Film Reviews

REVIEW: Tour of Duty

Hot Docs 2014

Tour of Duty (Geo-Mi-Ui-Ttang)
South Korea, 150 min.
Directed by Kyoung-Tae Park and Dong-Ryung Kim
Programme: International Spectrum (Canadian Premiere)

In their new genre-bending documentary, Kyoung-Tae Park and Dong-Ryung Kim collaborate with participants to explore the nature of memory. With exceptional patience that honours the three women featured, Tour of Duty examines the far-reaching ramifications of trauma, loss, and exploitation in the lives of former “wianbu”—Korean women who “comforted” GIs during the Korean War and in the decades following.

The film opens with long, still shots of a deserted military camp, now overgrown with lush vegetation but still inhabited by the spirits of those who came before, heard in the faint sound of eerie, disembodied male voices chanting military slogans. Both the physical spaces explored in Tour of Duty and the women themselves are haunted by the past, and the film becomes a performative space for expunging the ghosts of memory.

Park and Kim employ a variety of approaches throughout the course of this daunting 150-minute documentary, from classic interview to constructed voiceover and experimental storytelling. The result is both emotionally moving and deeply difficult for viewers, as the filmmakers challenge the audience to abide excruciatingly long shots and scant contextual information in order to connect with the emotional experience of the participants.

In the one traditional interview in the film, we are introduced to Myo-yeon Park, who speaks frankly about the devastating impact of having 26 abortions before a hysterectomy at the age of 29. Myo-yeon’s brutal honesty gives us an understanding of the emotional toll these experiences have taken on the women, which provides the viewer with an anchor as the film veers into more conceptual territory with the stories of In-soon Park and Sung-ja Ahn.

A profoundly quiet film, Tour of Duty gives the memories of its participants room to breathe by moving at a slow and deliberate pace that challenges the viewer to exist in the space of the film. Park and Kim have crafted a heartbreaking portrait of the women who also gave their lives to the service of their country, but without any of the honour or glory.

Visit POV’s Hot Docs Hub for more reviews and features on the 2014 festival.