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What is my True Self?

by Yoo Young Uee

We have come to know some of the South Korean film makers through UNICA (the film festival where nations compete). Friendship is easily conveyed but more precise information is harder to gain. It is even difficult to agree on the Western version of Korean names. There is a standard for writing Korean using Western characters - Hangeul - but it is far from exact. Korean's write in phoneme (sound) blocks with each "character" representing a syllable. When we asked the film maker to write about this film we received four sentences in English.

Since the film is likely to attract discussion we tentatively offer our thoughts about it alongside those four sentences. - Jan & Dave Watterson

The Plot - based on a real life story

A still from 'What is my True Self'.
Jima is a loser, glue-sniffer, violent girl who
describes herself as "I'm a thoughtless bitch."

Still from 'What is my True Self'.
She is sent to a retreat for troubled youngsters in
a beautiful Buddhist temple.

Still from 'What is my True Self'.
After her weekend of enlightenment she
is a prize-winner and success.

The plot is simplistic, but the way it is acted and presented makes the film more powerful than the summary suggests. The first comment from the film maker is:

This film is based on a real life story.

South Korean schools have not had much trouble with slacker-kids and trouble-makers. Education is very highly valued and there is enormous pressure on youngsters to do well. The system is mainly based on teachers lecturing students, with little encouragement for creative thinking by pupils. Teachers are usually treated with great respect since there is in Korean culture a respect for elders which is common to religion and state. There are gangsters, druggies and drop-outs but apparently fewer of them than in the West.

The notion that a troubled young woman might be led from bad to good by a teacher is not so strange to Koreans as it is to us.

Still from 'What is my True Self'.
A still from 'What is my True Self?'. Location - a Buddhist temple in Korea.

According to the CIA World Fact Book just over 23% of South Koreans are Buddhists but its influence - and that of the earlier Confucianism - is deeply embedded in the culture. Temples abound and monks (male and female) are greeted with a special bow . This form of moral tale that is used for teaching is engrained in the society.

A still from 'What is my True Self?'.
Still from 'What is my True Self?'. Jima is introduced as shiftless and bored, expelled from school and reform school, condemned by her mother and the authorities. As well as realistic scenes there is a symbolic scene where teachers and mother confront her.

Her bag reveals gas canister, tubes of glue and a knife as well as the "evil" cartoon.

Still from 'What is my True Self?'.
Still from 'What is my True Self?'. Reluctantly she and other disaffected youngsters arrive at the temple. Jima heads for a life class. None is keen to attend. The teacher appears hopelessly naive ... but soon explains that she too was once considered bad. Jima is obviously the most hostile so the teacher works with her from the start. Gradually Jima and the other students start to take an interest in the revelation of Jima's life. Still from 'What is my True Self?'.
Still from 'What is my True Self?'. Still from 'What is my True Self?'.

Still from 'What is my True Self?'.

The actors are acquaintances and for most of them, this is their first film experience.

Gradually the teacher draws out Jima's story and prompts her to recall good deeds as well as bad ones. (For example she recalls helping her mother clean the washroom.) The lesson is that we all have the potential in us to turn our abilities and ideas to either good or evil. At the end of the day the students are asked to write down what they personally have gained from the class.

Still from 'What is my True Self?'.
Still from 'What is my True Self?'.

Still from 'What is my True Self?'.

Still from 'What is my True Self?'.

Jima has to be coaxed into writing ...

but her essay is chosen to be read out

... and she wins the best student prize.

We used Korean backgrounds and settings, but tried to give universal messages.

Stylistically the film is mainly realistic and makes the most of the beautiful temple location and the talented youngsters. Scenes with adults tend to be more symbolic and the post-script reveals ...

Still from 'What is my True Self?'.

Still from 'What is my True Self?'.

Still from 'What is my True Self?'.

Montages where Jima realises that she can
use her gas cylinder, glue and knife for good
purposes rather than bad ones.

Many deities and distinguished people
are associated with the lotus blossom so this
exemplifies success and beauty.

Her final dream of success is to be a film star
in a limousine, telling her agent that of course
she wants the role of the good girl.


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Page updated on 01 October 2011
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