The Korean Cultural Centre UK is proud to welcome you back to this year’s documentary strand of our Korean Film Nights, a year-round programme of film screenings and discussions. Following on from 2022’s theme Living Memories, which focused on preserving memories and the truth through documentary, we continue to investigate the documentary form with our new season Labour(s) of Love, curated by MA film students from Birkbeck, University of London. By examining the lives of workers whose labour shapes the fabric of the world we live in, the meaning of ‘labour’ will be shown to inhabit life-structuring activities that promote community, passion, love, and not just arduous handiwork.
This selection considers documentary as a tool that can galvanise labourers into unionising while revering them for their often under-looked roles in defining modern society. By inspecting the individual acts of passion that go into each documented act of labour, the films propose that labour is often inseparable from an act of love as we witness how the workers’ambitions transform the world around us. These passionate pursuits range from the celebration of an architect’s life-long vision to the work that is put into forging long-term loving relationships. The eclectic mix of work presented in the series not only celebrates how labour works as a guiding principle in our lives but offers suggestions into how labour should be regulated under political systems to respect the livelihoods of the labourers in question.
We begin our programme by looking at labour in its most distilled form with Kim Jeong-keun’s Underground (2019). The film provides a detailed account of what goes into upkeeping a successful metropolitan subway system by following the metro workers of Busan. Through hypnotic sequences of labour in action, and fly-on-the-wall accounts of the behind the scenes bureaucracy, the audience comes to understand the intricate marvel that is the metro system while developing an understanding of why metro workers have to strike to defend their rights.
While Underground is a holistic look at labour under the banner of a large organisation, the core of our program focuses on microcosmic variations of labour with Jeong Jae-eun’s Talking Architect (2012) and Kwon Woo-jung’s Earth’s Women (2010). Talking Architect follows the free-spirited architect Chung Gu-yon in the days leading up to an exhibition celebrating his life work. Jeong’s gentle observations present Gu-yon with the opportunity to elaborate upon the artistic process that guides his work and reveals how an artist’s genuine love of their craft can develop the world around them, and the frustrations that can develop when corporate greed holds his chosen art form hostage.
Continuing the pursuit of personal labours of love, Earth’s Women concerns itself with the lives of three women with lifelong interests in agriculture. Through the labour of these salt of the earth farmers, the significance of labour’s importance in upkeeping our daily existence becomes apparent. Like with many people, the work for these women does not end at 5 o’clock: labour’s day-long hold is documented via the political activism and care work of the women; they are defined not by a singular form of labour, but the labour that occurs around them and provides self-fulfilment all year-round.
After seeing labour manifested in various guises, the programme culminates by considering it in its most abstract form: labour as an act of love and compassion. Jin Mo-young’s My Love, Don’t Cross That River (2014) reveals that the prior acts of labour (infrastructure, architecture, and farming) are necessary in permitting a seventy year relationship between two people to blossom healthily. The lifelong commitment between an elderly married couple is put under tender examination as Jin documents in devastating detail the care Kang Kye-yeol puts into supporting her dying nonagenarian husband. Although the subject matter is forlorn, Kye-yeol’s arduous labour reveals a lifetime commitment to loving, and the long shots of her labour sublimate the quotidian activities of her life. The couple’s story, and the rest of Labour(s) of Love, invites you to deliberate upon the role of labour in your life and the world around you.
Kat Haylett, Harry Bayley, Marcus Munroe, Raquel Morais, & Tyia Burnett