Episode 54: Please Teach Me English (2003, Sung-su Kim) / Zardoz (1974, John Boorman)



The book of Genesis, written and illustrated by Robert Crumb, tells of an enormous tower built by a united humanity following the Great Flood through which Noah floated his boat. And God said, “They are one people and have one language, and nothing will be withholden from them which they purpose to do. Come, let us go down and confound their speech.” The resulting divine wrecking ball on the tower of Babel scattered the languages of the Earth into those which confound us to this day: Spanish, Italiano, Farsi, L33t speak, Esperanto, English, Korean and Science Fiction. This episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast attempts to disseminate the latter three for normal talkin’ folks.

South Korean flicks discussed previously on the podcast (Conduct Zero, Asako in Ruby Shoes) tend to successfully juggle more than one genre of film within a broader category – a dash of action and/or drama to spice up comedy, or vice versa. This happens because S.K. filmmakers are apparently not too hung up on pigeonholing their film’s storytelling potential – which is unlimited, because it is film – based on marketing demographics. They trust their audiences to enjoy being pleasantly surprised and not explode when the movie they’re watching isn’t all tragedy or comedy, much like life.

Please Teach Me English is a comedy about Koreans taking ESL classes. In terms of filmmaking language, Sung-su Kim is already multilingual himself. Although the main character is a girl, this is not a “chick flick.” Although the crux of her story is a romance, this is not a “romantic comedy.” Although the film is very funny, there is drama, but don’t dare call it a “comedy-drama.” To be sure, this film speaks all those languages – enough to get by. The dialect however is unaffected by the lazy American slang we’re used to.

Zardoz is a tongue twister of a movie, and not just because the title requires an explanation. Everything does, from names to history to “second level meditation.” Science Fiction authors with grandiose ideas to depict have their work cut out for themselves translating concepts that must take place hundreds of years in the future to seem remotely possible. Sometimes the aesthetics of a piece are beyond technobabble or quasi-plausible scientific language though, like a giant floating stone head named Zardoz who pukes up guns. This is why dense sci-fi / fantasy novels like Dune are usually laughed out of theater before their lengthy pre-credits exposition prologues are even finished.

John Boorman followed his commercial and critical smash hit Deliverance with this satirical dystopic adventure of his own devising and although as a director his command of visual language is impeccable, he just didn’t seem to understand how to translate his ideas as anything but terminally silly. Every film of this type has a good share of made-up vocabulary and terminology, but when every other scene introduces more and more there’s just an information overload. Deciphering the code of Zardoz is an especially difficult study and we do stay a little late after class to crack it.

An Alan Smithee Podcast will slowly talk you through the trickier phrases of post-Planet of the Apes, pre-Star Wars sci-fi after a delightful bilingual flirtation.


4 thoughts on “Episode 54: Please Teach Me English (2003, Sung-su Kim) / Zardoz (1974, John Boorman)

  1. LOVE the music on the Podcasts, btw…
    Not this one cause I haven’t listened yet…but all the others…Masterfully selected and edited!

  2. John Boorman’s DVD commentary for Zardoz is pretty great, I remember during the “hall of mirrors” scene he sort of sighs and says something like: “you can fast-forward through this, I won’t be offended”.

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