Welcome to Dongmakgol [Blu-ray]

 

(Park Kwang Hyeon, 2005)

 

 

 

 

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Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Showbox & Film It Suda

Blu-ray: KD Media (disc made in Japan)

 

Disc:

Region: All

Runtime: 133 min

Chapters: 37

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: June 20th, 2008

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: VC-1

 

Audio:

Korean 5.1 DTS HD, Korean 5.1 DD, Korean 2.0 DD

 

Subtitles:

Korean, English, Japanese, none

 

Extras:

• Audio Commentary by Director Park Kwang Hyeon, Shin Ha Kyun, Gang Hye Jung, Jung Jae Young

• Audio Commentary by Director of Photography Choi Sang Ho, Producer Lee Eun Ha, Visual Supervisor Kim Joong

• Featurette: Making Of (18:57)

• Featurette: Journey to Dongmakgol (2:50)

• Featurette: Computer Graphics (5:23)

• Featurette: Fellowship of Dongmakgol (3:19)

• Poster Shooting (3:32)

• Music Video (2:53)

• Boogie Woogie (3:31)

• Photo Gallery (3:34)

• Deleted Scenes

• Theatrical Trailer

 

 

The Film: 8
Dongmakgol is, like Brigadoon, a village that time forgot – until someone unexpectedly visits as the veil is accidentally parted. In this case, the visitors are not a pair of lost American hunters, but two small groups of Korean soldiers from the Korean War of the early 1950s, separated from their respective units on both sides of the equation, trying to find their way back. Each comes upon the odd villager some distance from home, who leads them back to Dongmakgol for temporary shelter – once there, only to find the enemy staring them in the face. For the moment, neither side is aware that their enemy has already run out of bullets.

The villagers, who don't know from warfare, let alone the war that has torn the country apart, have rescued one other participant in the war: an American flyer, who crashed not far off. The meeting makes for some peculiarly Koran comic moments, replete with misunderstandings and an interminable standoff. When a grenade, believed to be a dud, goes off and destroys the village food supply, the soldiers - reluctantly, at first - stick around to help with the farming. Ghosts of the Seven Samurai lurk in the wings as it becomes clear that UN forces, in their attempts to rescue the pilot, have mistaken the area for enemy movements.

Welcome to Dongmakgol is a magical movie from first-time director Park Kwang Hyeon that blends comedy and tragedy, courage and cowardice, and a little romance, into a completely convincing morality tale about the human condition. The performances – except for the Americans, who are nearly always played by weak actors in Korean movies and TV shows – are nuanced, fascinating and compelling. (Gang Hye Jung, whom you might remember from Oldboy, won the Best Supporting Actress Award at the 43rd Daejong Awards for her performance. Also very good is Jeong Jae Yeong as the scar-faced Northern soldier.) The imagery is often breathtaking, especially in the finale, which I guarantee will be unforgettable.

 

 

Image: 7/8
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray DVDs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVDs, including SD 480i.

KD Media's 2-disc Region 3 SD DVD was pretty good, both in terms of image and audio. In KD Media's transition to Blu-ray, the edge enhancement that pervades the 480i DVD, however subtly, is now gone. Resolution, color depth, and the dimensionality that we have come to expect from this medium is improved, yet, there is something that doesn't quite get us all the way there – a vague, but pervasive dust that covers the image throughout, preventing what ought to be a completely transparent image from reaching its potential.

I have included comparative crops of full resolution captures of the same frame from the Blu-ray and 480i that show the extent to which greater resolution allows us to see into the picture. It's not just that we can see more and see it more clearly, but that the experience is less fatiguing as a result.

 

SD TOP , Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

 

Zoomed-in: SD TOP , Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

 

 More Blu-ray captures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 8/8
The uncompressed audio mix here is quite a bit more dynamic than on KD Media's other Korean War Blu-ray release, Taegukgi. I found it to be disproportionately better than the image. The surrounds are busy as can be locating the planes as they whiz by as well as the scattered ordinance. But it is also good at creating village atmospherics and the bustle of a makeshift HQ. The original score by Joe Hisaishi is has just the right touch of nostalgia, though the heartfelt main theme is sometimes repeated without much variation. Hisaishi also wrote the music for Howl's Moving Castle, with which the present score has perhaps too much in common.
 

Operations: 8
It's too bad that the menu backgrounds on this Blu-ray are in places too light to make for efficient reading of parts of the menu. Not that it's all that difficult to sort out what's what. In any event, they are in both English and Korean and easy to navigate. We get right to the menu after only a brief acknowledgement of a few seconds to KD Media. Also nice is that pressing the Top Menu permits return to the menu page from any of the Special Features.
 

Extras: 4
The extras, including the two audio commentaries, are all in Korean without subtitles or English dubs, just as they are on KD Media's 2-disc Region 3. Sometimes, I can get a feel for what these are about even without subtitles, or perhaps they might offer images or music tracks of interest. I found neither. In fact, except for the Making Of documentary, I found the remaining extras to be in such poor SD quality as to make them nearly unwatchable – at least on a large screen. As I noted in my review of Taegukgi , we can only hope that there is an English-friendly edition in high definition someday. I would really like to know what is being said on those audio tracks.
 

 

Bottom line: 8
If it weren't for the slightly dusty image, this Blu-ray of Welcome to Dongmakgol might have headed my Best of the Month list. Even as it is, it is welcome and warmly recommended. If you don't have the SD, snatch this one up now. If you're unsure, rent the Region 1 version first.

Leonard Norwitz
July 20th, 2008

 

 

 

 

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