Welcome To Dongmakgol

Welcome To Dongmakgol


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Titles do matter, but people won’t listen. After spending a small fortune – building the village cost over $1million – the producers of this superior South Korean film decided to call it Welcome To Dongmakgol, which is about as naff as they come. Please ignore the soft, sentimental implications and go see. You will be surprised, even enchanted.

It is 1950 and the Korean War is hammering its tongs, without the Chinese at this point, but with the United Nations, led by America, on the side of the South. An officer and two soldiers from the Communist North find themselves the sole survivors of an ambush, lost without maps in a wooded mountainous region. At the same time, a frightened medical orderly from the South has become separated from his unit and is wandering in the same forest, when he is joined by a deserter.

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Both groups of armed men stumble upon the tiny hamlet of Dongmakgol, where the welfare of bees, the cultivation of corn and protection from wild boars is uppermost in their minds. The inhabitants don’t have a clue about a war going on, despite an American airman who crash landed his plane a week ago and is now recovering in one of their huts.

And so we come to a classic stand off situation in this peaceful, isolated community, where the order “Hands up!” causes confusion (“Which hand?”) and violence is the prerogative of wild animals. The top old person in the village is later asked by the North Korean officer, “What is the secret of your great leadership?” The white beard remains silent for a moment, considering deeply, before replying, “You have to feed them a lot.”

Although the concept of enemies recognising their shared humanity is not new, debut director Park Kwang-hyun and writer Jang Jin have avoided honey traps that sweeten the plot, causing an unhealthy sugar rush that rots your judgement. On every level, Dongmakgol (forget the Welcome) is an intelligent, heartening, beautifully acted and convincing anti-war film.

You have to feel sorry for the Americans (just kidding!) because when they find out that their pilot is alive and living in a mountain village, miles from the conflict zone, they decide to rescue him by bombing the place to smithereens. When someone points out that such an action would put the innocent lives of women and children at risk, the crewcut officer in charge pronounces, “We don’t have the option to be sympathetic.”

That was then. What’s changed?

Reviewed on: 03 Feb 2007
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Welcome To Dongmakgol packshot
Soldiers from opposing armies in the Korean War take refuge in a peaceful, isolated hill village.
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Director: Park Kwang-hyun

Writer: Jin Jang, Park Kwang-hyun, Kim Joong, based on the play by Jang Jin

Starring: Jeong Jae-young, Shin Ha-gyun, Gang Hae-jeong, Im Ha-ryong, Steve Taschler, Seo Jae-gyung, Ryu Duk-hwan

Year: 2005

Runtime: 133 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea


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