TV review: Korea: The Never Ending War

01 November 2019

BBC/ZED ARKMEDIA WETA/US National Archives

A Korean girl and child who featured in Korea: The Never Ending War (BBC4 Wednesday of last week)

A Korean girl and child who featured in Korea: The Never Ending War (BBC4 Wednesday of last week)

WHAT does it say on the box? We learn, in our line of business, to pick up subtle — and far from subtle — hints from the title: no one could claim misleading labelling at events advertised variously as “Solemn Mass”, “the Lord’s Supper”, or “Testimony and Praise”.

Yet, we expect TV programmes to make us work just a little harder, to tease us with what lies within. Will it be a documentary, a drama, a comedy? Not so last week, when there were three offerings as bare and unvarnished as could be about their subject-matter.

Korea: The Never Ending War (BBC4 Wednesday of last week) was a feature-length international production, which reminded us how little we know, or care to remember, about a conflict that led on from the Second World War (and nearly led to a a Third World War) and whose legacy still threatens world peace.

The back story is essential. Japan’s pre-war invasion and occupation were exceptionally brutal, fomenting the fiercest hatred of foreign domination. Post-war, the peninsular became the battleground between Communism (of a kind) and democracy (of a kind). Russia and China supported the North; the United States and allies including Britain backed the South. Kim Il Sung’s ruthless despotism could not be permitted to overrun the whole country; the US employed tactics far more savage than ever before, and the entire country was levelled by bombing and reduced to abject poverty.

Steadily, the south’s embrace of capitalism brought it wealth far beyond anything that the North’s Stalinist despotism could provide; so, the North turned to hyper-militarisation and nuclear weaponry. There was the tiniest concluding gleam of hope: at least Kim Jong-Un has now visited and met the South Korean leader. Sooner or later, the isolation must collapse — but must there be a cataclysm first?

The PM, the Playboy And the Wolf of Wall Street (BBC4, Monday of last week) gave you in the title both the cast list and the subject. It was an astonishing and sickening saga of international corruption, told as a compelling feat of investigative journalism. The Prime Minster of Malaysia set up a development fund that was supposed to bring his country huge wealth; but, in fact, it siphoned off eye-watering sums of tax receipts from the poor to fund jet-set lifestyles for his cronies. Most egregiously, as a slap in the face to this underprivileged country, it bankrolled the remake of The Wolf of Wall Street, a film that extolled dishonesty and excess. The poor have become far poorer.

When Horizon asks Can You Trust the Billion Pound Investors? (BBC1, Monday of last week), what do you think the answer will be? Unsurprisingly, we saw another sorry tale that proved that the UK and the City of London are world leaders in weak control and lack of policing. Some 300,000 small investors have been hit by the collapse of Neil Woodford’s investment fund, and they’re still having to pay out now.

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