Published Sep 01, 2001
"Address Unknown" is an unrelentingly bleak movie that covers the full gamut of human depravity. Set in Korea in the 1970s, the movie explores the aftermath of war. Things start out grim and go downhill from there. The opening scene features a brother and sister playing William Tell with a home-made gun. The brother accidentally shoots his sister's eye out. Relatively speaking, this is one of the lighter moments of the film, which features an ensemble cast.
Each of the characters' lives is more harrowing than the last. There's the girl who's lost her eye, gets raped and then prostitutes herself to get her eye fixed. There's the woman who lives in an abandoned bus. She spends her time looking for her son's father, an American soldier long gone. Her angry son abuses her. There's her son who has grown up rejected by his father and hated by his fellow Koreans for being different. The only place he can find work is with a man that provides local shops with dog meat. The level of violence in this movie makes "Reservoir Dogs" looks like "The Sound of Music."
There are certainly some powerful images here, images that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. "Address Unknown" plays almost as a silent movie - in a world so marred by violence, there can be little room for dialogue.
But the movie's single-mindedness is a little too much to bear. There's no doubt that effects of living through a war are devastating, but to cover almost the full range of human depravity in the course of a single movie - the film touches on everything from rape to mutilation and even hints at cannibalism - seems rather a cruel and unusual punishment to inflict on unsuspecting audiences.
This might be forgivable, but the movie falters in one other ways. A U.S. soldier that offers to help out the girl who has lost her eye if she agrees to become his "girlfriend" seems totally out of place here. Unlike the rest of the cast, his character is not fully developed, so we don't understand the motivation behind some of his behaviour - which renders it ridiculous. It's a false note in this depressingly elegiac movie.