The Unforgiven: a fleetingly interesting but ultimately dull debut for Yoon Jong-bin

The Unforgiven represents two hours of my life that I shall never get back. Two hours, but it felt like more. After an hour I was looking at my watch, wondering where the film was headed. And then, like Achilles and the tortoise, the remaining period of the film was divided in two, and at each midpoint I debated whether I had seen enough or whether I should stick it out to the end. Even five minutes before the end I was feeling like walking out. I didn’t care enough about the characters, and didn’t care about what might have happened to them, or what might be about to happen.

Unforgiven
Cleanliness inspection in the barracks, and some unauthorised underpants are discovered

It didn’t help that the seats at the KCC provide comfort for about an hour, after which you shift on your buttocks wondering whether you can stay seated much longer. But at least they are better than the benches.

So what about the film? It’s about a couple of sensitive souls in the military, performing their national service, who are unable to knuckle down and play by the rules. Maybe I’ve been over-conditioned by the English public school system, or, more to the point, by loads of films about Korean high school life, or life in the military or a criminal gang. But there are rules to follow. There are hierarchies to observe. You do what your seniors tell you, and you don’t answer back – or if you do, you accept the consequences. Isn’t that what a Confucian system is all about?

One such sensitive soul, Seung-­young, is on leave from his national service, and comes to visit his senior, Tae­-jeong (played by Ha Jung-woo, the last of the KCC’s Four Actors for this year). He wants to tell his senior something. He spends the whole film beating about the bush not saying it, while the audience are treated to flashbacks covering their life in the military together, and life since Tae-jeong was discharged, trying to guess what it is. Given some elements of characterisation and some pointers in the plot, you wonder if there has been a homosexual rape (this suspicion helped along by the fact that one of the junior NCOs is known for stealing recruits’ underpants). But Seung-­young spends so long not blurting out the thing that is troubling him that you lose all sympathy.

In Kim Kyu hyun’s excellent and thoughtful review of the film over on koreanfilm.org (he thinks a lot more of the film than I do) he says “the portrayal of a Korean man who simply cannot articulate his inner turmoil in an intelligible, rational language is dead-on.”

I say: “get a grip. Spit it out, or let’s finish the film.” Unfortunately the first two never happen. And it’s more than an age before the third does.

This is Yoon Yong-bin’s debut. His third film, the rather bloated Nameless Gangster, was a box office success in 2012. His second film, Beastie Boys, is showing at the KCC next in the Ha Jung-woo season. Extrapolating between the films, I won’t make 24 October a priority.

Yoon Jong-bin (윤종빈) The Unforgiven (용서받지 못한 자, 2005) SterneSterneSterneSterneSterne

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