Film - Aimless Bullet


Tony Cross watched Aimless Bullet at the London Korean Film Festival...

Aimless Bullet, directed by Yu Hyun-mok, is a South Korean film from 1960. It managed to get its release out whilst South Korea’s government was between two sets of extremely conservative – not to say dictatorial – leaders. When there was a military coup it was banned. Until it won awards abroad, when it was allowed a home release.

You can see why those in charge might not like it. It’s an incredibly dark look at the day-to-day struggles of a poor family, living in ‘Liberation Town’. Liberation Town is a shanty town. It’s full of people who have fled the consequences of the Korean War – a war that is often forgotten here, even though British troops fought and died there.

The film focuses on Cheol-ho and his extended family: his mentally broken mother, his wife, his wounded war vetern brother Yeong-ho and his sister Myeong-suk. Cheol-ho is cursed with a toothache that he refuses to deal with because it is too expensive. Even though people keep telling him to do so.

Cheol-ho’s mother, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, keeps crying out ‘Let’s get out of here!’ She’s a constant reminder of the costs of war. As is Yeong-ho, who is teased with the possibility of happiness when he meets Seol-hui, a nurse he knew during the war. But she is being – to use a contemporary phrase – stalked by a young man who has fallen in love with her and threatens her with poetry, as well as violence.

No one in this story gets a happy ending. It’s as bleak as anything I’ve ever seen. Seol-hui ends up dead, murdered by her stalker; Myeong-suk ends up as a prostitute for American soldiers, Yeong-ho ends up in prison after an attempted bank robbery goes wrong and Cheol-ho, having lost his wife during her pregnancy ends up wondering the streets. He finally gets his toothache sorted out but in doing so goes too far and gets two teeth pulled, even though the dentist tells him he should only do one. He ends up dazed and shattered in the back of the cab repeating the same phrase that his mother cries out, ‘Let’s get out of here!’

I told you it was bleak.

It’s a condemnation of many things, but in particular the treatment of wounded war veterans. Yeong-ho, who has become friends with an actress called Miri, is considered for a part in a film but an angry Yeong-ho realises that they only want him for his scars. Infuriated he storms out. Myeong-suk ends up a prostitute partly because the man she loves has been wounded in the war and can’t bring himself to accept her love. He sees himself as broken. If the Americans in Britain in World War Two were ‘over-sexed, over-paid and over-here’ they are that squared in Korea. Yu Hyun-mok doesn’t overtly criticize the Americans but it is there implicitly. He’s angrier at his own government.

Cheolho works, but his poverty pay can’t keep his family in anything but poverty. He can’t afford to go to the dentist and his shoes are falling apart.

It’s an astonishing film. Jin Kyi Kim is superb as Cheol-ho. He’s genuinely heart breaking as he falls apart towards the films end. Ae-ja Seon as Myeong-suk and Mu-ryong Choi as Yeong-ho give excellent support too.

Oddly, the film it reminded me of most was Gary Oldman’s ‘Nil By Mouth’, because you know whilst you’re watching it that you’re watching something great but it is so emotionally draining and so dark that you don’t know whether you’ll ever want to watch it again. That’s how I felt about ‘Aimless Bullet’.

Follow Tony on Twitter @Lokster71

Aimless Bullet is touring to Edinburgh, Manchester and Belfast - visit the website for more details.

Image - Korean Film Festival