Sanggye-dong Olympic (Sanggye-dong olrimpic) (1988)|
Director : Kim Dong-won
Year of Production : 1988
Genre : Documentary
Format : Video/Color
Running Time : 27 minutes
Production : Pureun-yeongsang
Director/Cinematography : Kim Dong-won
When it was decided that the 88 Olympics would be held in Seoul, the residents of Sanggye-dong were forced from their homes and they struggled against the government to at least guarantee them new residences. The director filmed the difficulties and the hardships of the relocated residents while living with them for three years between the years 1986 - 1988.
Sanggye-dong Olympic was the first Korean movie that was Invited to the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival and initiated a new era in Korean documentaries, widening the areas in which the independent film could explore.
A fresh approach to documentary film making where the observer (the director) became one with his subject(s). (Kang So-won)
Awards and Showings at Film Festivals
Invited to the 1991 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival
Notes on the Production
It happened on October 6th, 1986. The reason I remember the date is because I had a date on that day. I remember that I had to hurry to Sanggye-dong at the urgent request of Father Jeong Il-wu. I thought I would only have to film for a day, I had no idea that I’d be there for the next 3 years. I filmed 50, 2 hour long tapes, and looking at the dates labeled on them brings back memories of those times. Father Jeong asked me to make a film of the government demolishing houses that still had household goods in them as evidence, so they could later sue the government for invasion of private property and damage. I thought of it lightly when I first went. I didn’t even know where Sanggye-dong was and I knew nothing about its development. I went there and did some filming and a couple of interviews. On returning back home that evening, I checked my tapes to find that although I had used a mike for the interviews, for some reason, I didn’t get any audio. That’s why I returned the next day. I was only going to tape the interviews again but ended up taping the demolition.
I had just finished graduate school and although I didn’t demonstrate against the government, I was familiar with their outrages which made me feel a deep sense of rage. But none of this made me think deeply about the structural paradoxes of society. At the scene, I saw mothers with babies, lying underneath demolition cranes and goons hired by the government carrying those women off, putting them into chicken coops on the back of a truck. Seeing the dust rise from the street, hearing the growl of the demolition crane and the desperate screams of women all made me realize that this was the kind of outrage committed by the government that I had only previously heard about.
Before, I had no interest in urban development and I had no objections to replacing run down makeshift buildings with apartments. I thought the sacrifice of some was regrettable but necessary in order to build apartments and create a clean, convenient environment for the many to live in. But being on location made me think there were ulterior motives to this development other than the beautification of the city for the upcoming Olympics. And even if the intention was good, this was no way to carry out that intention.
I was cowardly at that time, scared of going to the scene. The Sanggye-dong electric railway station was a 2-story building and as soon as you got out of it, you could see a scene which could only be said to resemble the chaos of war. I had to pass an open air market in order to get to the neighborhood of makeshift buildings that were to be demolished, and I felt incredibly scared of walking past the line of riot police there holding my video camera. I was so afraid they’d confiscate my camera that I was shaking in my legs; but those worries turned out to be for naught.
was also afraid of going into the military tent where the residents of the neighborhood, who had been forced from their homes, were residing. I had the notion that they’d be rough, violent, unruly people. I remember hesitating for a few seconds before entering the tent. Also, I didn’t feel comfortable spending time with those residents at first. But when I saw their houses being demolished the next day, I began to shoot the scene instinctively. I felt at once scared and excited as I shot the scene. Although I had plenty of experience filming, having shot 16mm films for school, for my internship at Chungmu-ro and for wedding videos, I was never so excited filming anything in my life. The experience left a very strong impression which has remained with me and is my impetus for making documentaries to this day.
In order to hide my identity, Father Jeong gave me a false identity, “Min-gi’s father,” and no one there knew who I really was. But when I went out to buy a pack of cigarettes, some cops stopped me and asked,” Aren’t you Kim Dong-won?” They were polite, but subtly threatening, telling me that I did not belong there and I should leave. I told them I had come there at the request of Father Jeong. It scared me that I had told them my true identity, but on one had, it made me feel more relaxed. I learned there in Sanggye-dong, that I could be freer by being a little more reckless like that. It makes you free when you don’t care about whether you live or not, and that’s what I learned there.
They came from the Korean Broadcasting Station to cover the situation and someone grabbed the reporter by the collar. That’s how distrusting the residents were of the media. It was a time when all they did was talk about the “Dam of Peace,” but I earned the complete trust of the residents by the fact that I looked like a student, and I had come on the introduction of Father Jeong. That’s why I could be relaxed while I was there. People would invite me to their houses to eat, and sleep, with this man buying me drinks on one day, and that man buying me drinks the next. The people treated me with extreme kindness. Before the incident, I was anguished by a variety of different, useless worries. I didn’t find much interest in Chungmu-ro and I was considering study abroad, plus, those around me were constantly pressuring me to get married or to gain employment. But those were such trivial things. There, an elderly woman stood guard with a bat, trying to protect her house from the government’s goons and people were worried about where they would sleep that night. All of this made me realize how insignificant my worries were compared to the agonies of the people there.
Sanggye-dong changed me in many ways. I had discovered myself. I discovered the petty bourgeois side in me and seeing that I could change that there, I decided to stay. My decision to stay had in no way to do with any ambition to make a film. It made me think deeply about the people who never had any chances to learn, who did not have much in the world. I realized that my worries were beneficial in no way.
The people of the makeshift neighborhood were very sensitive to what you said. Sometimes, they seemed nice and gave you hope, but at other times, they made you feel despair. It felt that I was constantly traveling back and forth between heaven and hell during the course of a day, especially because of the direness of the situation. And yet, I felt comfortable there on the whole. Being there made everything clear for me.
Frankly, it was fun. Not once did I think that it was difficult to be there. At first, I had beautified, preconceived notions about the poor and their plight, and it was painful for me to watch their internal conflicts. It was difficult for me to watch their meetings where they’d scream, throw things at each other, and talk about who gave in to the government and decided to move. But later, I found the heart to accept this. I don’t have many memories from filming there. More than the filming, the recollections of the people there have been deeply engraved in my memory.
I also felt a fear that staying there would make me quit the movie industry. I had worked on the sets of director Lee Jang-ho’s Declaration of Idiot (Baboseon-eon), director Hah Myung-joong’s The Placenta (Tae), and director Chang Seon-wu and Sun Woo-wan’s Seoul Jesus (Seoul Yesu), and as with all students of film directing, I was constantly searching for interesting stories and scenes. Doing this, I developed connections and I became more aware and responsible, and founding Pureun-yeongsang -a documentary production collective - based on mine and others’ opinions.
In February of 1988, the residents who had moved to Bucheon were forced to move again. This provided me with urgent motive to make their plight known to the world and I edited Sanggye-dong Olympic, staying up for 2 nights straight. The editing was done manually with the camera and a video deck. The film was shown for the first time in Sanggye-dong in April. Although the residents did clap, they didn’t mention that the film was well-made, or that the film told their story. They were all bored to death by it.
The only reaction I got was when they were watching a high school girl getting beaten up by the staff of the district office - the girl was present and wept in her younger sister’s arms. To the residents, the film must have seemed trivial because it showed only a microscopic portion of the enormous suffering that they had to go through. The film was not enough to portray the enormity of the reality. That’s the reason that I came to believe that social reform must be brought on by film and action together, and I joined a social activist group for the underclass, constantly returning to the makeshift neighborhoods. This is what I was destined to do and from it, I know that hope lies everywhere.
Director Bio : Kim Dong-won (1955- )
He graduated with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Mass Communication from Sogang University. He made Sanggye-dong Olympic (1988) when a priest who was close to him asked him to film the demolition of houses in Sanggye-dong. Later, he founded the documentary production company Pureun-yeongsang, working actively as a director and becoming a stout supporter of Korean documentaries. His works include Myungseong, the record of six days (Myungseong, ku yook-il-ui kirok) (1997), Strong fist family (Chulkwon-ghajok) (2001), Repatriation (Songhwan) (2004), and If You Were Me 2 (Daseotgaeui Sisun) (2005).