D-War Korean Movie

  I could talk about the long delay of D-War's eventual release, increasing its ledger to the point of becoming the most expensive South Korean film. I could focus on director Shim Hyung-rae's intent to conquer the U.S. market with a primarily English-language film with primarily U.S. actors and how he obtained the over 2,000 screens he desired to practically guarantee a significant box office take. But ever counter-narrative, I'll focus on how D-War supports Martin Kevorkian's thesis put forth in Color Monitors: The Black Face of Technology in America.

But first, the plot. "Imoogi" is not the Korean word for 'dragon' as the title might suggest, but refers to a mythical large snake. There are good and bad Imoogi. Apparently every 500 hundred years there's a woman, the most recent incarnation being LA resident Sarah (Amanda Brooks - Flightplan), who has a spirit (called Yuh Ui Joo) that helps an Imoogi become ‘celestial'. The bad Imoogi spends way more time hunting this woman than the good Imoogi and the woman has a companion, recent manifestation being Ethan (Jason Behr - TV show "Roswell"), who's supposed to protect her long enough to die instead for the good of the good Imoogi. If you don't get it, don't worry, early on it's explained to you twice and believability doesn't really matter because the film is really just a vehicle for computer animation prowess.

D-War Some of the computer imagery is decent, such as the King Kong moment or the speedy, street-slithering. And such is partly responsible for the first weekend gross that put D-War at #5 in the U.S., staying in the top ten for one more week. But as for lasting impact, intriguing dialogue and well-orchestrated acting and editing would have helped, but like Sarah, such was sacrificed in order for the dragons to slide on screen. Those with whom I shared witness to the spectacle vocally cringed at much of the forced dialogue and plot propulsion. Poor pacing is the main problem. Many scenes are so quick they end up dampening the impact of the images. What should generate awe, say, when the Imoogi or the massive Atrox Army is introduced, end up uneventful. In a past life, Director Shim was a comedian, and although there are bits that could work, this same poor pacing, following a storyboard like it was a power point presentation, hinders the impact of much of the humor as well.

I'm left to look around for something in which to engage. What I found was further evidence for Kevorkian's argument about how black characters are being placed behind the computer screens of our movie screens and what this says about technology and race.

This cinematic practice has reached cliched proportions in Hollywood. It's one of those things you don't notice, but once someone like Kevorkian points it out to you, you no longer can not notice it, like the negative space generating an arrow in the FedEx logo. Die Hard, Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible 2, Transformers etc., and now D-War, all cast black actors as computer operators. Although this partly represents a well-meaning effort to replace past stereotypical portrayals of blacks as ignorant with portrayals of them as highly intelligent, Kevorkian finds evidence that the black body is being placed in front of these machines to protect the white body from the contamination of technology, from the fears and anxieties spawned by technophobia.

In D-War we call him Bruce (Craig Robinson - Knocked Up). He searches for the information (touching the data), while the processing of the information (exploiting the data) is Ethan's domain. Heightening Kevorkian's argument further, Bruce's other job is driving Ms. Yuh Yi Joo and Ethan around the streets of LA. And the only time that Bruce actually freely acts on technology outside of Ethan's instruction is when he gives Ethan a gun. This is contextualized within the film as a bad choice, implying that Bruce doesn't have the capacity to exploit technology like our hero Ethan. (This questioned gift is then dropped from the plot like it's hot.)

Let me state explicitly that I am not implying here that Shim's Bruce is a consciously racist portrayal. (At least Shim doesn't have Bruce die first like Michael Bay smashes the black voice in Transformers.) The placement of the black body as a technological interface seems to me more evidence of structurally racist industry practices, audience genre demands, and a problematic genre trope than conscious politics. However, now that Kevorkian has pointed out the invisible arrow resonating in the negative space, we can't ignore it. It's up to us to change direction.

In the end, D-War is more valuable as pedagogy for globalization than as entertainment, demonstrating how the new Hollywood stereotype of the black body in the black box has returned to LA in the form of a monster movie from South Korea. Globalization is a thing of the past that is here to stay. The considerable success of D-War in South Korea, where it reached the all-time top ten of ticket sales, and its reasonable success in the U.S should have us looking at what we want, and don't want, to keep traveling to and fro our respective lands.


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