“The Interview” Enveloped in Storm of Netizen Criticism

By | January 04, 2015 | No Comments

A poster advertizing controversial film "The Interview," which has attracted angry netizen comment in South Korea and elsewhere. | Image: Wikicommons

A poster advertising the controversial film “The Interview,” which has attracted angry netizen comment in South Korea and elsewhere. | Image: Wikicommons

There is a broad strand of public opinion in South Korea that would disagree vociferously with Steven Denney’s characterization of a “new nationalism” on the Korean peninsula. To this group, the Korean nation (한민족) is one, and criticism of the individual, in particular by outsiders, often represents criticism of the people(s) of north (DPRK) and south (ROK) alike.

Two of the prominent bête noires of this nationalist demographic are the former colonizer, Japan, and the United States, which is regarded by some (though not all) as today’s occupying power. Thus, it was only a matter of time before the highly controversial slapstick film The Interview, written and directed by Canadian comedian Seth Rogen with the capital investment of Japanese entertainment conglomerate Sony, would become a target of criticism south of the 38th parallel. The charge was led by the country’s community of netizens, which tends to be strident and vocal no matter which side of the political spectrum one happens to be on. On December 27, some of this netizen comment formed the basis of a report published by one of the country’s larger online news agencies, Newsis. As the following translation shows, the film’s lampooning of a number of dearly held beliefs did not go down at all well.

Noh Chang-hyeon, “The Interview, Goes Past Mocking Kim Jong-un to Belittle Koreans… Dog Meat-Sea of Japan” [“더 인터뷰, 기정은 조롱 넘어 한국인 비하”…개고기-일본해], Newsis, December 27, 2014.

The film The Interview, which has finally been released after many twists and turns, is taking a battering. This is because of the criticisms of netizens, who say [the film] “goes past mocking Kim Jong-un to belittle the entire Korean nation” [김정은 조롱을 넘어 전체 한민족을 비하하고 있다].

Netizens have expressed their anger about The Interview, which was released in 300 independent cinemas in the United States on the 25th, saying that it disparages and slights all Koreans, for instance in phrases lampooning [the eating of] dog meat and emphasizing [the term] “the Sea of Japan.”

Right up until its release, the only things we knew about The Interview were its controversial assassination setting and that the content ridiculed North Korean 1st Secretary Kim Jong-un. However, the result of its release is that it is giving all Koreans embarrassment and displeasure [그러나 베일을 벗은 결과, 전체 한국인들에게 황당함과 불쾌감을 안겨주고 있다].

The lines “Let’s go to a country that doesn’t eat dog meat” and “Swim the Sea of Japan and escape” have caused problems. And although it is no more than a B-grade comedy with no pretense to cinematic value, one cannot help but laugh at the dreadful Korean of the leading actor (Randall Park), such as [author inserts example of incorrect Korean usage by Park in the film].

Aside from accusing Japanese producer Sony Pictures of lampooning Kim Jong-un and thus implying a general mocking of all Koreans, netizens are wondering whether, by emphasizing the term “Sea of Japan,” the film is also designed to dilute the East Sea and Dokdo issues [일본해’를 강조해 동해와 독도이슈까지 희석시키려는 의도가 아니냐고 목소리를 높이고 있다].

“ohsk**** The star referred to the East Sea as the ‘Sea of japan’[sic.]? Just as we expect, it’s Sony Pictures;” “chlr**** Just like Sony. Slating Kim Jong-un is fine, but they also rudely called the East Sea the Sea of Japan. People who forget their history have no future. That’s why Japan has no future;” “whdd**** If North Korea is going to get smacked, we are going to do it. You should take a step back, Japan;” “youm**** If we pay money to see [the film] we’ll be made into pushovers. Although it ostensibly only mocks Kim Jong-un, it actually looks down on us all;” “wlru**** Right now our people are enjoying and laughing at the slating of Kim Jong-un, but it’s no laughing matter. If you watch the film, you both attack Kim Jong-un and subtly belittle our country;” “kjp0**** This film is just Sony screwing with us;” “Oicar**** A blow to the image of Korea, which is famous through Hallyu [Korean Wave] + Sony wanting to give the wrong impression of Dokdo and the East Sea to ordinary foreigners => Japanese plot.”

The fact of the matter is that the film does not only belittle Koreans; it also disparages other groups like Jews and women. However, it has been noted that the part of the film that disparages Jews is of Kim Jong-un showing hatred of his interlocutor, a Jew; something that could cause viewers to misunderstand.

Ms. Jenny Kim, a Korean viewer of the film, pointed out, “Are they saying that in North Korea they discriminate against Jews? There was the feeling of an impure purpose here, of using Koreans to caricature Jews and foster conflict between minorities. It was highly objectionable.”

The reaction in Korean-American society is that [the use of] the line “Sea of Japan” was wholly deliberate. Ham Ji-ha of the New York Hanguk Ilbo said, “Before the film opened, when they showed the trailer the line ‘Swim the Sea of Japan to escape’ took up a considerable amount of the time,” adding, “Looking at the emphasis placed on the Sea of Japan in such a short trailer, I got to thinking that it just might have been their hidden purpose.”

Some netizens are proposing:

“Sony was aiming for noise marketing: pretending to drop the movie to incite the patriotism of Americans;” “Until they apologize, we must reject all Sony movies;” and, “Let’s make The Interview 2 with Shinzo Abe as the star.”

Meanwhile, it has emerged that singer Yoon Mi-rae and Tiger JK’s song “Pay Day” was inserted into The Interview without prior agreement, causing further problems.

The song “Pay Day” from Tiger JK featuring Yoon Mi-rae’s 3rd album was inserted in a scene showing Kim Jong-un and talk show host James Franco playing games and drinking with women in lingerie.

Source: Noh Chang-hyeon, “The Interview, Goes Past Mocking Kim Jong-un to Belittle Koreans… Dog Meat-Sea of Japan” [“더 인터뷰, 기정은 조롱 넘어 한국인 비하”…개고기-일본해], Newsis, December 27, 2014. Translation by Christopher Green.

Correction: An earlier version of this article described Seth Rogen as an American comedian. He is Canadian.

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  1. The message below is from reader Paul White, who suffered some technical issues during the site login procedure:

    “Christopher Green very sharply picked up on a most trenchant aspect of the recent Interview hullabaloo — the outraged reaction by a number of South Koreans. The ongoing propaganda blitz from the West to demonize North Korea is aimed at dampening South Koreans’ enthusiasm for reunification a quarter of a century after the Cold War finished. Peaceful coexistence of any kind on the peninsula would leave no role for the US army on it, and lead to nationalist voices in Japan calling for the withdrawal of US troops from there too. Unfortunately for the propagandists, the blitz is backfiring, because the message sent to Koreans everywhere is, ‘Look what a mess you people make of it when you try to run your own country. You are far better off under foreign tutelage.’ Not the sort of message you’d want to send to people who had no sooner been freed from Japanese colonial rule than US `’tutelage’ was thrust upon them.”

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