World Travel
New Original Fiction
Books & Movies

Film Space
Movies in depth
Dreamscapes Two
More Fiction
Lifestyles Archive
Politics & Living


The International Writers Magazine: Film Review

Silmido (South Korea 2002)
Director: Woo-Suk Kang
• Dean Borok
Like repels like. Positive charges reject each other. No finer example of this rule exists than the Korean peninsula, which has been engaged in a vicious civil war for over six decades. The Korean nation, comprising two adversarial political systems, is like a crucible trapped between the tectonic plates of three grinding, shifting imperial masses: Russia, China and Japan.


Korea has been invaded and plundered by each of these countries in perpetual musical chairs rotation since the beginning of history. The chaotic cruelty that Koreans have suffered has produced a hardened race of people possessed of a profound tolerance for cruelty and suffering. This cynicism is reflected in its cinematic offerings. I have watched some absolutely shocking Korean films that revel in raw, stomach-churning barbarity. Judging from these depictions, I have to conclude that the public craving for crazy, violent narrative is equivalent to their gastronomic insistence on mouth-burning, redolent cuisine.

Their war movies are particularly gut-wrenching, dealing, as they inevitably do, with the cutthroat fratricidal bloodletting between competing national entities, the Republic of Korea in the south and the People’s Republic of Korea in the north, and the tragic psychological consequences for all involved. Koreans, as expressed in their cinema, are emotional, explosive and fatalistic. Silmido, a 2002 film shot with meticulous precision by director Kang Woo-Suk, is based on an absolutely horrid true incident dating from 1968, when the South Korean government decided to assemble a trained team of assassins to murder North Korean military dictator Kim Il-Sung in retaliation for a failed attempt by the North to kill the South’s military dictator, Park Chung Hee. That’s how politics were conducted there until recently or, maybe, still are.

This dream team of killers was recruited from among the most vicious bottom dwellers of the prison population, Dirty Dozen style. Since the Robert Aldrich “Dirty Dozen” movie had its theatrical release just a few years earlier, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it was the inspiration for the Korean initiative, life following art as it does. But the resemblance ends there. North American commercial audience could no more endure witnessing the brutal military training techniques and gratuitous sadism inflicted on the inmates than they could stomach a forced diet of the raw garlic bulbs and scorching kimchi pickled cabbage that are staples of the Korean diet.

SILMIDO The film features a superb ensemble company of magnificently fit actors, who are able to grippingly portray the physical punishment and psychological tortures inflicted on the inmates by their military trainers as they prepare to embark on what is likely to be a suicide attack on the North. When the government decides to cancel the project, the decision is taken to keep the affair Top Secret by killing off the whole unit. They learn about it and mutiny, killing all the guards, and hijack a bus to travel to Seoul, with the intention of assassinating the South’s president in retribution.

By the end of Silmido, I was petrified in horror, particularly as the epilogue shows how the whole incident was neatly classed in a dossier, initialed by government ministers and locked away in a filing cabinet in the grimy basement of a government archive facility.
© Dean Borok March 4th 2014

More film talk

Share |


© Hackwriters 1999-2014 all rights reserved - all comments are the individual writer's own responsibility - no liability accepted by or affiliates.