Aimless Bullet: The Culture of Post-War Korea

Aimless Bullet is a Korean melodrama directed by Yu Hyun-mok in 1961. The film follows the lives of multiple people and the numerous struggles as they attempt to function in a damaged Korea. After the Superpowers carved the Korean Peninsula in two, the United States remained a dominant presence in South Korea. This occupation is shown through the emasculation of men in the film. Not only does unemployment and poverty define the lives of many of the male characters, but the only people who succeed are women. Often times, this is through prostitution. One scene in particular depicts Korean women prostituting themselves for American soldiers. This establishes a clear hierarchy in Korean culture, with American soldiers on top, then Korean women, with Korean men on the bottom and desperately struggling to get by.

The current state of Korea is highlighted throughout the film through the repeated image of breaking glass, both of windows and cups. This shows how the country is shattered in the wake of the war. The theme is also seen in the character of the grandmother. She does nothing but stay in bed. At multiple points in the film, she sits up and says “Let’s get out of this place.” She has been mentally broken, suffering from PTSD caused by her experiences of the war. Her scenes articulate and express the feelings of the characters: they want to escape. However they cannot get out of that place and no one does.

The men in the film are similarly shattered, some physically through various maladies and other metaphorically, in their lives. This creates an atmosphere of desperation and depression. Yu Hyun-mok carefully frames his scenes to display this condition. Many times, the male characters are shown in closely enclosed scenes which seem to be almost suffocating. This is true specifically when the men are meeting and talking in the bar scenes. This theme is further shown through the repeated images of caged birds. The men are similarly caged as they are trapped in their current conditions. Towards the end of the film, when the central character begins to break down, he remarks that he has been trapped in a “cage of conscience”. If he has been unethical or immoral, then he might not have ended up in such desperate and miserable straights. The film concludes with a steep decline, ending the lives of several central characters, making it a melodrama.

Aimless Bullet is an interesting depiction of the cultural state of post war Korea. Specifically, the men of this country are shown to be lacking purpose and control, as the title of the film suggests. However, the focus of this movie is the presentation and reinforcement of theme at the expense of constructing and developing the characters. This results in many flat and one dimensional characters being driven by plot and theme rather than showing the organic growth and progression of their lives. Ideas such as poverty and unemployment are communicated over and over again but through basic and sketchy character profiles. These lives simply collapse as the film comes to a close in an exaggerated, borderline ridiculous, tragedy.