혈? 누

혈? 누 (Blood Rain), directed byKim Dae-sung, was a film that I once told Lime I wanted to watch, and she said she’d already seen it and didn’t wish to re-view it. At the time, she told me it was about a “serial killer” or “a murder mystery” (I can’t remember how she put it) “in the Joseon Dynasty”. Which, to me, sounded fascinating, but I bided my time, until today. Well, I watched it tonight, and have to admit, I indeed did find it quite fascinating. It reminded me of nothing more than the film version of The Name of the Rose, with its gory deaths (though the deaths in Blood Rain are far gorier), its sleuths working with pre-modern technology and science, and a dark, nasty mystery at its heart.

I also found the film unfailingly critical of all kinds of interesting things I seem never to see explored deeply in films about the past here, like the strict brutality of the traditional Korean class/caste system, power-hungering bureaucrats, the questionable (and possible exploitative) nature of shamanic ritual practice, the horror of anti-Catholic purges pursued by the Korean crown during the Joseon era, and the general brutality and cruelty of life in the countryside. I’m better the peasantfolk were a lot more like the people in this film than the idyllic, pastoral folk depicted in the (nonetheless somewhat cute, but also infuriating) movie Welcome to Dongmakgol. I didn’t see people beating one another with sticks or engaging in village lynchings in Dongmakgol, you see. (And for the record, I don’t think they were, in this, much different from peasants anywhere. The Romantic poets’ notions of peasantry have polluted out understanding of the horrible mess of poverty, horror, and brutality that was normal life for the mass of humanity not so very long ago.)

Worthwhile movie, anyway. One thing that surprised me — one punch that felt pulled — was that there were no obvious slaves in the town. Hereditary slavery, I’ve just read, was banned only at the end of the 19th century in Korea, but by the late Joseon Dynasty their numbers had dwindled from the centuries-long rate of 30% of the society to being about 10% of all Koreans, at least according to the book I’ve been flipping through lately (Sources of Korean Tradition, Vol 2). But 10% is still one in ten people, and we saw a good many more than ten, but not one flatly obvious slave.

Now, I could have missed the signals. Certainly slavery was different here than what I associate with slavery in American culture. Or maybe slavery is still not something one brings up in historica dramas. In the TV program Rome, slaves aren’t in chains either — but they are obviously slaves, and their status is openly referred to… but then, it’s not Italians who are making Rome. Maybe with more distance comes more fascination with the really seedy bits of historical culture. Or maybe slavery’s just not on the critical radar, even though, among the other nations under the sphere of Chinese influence, Korea was, my book claims, unique in the form and type of slavery used.

But in any case, it was an interesting movie.

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