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Yellow Sea

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Yellow Sea

Yellow Sea (2010) is a Korean movie that starts out in Yanbian, located in China, north of North Korea and next to Russia. Most of the movie takes place in South Korea. Yanbian is mainly ethnically Korean, and it was granted an autonomous prefecture status by China. The opening credits state that people have to survive by doing illegal activities. Interestingly, since Yanbian is located in China, the Korean men are playing Pai Gow, a Chinese gambling game, and the audience finds out that the protagonist owes Chinese men money to buy a visa for his wife to work in South Korea since they, like many others, are poor. In order to pay back the Chinese men, he must be smuggled into South Korea in order to kill a man to repay the loan sharks. What follows is a bloody thriller where the protagonist is trying to find his wife in South Korea while plotting the murder of a stranger, and later he just tries to not get killed when caught between the fight between two gangs.

The movie shows a lot of sex and violence, but I like the theme of identity and culture. As a joseonjok, or a Korean living in China, the protagonist is looked down on. Someone tells him that he needs to wear a hat because he stands out, but to a non-Korean, we think, he’s Korean – why would he stand out? The beginning scene could be shown to students and some later scenes when he is in Gangnam (like the song), an exclusive neighborhood in Seoul where he is very different from the South Koreans. The smuggling of the protagonist can be likened to how many of our students’ parents or grandparents came to America, and it’s really this idea of how he is Korean but not seen as Korean in South Korea that makes the topic interesting. Can’t many of our students who have lived in America for a long time or were born here relate? Do people from your home country view you as one of them when you are clearly American. Discussions could also be about the globalization and sharing of cultures, whether they like it or not (since there is obvious animosity towards the Chinese in the movie). It could be an interesting conversation and writing project about the cultural identity you think you have. I plan on pairing this with The Namesake.
edited by jlee on 8/2/2014