America is as divided at is has ever been since the Civil War. Despite the sharp political divide that runs throughout the nation, we’re still (at least at present) a single nation. That cannot be said of Korea, which is split between the oppressive regime of the North and the democratic state of the South. That divide is the subject of the new film from Korean director Kim Ki-duk, The Net, which is a heartbreaking drama of a man trapped between the decades long feud between the two states, one that robs people of their morals and humanity in an ongoing struggle for superiority over their divided countrymen.
The Net tells the story of Nam Chul-woo (Ryoo Seung-bum), a fisherman living in North Korea on the border of the South. One fateful day, his fishing net gets trapped in the rotors of his boat’s motor and the current takes him to the South. When in South Korea, Nam is subject to suspicion and interrogation by the agents of the state. There’s the sympathetic Oh Jin-woo (Lee Won-gun), who is understanding of the accidental border crossing and looks out for Nam Chul-woo, and then there’s the Interrogating Officer (Kim Young-min), who sadistic and brutal towards his interrogation subject always suspecting that the fisherman is a spy. Years and years propaganda has made Nam Chul-woo loyal the regime of the DPRK and rejects any and all offers to defect, his family also playing a crucial part in his loyalty to the North. Innocence is irrelevant when you’re the poor soul trapped between over 50 years of political tension, and Nam Chul-woo is a sacrificial lamb in the unresolved political divide.
The tragedy at the heart of The Net focuses on how unending suspicion of your neighbors can lead to increasingly dehumanizing behavior, a warning that we must truly heed right now. Whether it’s the interrogation in the South or his return to the North, Nam Chul-woo is persistently suspected of wrongdoing though his only crime was a mechanical mistake on his modest little fishing boat. The pain of Nam Chul-woo is brought to the forefront by Ryoo Seung-bum’s heartbreaking performance, one that sees the actor in a perpetual state of distress. The character is able to extend empathy even when others refuse to extend the same to him, but of course there are limits as the rage of wrongful imprisonment bubbles over for the persecuted fisherman.
Kim Ki-duk’s film now serves as a warning for us on the other side of the world as to the disastrous effects of political suspicion and persecution. It’s a fine line between righteous and despotic behavior, and The Net draws on that sharp divide through the story of its wrongfully brutalized fisherman. The Net also serves as a reminder just how quickly the high ground in any moral and political battle can be ceded to violence, the ends never justifying the means. We’re all surrounded by political opposition of various sorts, but to give into the worst aspects of humanity is to become ensnared in The Net. And once you’ve been trapped, there’s no escape.
A heartbreaking drama of suspicion due to a political divide, Kim Ki-duk’s The Net focuses on a man wrongfully ensnared by the paranoia and distrust that robs people of their empathy and drive them towards dehumanizing brutality.