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2009: Lost Memories

Entry updated 27 December 2021. Tagged: Film.

Japanese/South Korean film (2002). CJ Entertainment. Directed by Lee Si-myung. Written by Lee Si-myung and Lee sang-hak. Cast includes Jang Dong-gun and Tōru Nakamura. 135 minutes, cut to 114 minutes in some territories.

An Alternate History, Near Future thriller that never quite lives up to the promise of its prologue and opening credits, 2009: Lost Memories posits a world in which the Japanese statesman Itō Hirobumi survives the shooting that should have killed him in 1909. The alteration of this minor but influential event leads to an imperial Japan that retains Korea as a colony, fights on the side of the Allies in World War Two, and hence becomes a permanent member of the UN Security Council and major player in the space race. In 2009, a century after the crucial historical hinge, Seoul is a provincial capital in the Greater Japanese Empire, where two federal investigators hunt fanatical terrorists who believe not only that Korea should be independent, but that somewhere in an Alternate World, it already is. As in The Man in the High Castle (1962) by Philip K Dick, the characters come to realize that they are the inhabitants of a wrong-turn from reality: victims of a Changewar in which a newly-unified North and South Korea in 2008 was subjected to temporal meddling by the Japanese. As in Twelve Monkeys (1995), the protagonist seeks to remedy this through Time Travel.

2009: Lost Memories went into production amid the euphoria and cross-straits spirit of cooperation engendered by the approach of the 2002 soccer World Cup, held jointly in Japan and South Korea. Crowded out by many humdrum contemporary intercultural romances, it was the period's most original use of coproduction money, cast and crews. But ultimately, in presenting a nation at war with itself, it merely allegorizes the pre-existing North-South political agendas that already inform so many non-sf Korean thrillers. After the irresistible opening sequence, it soon lapses into standard cliches – torn loyalties, doomed male bonding, fiery patriotism, and (as the Making Of sequence in the DVD brags) 20,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition. Perhaps for this reason, Bok Geo-il, author of the source novel Bimyeong-eul Chajaseo ["Looking for an Epitaph"] (1987) refused to be associated with the finished product, and successfully sued the film-makers to have his name removed from the credits. [JonC]


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