In Pusan 2011, an heroin, a villain, and 23 000 extras

This blog is supposed to deal with korean art, but this article will be about real events. Still, this story deals a lot with film. Let’s open with a flashback : in the middle of this June, an actress, Kim Hyeo-jin has been arrested for having demonstrating, and this news made headlines in the press. 300 people were arrested along with her, among a demonstration of thousands of people. Many of them knew Kim Hyeo-jin throught Twitter, because this actress is well known for her involvment in social issues. In Korea, Twitter, unless Facebook, spread widely because you can share real news which are not in the official press, that usually young people don’t trust (except Hankyoreh). Think I’ve never heard any of the person I met in Korea trust what is written in Chosun Ilbo. So what is the event there are sharing and demonstrating for ?

Hanjin Industry, caricature of the villain

It’s about a woman alone on a crane in a naval construction site, in Pusan, since the 6th of january. We’re in October and she’s still up there. Meaning she lived on that crane, 35 meters high, during 8 months, without electricity (at least until July, to be confirmed now) including in the awfully freezing winter and the amazingly rainy summer. For what ? To protest against the huge lay-offs her company, Hanjin Heavy Industry. And having learn, since then , which lay-off it is about, we can agree with the saying of a congressman of the oppositionnal Democratic Party : he called that a « murder ». 1300 workers fired in two years, many stories of suicides and hunger strikes, while the company is raising huge profits, while also having raise salary of all the shareholders, including members of the family of the chairman. By the way, most of the workers laid-off were also union members. You’ll find here like a portrait of the typical monster chairman in our modern capitalism.

We’ve got the film : we have a villain, and there is also an heroin, Kim Jin-suk, the woman on the crane. She had already nothing to lose : she had been laid-off previously, for union activity, after having lost her youth by working in the company since her twenties. And there’s one thing, now, which allows ourself not to be alone even on a top on a crane in winter : a smartphone. Kim Jin-suk has been given food and everything to have a Smartphone in function, and she could endure the 8 months with that.

23000 korean people following an unknown worker on Twitter

Kim Jin-suk began to tweet, tweet, all day and the followers gathered day after day. If you connect to her Twitter account, you’ll see that she has 23 000 followers. Kim Jin-suk is tweeting in Korean, but some of the followers retweet with translation. Just the amount of tweets and followers this person occurs gives an impressive news on a major social event in Korea : 23 000 people are following daily the life of a banal worker on a crane. The riots who happened in the Arab countries, in Spain, in England, were born in a similar way.

The movement drove itself into a rally onto Pusan, called « Hope Bus ». Hundreds, then thousands (until 10 000) of people came to Pusan by  bus from all over the country (mostly Seoul) to support Kim Jin-suk and the union members. They just claim they support, sometimes in a simple cute way, like making the « love » sign together on the bottom of the crane.

But despite all these efforts, Kim Jin-suk keeps staying there until a real solution is found to the lay-offs. Because the union didn’t agree yet with the company. It took months before the issue reached the main medias and the government. The chairman became the first chairman of a Chaebol to be heard in the National Assembly. A reportage in KBS shed a dreadful light on the guy, unable to justify properly the lay-offs. Kim Jin-suk and her followers are also angry because the company and the government seems to do all which can be done except focusing on the issue in stake. For example, see this article about the police repression on CNN, with an awful mix of tear gas, at liquid state, with water canon. Seems a premiere since like the Park Chung-hee dictatorship. Never heard of such methods like that in Europe. I’ve been told in details how it happened. A Twitter friend was truly shocked that it hurts, like burning, not only eyes, but all skin, when many children and women were in the demonstration.

The video below sums up most of the story. It’s the only and main long reportage made on a foreign media : Al Jazeera. Notice how the Philipinese workers have called Hanjin a « graveyard ».

Mobs attacking workers just like in the movies

The violence of the social conflicts in Korea is barely imaginable in our « democratic » worlds. The police let, or even watch, mobs paid by a private company, destroying demonstrants. They may do it even against students. And the main medias, (Chosun, Dong-a, Joongang Ilbo, Yonhap News, YTN, KBS, MBC…) have all the same coverage : articles are biased, partial, barely sourced, vague, awfully written in a journalistic point of view. I could notice it in korean, just on the way it was constructed or titled.

Just look at this article about the police repression, to compare with the CNN’s one : they talk about « aggressive protesters » who blocked the city and got what they deserve, just a good gentle shower. No mention of the tear gas. You may also learn in these kind of medias that some good citizens demonstrated against the demonstration, the « parent’s union », old fools well known in Korea for being an equivalent of the american Tea Party. Then you read on Tweeter that these people were armed, very violent, I even remember a Tweet on the spot saying that « they are totally drunk on soju ».

I never saw all of that with my own eyes, but so many friends cannot lie together about the same problem. As well as so many movies. You see similar sequences of such battles in many korean movies per year, such as Breathless 똥파리 in 2009 or, just this month, the ending of 통증. It’s a bad film, except for the main character, an odd lost guy inable to sense any pain, paid to hit people whoever they are. Among korean movies, the best sequences I saw on the subject are in Before the full moon 저 달이자기 전에 (pictured right) , breathtaking documentary which shows a social conflict as it is : a war. Unfortunately, the film hasn’t been released. In fiction, the indie hit Paju 파주 contains a somptuous attack of a building seen on the point of view of people inside, as a very impressive disater movie. 

A call to all filmmakers in Pusan

But still, Korean movies hardly deal with real social problems of the country. Korean filmmakers and actors even more rarely take part in social issues, unless people like the wonderful George Clooney for example. Why ? Because you can be banned of a program for that. MBC did it for Kim Yeo-jin (read here). Or because, before the upcoming Pusan Film Festival, the city and the festival already offically said that they don’t want any trouble. You can find in the above mentionned press, some amazing words such as « fear » on the city, « cold shower » on the mood of the festival, or « shame on the guests » as stated by the mayor of Pusan. «Fear and shame» because some citizens will make a demonstration in a part of the town when the film industry is celebrating on the other side? Yes, but the shame is not on the same side.

That’s why the Twitter community decided to appeal to the film people before Pusan Film Festival, which will be held between 7th and 15th october. They would like some of the main guests, including foreign ones, to just say that such a movement is worth to exist. That a demonstration will show how much the korean people have the feelings and guts you may see in their movies. That the best movie of the festival will maybe not be some drama on the festival screens, but in the street. Later, we can bet that many movies will come from the Hanjin issue. A friend is already making a wonderful animation on the subject, all in Lego bricks, a way to express that this fight can be a sort of fairy tale, schematic, symbolic, easy to explain. A movie about the Hanjin issue has an heroin and her friends, a villain and his sidekicks, and who knows, maybe a happy ending.

Other links

Twitter account of Kim Jin-suk

One of the best blog dedicated to the subject.

A long article on LAtimes on the subject

The « hope bus » official page

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