God's Eye View: Busan Review
Korean director Lee Jang-ho’s first film in 18 years follows the fallout among a group of Christians kidnapped by Islamist rebels in a fictional Southeast Asian country.
For God’s Eye View’s characters, it’s all about how good Christians are at keeping their faith while under duress; for the film’s viewers, it’s all about how one is good at sustaining their suspended disbelief. How could anyone maintain interest, otherwise, in a film where Koreans, after being kidnapped by Islamist guerillas in the deep of a Southeast Asian jungle, freely bond with some of their captors amid games of shuttlecock, and even see their guards procure Korean-made noodles for them?
Then again, these could be seen as just the more minor of setbacks in South Korean director Lee Jang-ho’s first film in 18 years, which has just made its bow at Busan.
Exploring the tribulations faced by a group of Korean missionaries abducted by a band of Islamist guerillas in the fictional Southeast Asian country of Ismal -- the film was actually shot in Cambodia -- God’s Eye View plays with a multitude of genre codes and ends up too melodramatic to be a taut thriller, while its simplistic rendition of ransom-related realpolitik undercuts its possible pretensions as political drama.
But it’s a piece which will play well among Christian audiences. Driving God’s Eye View is an examination of the concept of martyrdom, a fate which the film’s lead character Yohan (Oh Kwang-rok) repeatedly contemplates. Yohan appears at first to be a man of questionable ethics -- taking kickbacks from restaurants and recruiting village children to bolster the numbers of his baptism rituals. He gradually confronts these dark deeds, which ultimately leads to a religious epiphany in the jungle.
With Yohan taking the shape of a modern-day Jesus, the other characters could be seen as mere disciples. They all come with their particular flaws, but most of them remain too underdeveloped or painfully obvious: There’s an adulterous relationship between two of the young travelers that amounts to little; and the revelation that the “elder” of the group (Park Yong-sik) has possibly been cheating on and beating his wife (Kim Min-kyung), is too heavy handed to resonate. Like much of the film, it may be a preaching exercise gone too far.
Busan International Film Festival, Korean Cinema Today
Cast: Oh Gwang-rok, Nam Dong-ha
Director: Lee Jang-ho