filmcomment.com

Olaf Möller

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The biggest find, Korean filmmaker Jung Yoon-suk’s Non-fiction Diary, might handily be described as a political-historical essay in the guise of a true-crime film. In the mid-Nineties, a number of young men were executed for committing a series of random murders whose victims were usually middle-class. In footage shot immediately after their arrests, these haggard men are wild-eyed, exhausted, and above all pitiful, and Jung became fascinated by their seemingly paradoxical motive: rage against a world in which money rules, compounded by a desire to get rich. In his interpretation, they were dispossessed, wanted to belong, came from a region known for its rebellious past, and considered their crimes as something of an insurrection. Jung understands all this within the context of the troubled years during which Korea’s dictatorship was essentially at an end but a free democracy was not yet in place—instead of politics, the country had an economy, which, as Jung shows, was built on corruption. Intelligently mixing media coverage of the day and interviews with people involved in the case—investigators, politicians, etc.—Jung connects these unrelated cases. But Non-fiction Diary isn’t an investigative work. Jung’s interested in the tension between the way this era looked and sounded in the media, and how people remember it.

Cahiers du Cinéma 2013.12

Vincent Malausa

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Le premier, Non-fiction Diary de Jung Yoon-suk, est un ahu-rissant documentaire travaillant sur les archives d’un cas unique de meurtres en série réalisés par un gang de villageois qui, sous lenom de « Jijon-pa » (les « suprêmes gangsters »), trauma-tisèrent le pays en 1994.

Cette bande de jeunes déclassés du miracle économique s’est mise à enlever des hipsters des quar-tiers de la nuit séoulite pour les massacrer et les dévorer dans leurferme, située à plus de quatre heures de Séoul. Entre Brigades rouges et folie à la Massacre à la tronçonneuse, Jung Yoon-suk brosse un éprouvant portrait de la Corée des années 90 en raccordant à ce fait divers deux tragédies nationales liées au capi-talisme sauvage (la chute du pont de Seongsu en 1994 et l’effon-drement du centre commercial Sampoong en 1995).

C’est un voyage dans les ténèbres traversé de récits effarants, comme l’ar-restation des meurtriers à l’occa-sion d’un carambolage avec des policiers rigolards en pleine cambrousse (on se croirait dans Memories of Murder) ou la ren-contre des bourreaux convertis au catholicisme avec des parents de victimes (impossible de ne pas songer à la grande scène de confrontation de Secret Sunshine).

La puissance des archives, quimêlent dossiers policiers et extraits des informations de l’époque, inventorie une col-lection d’images traumatiques dont le cinéma coréen ne semble jamais sorti, entre faillite de la démocratie capitaliste, désastre moral et fantômes d’une société ultraviolente.

Non-fiction Diary : Jung Yoon-suk’s documentary revisits a serial-killer case in 1994 to explore South Korea’s dysfunctional political system

Clarence Tsui (Hollywood Reporter)

For those who loved the South Korean serial-killer drama Memories of Murder, Non-fiction Diary is essential view- ing. As if providing a real-life corollary to Bong Joon-ho’s film about how rule-by-amorality spawns horror on the ground, Jung Yoon-suk’s first feature-length documentary delivers a cerebral and damning critique of the twisted values running rampant in a country lurching towards a neo-liberalist, corporate-driven future in the 1990s.

Jung’s film is masterful in how it connects three seem- ingly independent traumatic episodes in the country’s history in the mid-1990s — a spate of horrific murders targeting people driving a certain kind of sedan, the collapse of a bridge in Seoul, and a multi-storied depart- ment store caving in on itself — and examines how they complete a picture of the moral corruption and stagger- ing incompetence which defines the modus operandi of the South Korean political elite.

Central to Non-fiction Diary is what sounds like one of the most implausible crimes of the modern age, when a group of young men calling themselves the Jijon-pa (“Supreme Gangsters” in Korean) abducted people, killed them after torture sessions and then burned their remains in self-made incinerators.

The film offers insights about how these events unfold in the sharply tumultuous political climate. It was, after all, around the time when democracy returned to South Korea, and former military dictators were tried, sentenced to death and then had that nixed on appeal. Non-fiction Diary offers an unbelievable but ongoing narrative, murderous a nightmare that Jung insists still recur today.

NON-FICTION DIARY Offers Captivating Glimpse of 1990s Korea

Pierce Conran

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I stepped onto Korean soil for the first time almost 13 years after the end of the 1990s but there's no arguing the otherworldliness of that time, which can still be picked up on today by sampling the available media from that era. These days, some Koreans even reminisce about that special, indefinable feeling if a certain 90s song pops on in a basement bar.

Though a fan of documentaries, I've remained somewhat on the periphery concerning those from Korea despite my keen interest for the rest of the industry's output. A number of the subjects that they embark on are captivating, even essential at times, but they haven't always been made in the most gripping fashion. Mind you, I'm loath to admit that I still haven't seen some of the major recent successes, such as Talking Architect (2011) and Planet of Snail.

Recently, however, a pair of new documentaries have not only encompassed fascinating topics but they've elucidated upon them with dynamic new styles. One is Park Chan-kyong's feverish shamanism docudrama Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits, while the other is Non-Fiction Diary, the Jung Yoon-suk debut that takes on a panoply of calamities from Korea's troubled modern history.

Jung's film begins by rehashing a brutal crime case, whereby a group of men in the countryside, known as the Chijon Family, prayed upon innocent people by luring them into their secluded home and doing unspeakable things to them. Dark and upsetting, this sets the mood for the film but isn't actually the focus of the narrative. Before too long, we move to subsequent horrible events that have befallen modern Korea, such as the collapses on the Seongsu Bridge and Sampoong Department Store, and the IMF crisis that ravaged the country's economy.

From an outsider's perspective, I can only speculate that after coming out from under colonial rule, a cataclysmic civil war that tore apart the peninsula and successive, oppressive military regimes, the collective and now free (in a manner of speaking) conscious of the nation must have felt in a utter daze. After such a long, pervasive and evolving period of instability, the notion of democracy might have been a foreign concept to many. Though student protests had bitterly advocated for change and reform, now that it had arrived, some may not have been sure what to do with it.

The economy rose quickly and people's standards of living rose in tandem but a sense of unease seems to have hung over the decade and what Non-Fiction Diary does is tap into that odd atmosphere by latching on to some of the darker national news moments of those years. Events which marked the public consciousness and which highlighted both how the influence of certain ways of thinking employed during previous decades were still damaging the nation and the fact that democratization is merely the first step on the long road towards a better society.

Non-Fiction Diary is a powerful document of the hard transition Korea underwent as it moved into its democratized era following President Chung Doo-hwan's fall from power in 1988. Following such a long period of hardship, one of the initial aftermaths of the political change was a nationwide embrace of economic advance. In fact, each of the happenings highlighted in Non-Fiction Diary appear linked to Korea's aggressive economization: the Chijon Family were known for their hatred of and targeting of the rich; alacritous growth prompted some hasty and shoddy construction leading to the collapse of two major structures, including a department store, the bastion of Korean consumerism; lastly, the IMF crisis had a severe effect on Korea's spending power and plunged many into debt.

What makes Non-Fiction Diary work so well is its fresh approach to what is essentially a collection of old news clips and cultural/political talking heads. A palpable sense of dread mounts through strong pacing and the inclusion of shots of grass, roads or tombs, accompanied by text or sound clips and superimposed with a downbeat and foreboding soundtrack.

Jung's film hints at a dark underbelly that was uncovered by the contemporaneous liberalization of Korea with a film that works as an intriguing mood piece of the times. Intense, engaging and just a little menacing, Non-Fiction Diary is a fascinating snapshot of Korea's evolving national psyche in the 1990s.