I’ll go back to R. Tagore and K. Gibran, then take the time to get to know Thomas Merton side by side with the Mahatma Gandhi…
But what I’ll do now, right now, is listen to Moby while I enjoy this marinated duck that Orabeoni gave me, a Korean recipe ready for the pan. I’ve learned from Dae Jang Geum that ducks are good for the health. Ducks are also a delicacy in the Philippines…
This post was especially written as a gift to Orabeoni, who’s going home soon and I’m not sure if I’ll ever see again. It’s a sort of a memory marker for his last day as Herr Student, which is the reason for some events of the day being mentioned here 🙂 Congratulations, Dr. Jung! I pray for God’s blessings to your plans. Stay healthy and live well! Ganbei! Banzai!
(Thanks to the owners of the posters.)♥♥