Note: This article contains references to topics such as sexual abuse and violence.
The long weekend is coming up and this year’s Independence Day celebration is bound to have us mulling over what it truly means to be free. With the passing of the Anti-Terror Bill looming ahead, many fear that abuse of its provisions would lead to the prosecution of dissent and mass incarceration. If our democracy is under attack and many are learning more about our country’s history of state-funded killings, is it disingenuous to commemorate the declaration of our “inherent and inalienable right to freedom?”
Like a lot of people, I often turn to art to help me make sense of things and process how I feel about them. This weekend, I’m having a date with freedom films. From prisons to revolutions, these provoking picks make a case for what a life unbound could be.
“A Taxi Driver”
Director Jang Hoon’s 2017 historical drama “A Taxi Driver” is based on the real-life story of Seoul taxi operator Kim Sa-bok, played by “Parasite” star Song Kang-ho, who unintentionally becomes involved in the 1980 Gwangju Uprising driving around German journalist Jürgen Hinzpeter who wanted to cover the civil unrest. The film was South Korea’s entry for “Best Foreign Language Film” in the 2018 Academy Awards.
In the Gwangju Uprising, citizens took up arms after Chonnam University students demonstrating against Martial law were struck, shot, killed and raped by government troops. The film depicts the open fire against civilians and how the media claimed that the chaos was caused by rioters. After watching the film, President Moon Jae-in said, “The truth about the uprising has not been fully revealed. This is the task we have to resolve. I believe this movie will help resolve it.”
“The Age of Shadows”
Another South Korean film in this list is director and screenwriter Kim Jee-woon’s “Age of Shadows.” Starring Gong Yoo (“Train to Busan,” “Guardian: The Lonely and Great God”) and Song Kang-ho, it follows the story of Korean police captain Lee Jung-chool who was put in charge by the Japanese colonial government to root out members of the resistance movement. The story is loosely rooted in a plot to blow up Seoul’s Jongno police station in 1923. Gong’s Kim Woo-jin is a key resistance figure tasked with smuggling the explosives from Shanghai caught in a complicated cat-and-mouse chase. Will he reach his destination? You will be guessing until the end. “Age of Shadows” is also a South Korean entry for the “Best Foreign Language Film” in the 2017 Academy Awards.
Ava Duvernay’s documentary “13th” is named after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which abolished slavery and ended involuntary servitude with the exception of having it as punishment for convicted criminals. With this film, Duvernay argues that slavery continues to exist in America because administrations have long been enabling the arrest of innocent black citizens, taking part in lynchings and targeting minorities in its war on drugs. She also investigates how the prison-industrial complex has been turned into a business. The film ends with a series of graphic videos of fatal shootings of black victims by the police. If you’re looking to find out why the #BlackLivesMatter protests aren’t only seeking justice for George Floyd but demanding an end to systemic racism, this is a good resource.
“Isle of Dogs”
Here’s a light-hearted entry: Wes Anderson’s stop-motion sci-fi dramedy “Isle of Dogs” about a boy named Atari looking for his dog. In a fictional version of Japan, there is an outbreak of canine influenza that is believed to be contagious to humans and the authoritarian regime has banned all dogs to Trash Island to curb its spread. A group of students suspect foul play in the death of the Megasaki mayor’s opposition and soon teams up with Atari and the group of dogs who helped him in his search. They set out to remove the mayor from office and reveal the corruption and abuse of power under his administration.
“Tu pug imatuy”
Arnel Barbarona’s “Tu pug imatuy” which translates to “right to kill” in Manobo is inspired by actual events following the militarization and environmental plunder in ancestral lands across the country. It tells the story of a Lumad (the largest indigenous group in the Philippines) couple whose lives are changed after an encounter with military officers forcing them to take part in anti-guerilla operations.
It’s an honest and heartbreaking look into the realities faced by indigenous communities stricken with poverty. As the credits roll, we watch the real Obunay talk about some of the incidents portrayed in the movie firsthand.