CONFLICT: Following one South Korean recruits' journey of mandatory service reveals how an individual is shaped into being part of a collective identity.
Lauren Wissot
Lauren Wissot is a US film critic and journalist, filmmaker and programmer, and a contributing editor at both
Published date: October 22, 2019

From its arresting opening sequence of military exercises performed before a riveted crowd celebrating South Korean heroism during the war that tore the Korean Peninsula in two, Kelvin Kyung Kun Park’s Army places its central theme of «performance» front and center. Mandatory military service is a rite of passage in South Korea, the director/narrator explains, reflecting on his time (nearly two years required) performing his duty, And how his point-of-view changed as he returns to boot camp a decade later, camera in hand, to follow a fresh-faced recruit named Woochul.


Through elegantly composed shots and a delicate score (Kabuki-like to these western ears), Park dramatizes daily basic training activities while simultaneously commenting on the distance between his own memories and the action in front of the lens. The exercises nowadays seem almost cushy, Park observes. (Are the lack of beatings of recruits due to his filming?) He recollects once seeing UFOs while returning from the DMZ all those years ago – then ponders the theory that UFOs are actually «subconscious mental projections of the masses.» («That an individual’s subconscious mind and mystical values produce a mass projection of lights in the sky,» he further explains). Adding to the mystery, he later learned that this UFO experience had happened to many soldiers, most when nearing the time of their discharge.


A trio of bubbly young ladies performs a Christian rock song during a church service for the all-male troops. From his bird’s-eye view, Park captures the exquisite image of a sea of identically dressed bodies, arms flailing as if in a sports arena. Our narrator disturbingly admits that, upon finally being put in charge of a unit, he became the type of person he hated so much. Does power corrupt so swiftly – or is it a process more slowly insidious? After all, in the military, «education happens through the body,» like «practicing with an instrument,» Park notes. Training, of course, felt like «rehearsing for a performance».

Army-documentary-South-korea-post1 Army, a film by Kelvin …

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