The Korea Times 칼럼

'Poetry' in Action (201l년 6월 5일)

divicom 2010. 6. 7. 08:57

The just-ended elections exemplify that politics can be poetic, too. Dormant energy that beguiled the ruling camp into believing that they would have a sweeping victory. The streaming voters that brought headaches to the arrogant in power. The unpublicized endeavor that was to correct the imbalance in administration and policies. The early mastery of casting five to eight ballots at one time. In a nutshell, it was the success of a bloodless revolution.

Poetry means action, an action to fight against lethargy and despair. It may be a casualty of easy times yet it never dies. When living is hard, poetry presents itself like heroes. When things go wrong and ordinary people don't realize it, poets warn, though are often unheeded. Poets are prophets in that sense.

So, I enrolled in a poetry class soon after I returned to work as a salaried employee back in 1999. I had to earn money because of the economic hardship incurred by the financial crisis in 1997~1998. However, even before a month passed, I found my new job extremely frustrating. I wanted to quit, but I couldn't for obvious reasons. I joined a poetry class and always carried a palm size notebook.

In ``Poetry," the fifth feature film of director Lee Chang-dong, Mija has such a notebook with her wherever and whenever and she is not lonely or afraid. She is a 66-year-old lady who leads a hard life with a teen-aged grandson. She loves the boy dearly yet is incapable of understanding him. The boy becomes involved in a crime and Mija rejects the notion that the act can be nullified by paying compensation.

A poet declares in the movie that poetry is dead now, but the film itself seems to have an entirely different message. It says poetry will survive as long as there are people who strive to live right even at the cost of death, appreciating the beauty of all the sights and sounds that constitute existence. Mija happens to be one of the stubborn, uncorrupt species who try to act out poetic justice no matter how vulgar and violent the outside world is. She is a poet whether she writes a poem or not.

``Poetry" is a memorable art work asking a crucial question about truth and justice in an everyday setting. The jury at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival saw its value and honored it with the Best Screenplay Award. It is probably the first Korean movie that directly deals with poetry. It has also posed a cinematic challenge for Korea's film industry: its heroine is an elderly actress. Aged actresses usually finish with assisting roles in film in Korea, except for comedies.

The star of the film is Yun Jung-hee. Her real name is Sohn Mi-ja, her first name matches her character's name, Mija. Director Lee is said to have had Yun on his mind from the time of writing the scenario. Yun was one of the three most popular actresses in Korea in the 1960s. She has won the highest number of Best Actress Awards in the nation, but rarely appeared in films after marrying world-famous pianist Paik Kun-woo in 1974.

In a country where youth and a wrinkle-free face is propagandized as the single most important social yardstick, it is wonderful to see a naturally maturing face on the silk screen and imagine the roads she has taken and untaken. In a press interview, Lee said he would like to have Yun again in his movie in her 80s and the actress said she couldn't be happier than to do that.

Some people say that the heroine's poem reminds them of the late President Roh Moo-hyun. Upon reporters' questions, Lee simply said, "It would be only natural for any viewer of 'Poetry' to be reminded of someone's death." The novelist-turned director served as the minister of culture and tourism in Roh's government. He returned from Cannes on May 25 and went to Bongha Village in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, and paid tribute to Roh before attending the press conference the next day.

Life is not easy, especially for the conscientious. The average suicide rate of 40 people a day is alarming yet understandable. Still, I hope the death planners will wait until their true time comes. As ``Poetry" says, everybody has poetry in him or her and needs to let it out. Some poetry can take the form of political actions like the elections on Wednesday, while some are rendered on the screen like ``Poetry."

Last year, I wrote in this column that ``A Brand New Life" by Korean-born French director Ounie Lecomte, which Lee co-produced, was ``the best feature I have seen in years." I am happy to note that ``Poetry" is another such film.


제게는 6월 2일 지방선거가 한 편의 멋진 시처럼 느껴집니다. 여당으로 하여금 전면적 승리를 거둘 거라고 믿게 해놓고 전혀 다른 결과를 보여준 유권자들의 뚝심, 교만한 권력자들을 괴로움에 빠트린 높은 투표율, 한 방향으로 달리는 정부의 정책을 균형 잡으려는 노력, 한 사람이 다섯 표에서 여덟 표를 던지는 투표 방식의 어려움을 극복하고 국민으로서의 권리를 행사한 놀라운 사람들...


서정만이 시가 아닙니다. 시는 견딜 수 없이 힘겨운 현실을 사는 사람에게 하늘이 내려주는 밧줄 갚은 것인가 하면, 평화와 자유가 위험에 빠졌을 때 그것을 구하기 위해 나서는 행동이고 싸움입니다. 설사 그 싸움이 죽음을 가져온다 해도 죽음이 패배는 아닙니다. 시는 아름다움만큼 진실을 추구합니다. 불행한 시대의 시인이 행복할 수 없는 건 그가 자신의 시대를 증언하는 사람이기 때문입니다.


그런 면에서 최근 개봉된 이창동 감독의 "시"는 참으로 훌륭한 영화입니다. "시"의 주인공 미자가 척박한 현실에서 '시'를 찾아 나서는 것이나, 시적 정의를 구현하기 위해 스스로를 포기하는 행위는, 우리 모두가 시인임을 일깨워줍니다. 영화가 얘기하듯 우리는 모두 우리 안에 시인을 가지고 있습니다. 그 시인이 나와 행동하게 하는 게 우리의 의무입니다. 작년에 이 감독이 공동제작자로 참여했던 "여행자"라는 영화를 보고 깊이 감동했던 적이 있습니다. "시"는 "여행자"와 다른 방식으로 쓰여졌으나 똑같이 감동적인 한 편의 시입니다.