Dreams Come True or Ggumeun Yirueojinda or 꿈은 이루어진다 (2010)
It’s always tempting to believe that when any large group of people lives with a problem for a long time, some will grow bored and ignore it — after all, what can relatively powerless individuals do to change the big picture — while the majority will be quietly obsessed with it. As an example, take the situation in Taiwan as it carefully navigates cross-Strait relations with mainland China. According to the latest survey, about three-quarters of the population support an improvement in the relationship with China. Since the problem is not going to go away, most agree that opening lines of discussion is better than beefing up military preparedness and being confrontational. Coming to the Korean peninsula, we have two sovereign states and an Armistice Agreement signed in July 1953, i.e. they are technically still at war. The DMZ is a continual reminder to both sides of the artificial nature of the current situation as the North tests nuclear weapons, fires long-range rockets, sinks the Cheonam, and shells Yeonpyeong Island. The smaller scale attacks are intended to reinforce the credibility of the North’s deterrent power, i.e. the North shows itself willing to risk a resumption of war while the South and its US allies have not retaliated. The exception was that the South did return fire in the Yeonpyeong Island incident. Perhaps they forgot to ask the American’s for permission.
How then does the entertainment industry deal with the issue? In Soar into the Sun or R2B: Return to Base or R2B: Riteontu Beyiseu (2012), the South does not fire on the plane from the North that causes moderately extensive damage in Seoul. This matches the passivity over the sinking of the Cheonam and parallels the earlier Joint Security Area (2000) where neither side bends in their antagonism but, apart from exchanging small arms fire across the DMZ, does not escalate into a military engagement. Which brings us to Dreams Come True or Ggumeun Yirueojinda or 꿈은 이루어진다 (2010). The major part of this film is set in a small encampment on the North side of the DMZ. The first squad leader (Lee Sung-Jae) has contrived to pass his obsessional interest in football to the rest of the squad who routinely kick a deflated ball around their muddy compound to fill in the idle hours of their tour of duty. When the South drops a container of goodies, it includes a football. The film is set in 2002 when South Korea jointly hosted the World Cup with Japan. The South is trying a propaganda exercise by building on the known interest in the North. The South wonders whether soldiers in the DMZ could be seduced to cross the line.
The North’s political officers use the new football as a training exercise in critique with all the soldiers standing up bravely and nicely exposing the weaknesses of the South through metaphors based on the shape, colour and design of the ball. This is a nice moment of satire in what is otherwise a slightly toothless film. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s boring but it comes close, largely because it can’t make up its mind what it wants to be. Director Kye Yun-Sik could have made a straight comedy without political overtones, or he could have made a satirical commentary on the way individuals organise their lives to defend against the oppressive nature of the North, or it could have been a straight action drama as political officers try to root out corruption and potential treason in the ranks. But all we get is a nice squad leader who leads his men into a fraternisation with the South, sharing in a wild boar BBQ, and playing football against southern troops in the DMZ. When the North detects an exchange of radio messages and an illegal receiver in operation in the camp, an investigation begins but, somehow, it lacks any sense of menace. Although our squad leader is beaten and the squad members threatened, there’s no intention to show anyone in positive danger. Indeed, the chief investigator, Choi Ji-Hyeon is not unsympathetic to the plight of the squad and covers up the conspiracy. I can’t quite decide what the film-maker’s motives were.
Taking a societal overview, there’s a culturally significant unwillingness to criticise others. For one state to interfere in the affairs of another is unacceptable. This trickles down in a general behaviour of deference to elders and those of higher status. So, perhaps, a sustained satire could not have been made. But equally suggesting Northern soldiers might be easily contaminated by decadent southern interests is hardly flattering. Although North Korea now plays in the World Cup tournament, the people are not really engaged internationally. This film would have us believe football is a universal language that transcends culture, politics and geography, but North Korea’s isolationism means few within the North know much about football outside their borders. Perhaps if Dreams Come True or Ggumeun Yirueojinda or 꿈은 이루어진다 had been about half-an-hour shorter, watching it would have felt less of a duty. As it is, I can’t say that I recommend it.