Dir: Jung Yoonsuk | Dragons & Tigers | South Korea | 2014 | 93 mins
Sep 29 03:45 pm | International Village #8
Jung Yoonsuk makes his first feature film debut with Non Fiction Diary, a documentary apprehending the disastrous events of 90’s South Korea.
Yoonsuk strings together cases of unsettling violence to create a thought-provoking narrative. Through his use of archival footage and revealing interviews, he asks complicated questions of the audience and purposefully does not provide the answers.
South Korea in the 90’s was a time of uncertainty. In 1989, South Korea switched from a military to civilian leadership and struggled with the ideological concept of capitalism in a country that was before so heavily rooted in the authoritarian Fifth Republic regime. As capitalism and democracy took off, those who were against it quietly sought to break the foundation of South Korea by implementing acts of terror.
The film starts with the case of the Jijon Clan involving a group of young men who killed five people in rural Yeonggwang in protest of consumerism. Ironically, none of their victims were wealthy but were actually hardworking individuals. Yoonsuk dissects the brains of these young men through a series of interviews with the detectives closely related to the case. His transparency in telling the story is unnerving but admirable. The audience is able to witness the crimes first-hand and hear the clan’s justification for the murders.
“My only regret is that I didn’t kill more,” says one of the boys looking straight into the interviewer’s camera.
Strangely, the clan was treated like celebrities. The press ate the story up and continually harassed them until they were sentenced to death row. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this case is the seemingly nihilist actions of the killers. This is where Yoonsuk starts to explore some deeply complicated and conflicting questions: can the government justifiably take the lives of those they believe should be dead? Is there judgment after death?
As an audience member, it feels as though Yoonsuk is propelling out question after question but refusing to answer them in his narrative. It’s hard to know what Yoonsuk is trying to say, especially since he then goes on to explore other tragic events in post-democratic South Korea such as the Sampoong Department Store collapse and the fall of the Seongsu Bridge. Both incidents reflect negligence and poor-money handling. Here Yoonsuk’s voice is a little clearer: which is worse, murder or manslaughter? Were the accidents not deliberate apathy to safety? Are these crimes not inherently similar to those committed by the Jijon Clan?
Non Fiction Diary is full of enigmatic questions. It is up to the viewers to piece the evidence together and come to their own conclusions. Jung Yoonsuk does a good job of objectively laying out the facts, but perhaps too objectively. Yoonsuk could have guided the audience to the final destination rather than offer them endless paths to get there. That being said, the narrative was precise and honest and completely heart-wrenching. If you are going to watch this film, be prepared for a sleepless night.