THE NET (2016)
A unique tale of a North Korean fisherman who accidentally floats into the South and finds himself at the mercy of a new form of state control
South Korean cinema has taken plenty of opportunities to highlight the desperate situation of its neighbours to the North, but in The Net director Kim Ki-duck finds a way to criticise aspects of both countries in one fell swoop.
Among those criticisms is plenty of common ground portraying the Korean nations, at least in some senses, as two sides of the same coin.
When you start a Kim film, you cannot be sure which version of the director you will be getting. The master auteur in films such as Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (2003), 3-Iron (2004) and The Bow (2005). Or the bad boy of Korean cinema, with plentiful gore and shock like The Isle (2000), Pietà (2012) and Moebius (2013).
We have the former with The Net, a considered commentary of Korea’s North-South divide that flicks the lens between the toils and privileges of the two varying countries.
Like many Kim films, it is a very simple concept, that breeds a hotbed of other issues and complexities as its runtime continues.
Nam Chul-woo (Ryoo Seung-bum) is a poor fisherman in North Korea. Living with his wife and young daughter, he has a simple life of fishing from his small boat.
One day he out retrieving his fishing nets and they become stuck in his boat’s engine, causing him to float from Northern waters towards those capitalist rivals in the South. He is then suspected in the North of being a defector or spy.
He is picked up in the South where he is interrogated for much the same and suspicions of him being a spy lead to beatings and attempts to force a confession.
Chul-woo just wants to return home to his family, but the South are also keen to enforce what they view as a moral duty, “we cannot return him to a dictatorship”.
When he is shown the affluence of Seoul, his reply is simple: “My family is more important than a luxurious life.”
However, he does not just see riches and freedoms of Seoul. He helps a call girl who is getting beaten by her club owners and is appalled to learn she must sell her body to make money.
Chul-woo forms a close bond with Oh Jin-woo (Lee Won-keun), the guard charged with looking after him, who believes this disorientated stranger from the North is no spy and just wants to return to his family.
What Director Kim manages to achieve is take what is considered such a black and white issue – South good, North bad – and finds cause to question the conduct of those in the South while highlighting the intelligence and humanity of someone from the North.
It is another impressive notch on the already brimming filmography of Director Kim and his varied body of work.