‘The Last Godfather’: A movie selling cheap patriotism?
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‘The Last Godfather’: A movie selling cheap patriotism?

The comedy movie ‘The Last Godfather’, which was directed and written by Shim Hyung Rae, has drawn heated debate in South Korea for several weeks now. Film critics lambasted on the movie, but nearly 2 million Koreans have watched it in just three weeks after the premiere.

A conflict has ignited between snobbish film critics and a majority of net users defending Shim, the comedian-turned-filmmaker. Shim is a legendary figure, a true godfather in Korean comedy history (to find US counterpart, I would name Bill Cosby), who appeared in and directed numerous shows and tens of films. His 2007 film ‘D-War’  is one of the most expensive movies in Korean history.

‘The Last Godfather’ is a slapstick comedy (which is Shim’s expertise) set in the 50s with Shim himself starring as Yong-gu, the mentally impaired son of a mafia boss of New York’s biggest gang and also Shim’s decades-old comedy character. ‘The Last Godfather’ has drawn huge public attention due to the fact that it was revised by Joel Cohen (an Oscar-nominated film writer) and a team from both Korea and the United States are collaboratively working on it. The movie is fairly enjoyable to watch but not worth both thumbs up, at least that is the general public opinion. But critics denounced Shim’s movie as ‘not even worth watching’ and calling Shim’s movie lovers ‘Shim’s suckers’.

Shim Young-rae’s old nemesis, Jin Jong-kwon, a well-known, acrimonious critic, said: ‘Since I don’t visit twice a store that sold me defective goods, I don’t think I will ever watch that movie.” The defective goods refer to Shim’s other movies. After Jin made this comment, more attention was given to the movie and on that weekend the number of viewers hit 1 million and Shim thanked Jin for giving him one of the best birthday presents he ever got.

The conflict between movie critics and Shim’s fans goes back several years to the movie ‘D-War’. At the end of the movie, with the Arirang, a Korean traditional music playing as background music, Shim’s monologue appeared. Shim frankly commented on how hard it was to make a movie that can could compete Hollywood films under such hostile situations, where there were nearly no CG experts and financial investment was insufficient. Shim, with a tearful voice, said that he spent countless sleepless nights learning CG skills by himself and later thanked the audience for watching his movie which will contribute to the development of Korean movie industry.

This controversial ending brought a lot of feedback. While the public gave standing ovations at the comedy godfather confession, calling it ‘moving’ and lauding him as “a hero who fought bravely against foreign movies devouring Korean movie market”, movie critics turned icy on him, blaming the movie and its marketing strategy as “selling patriotism with a cheap Hollywood knock-off”. Criticisms of the movie continued for several months and more people had sided with Shim as a reverse mechanism, although even Shim’s fans begrudgingly admitted that the storyline and CG work definitely needed some improvement.

Amid a similar pattern of negative feedback, Shim’s fans have turned quite aggressive and began lashing out at Shim’s opponents, creating an atmosphere in online venues that if you criticize Shim, you are insulting your country. Some argued that the fans’ behavior and their weird logic have aggravated the situation as innocent people who reasonably pointed out that “Shim’s work lacks this and that” and “a part of  Shim’s success is based on the patriotism”, also got attacked.

In the midst of controversy, Shim commented “I don’t make movies for film critics”. Jang Jin-young, a respected actor commented yesterday that “if people are watching it, there must be a reason behind the popularity. Disregarding the film as not worth-watching is a disrespect to the audience who choose to watch it.”