The future is uncertain in Ha Gil-jong’s landmark piece of Korean cinema
“That’s one handsome dick.”
The March of Fools had something of a troubled history. Written by novelist Choi In-ho (whose book this is adapted from), the film struggled for a long time during its production, largely due to then-dictator Park Chung-hee’s chokehold on culture. Choi and director Ha Gil-jong – short-lived but highly influential as both a filmmaker and social commentator in his time – had to submit many script revisions and edit the movie to all hell before it was allowed past the censors. Because The March of Fools is very much a protest movie, but one done very subtly.
Byeong-tae (Yun Mun-seop) and Yeong-cheol (Ha Jae-young) are two philosophy students who live somewhat happy-go-lucky lives but are never too successful with women. Their class arranges a blind date night with students of another university’s French lit class, and it’s there that they meet Yeong-ja (Lee Yong-ok) and Sung-ja (Kim Yeong-suk). Although the boys are more than happy to try their hand at (unsuccessfully) dating them, the girls are happier just hanging out, drinking.
The rest of the movie goes along at a relaxed walking pace, taking us through small events during the year, and we see each character’s dreams, from Byeong-tae’s uncertainty towards his future, to Yeong-cheol’s desire to open a pipe factory and catch a whale. Set against a backdrop of a politically tense Korea, The March of Fools manages to really capture the atmosphere of the current times. It uses the carefree but angst-riddled nature of the students’ lives to mirror the uncertainty of the future of South Korea. When faced with these issues, they do what many of us choose to: they distract themselves with silly, fun but meaningless activities.
There is a distinct parallel between the way the lives of these characters unfolds, and the way the movie does: both present a layer of cheerfulness and optimim (for the characters it’s for their own future, and for director Ha it’s regarding the current political climate), but the undertones of sadness, uncertainty and oppression are there as well. This vein runs deep and affects almost every interaction and event that happens during the course of the film – all the way down to the pointless curfews and rules about messy hair. But all is not lost: Within Ha Gil-jong’s cinematography are moments that indicate that the road is long, and their journey is only beginning.
Compared to a film like, say, The Pollen of Flowers, The March of Fools is infinitely more accessible. The story’s realism will talk to youth of today, with its timeless message and themes. Sure, we might not be living in a world exactly like that of the films setting, but these feelings of disillusionment and a dream to succeed speaks universally. It’s not hard to see why the four main characters hopeless. The world of a 70s Korea, full of censorship, and considering the effort it took just to get this film made, it’s no surprise that they are entering the adult world with much trepidation. The March of Fools is a great film that works even better when viewed with social context. It’s a film that continues to speak volumes when some people are unable to.
Verdict: Mixing in gritty realism, whimsy and sadness, The March of Fools uses relatable characters to tell a timely story in a timeless fashion.
Overall entertainment: 8.5/10
Sex: Close-ups of the men washing/10
Violence: A bit of slapping around
Korean Lit: 2
Inflation: $2 is how many bowls of noodles?
Camus: I haven’t read The Stranger either
The March of Fools (1975)
Also known as: 바보들의 행진
Director: Ha Gil-jong
Writer: Choi In-ho
Yun Mun-seop – Byeong-tae
Ha Jae-young – Yeong-cheol
Lee Young-ok – Yeong-ja
Kim Yeong-suk – Sun-ja