Letters to Buriram (2019): Tales from the War

Film Review

In Letters to Buriram (2019), Minwook Oh invites us to reflect upon tales from the war. Through letters that never reached its end, into militarized statues of gods in uniform. The events depicted in this film encourage us to imagine the Asian Pacific War beyond known history.


Written texts aside, narratives from the war were cemented between the bricks forming the city. Case in point, a towering structure in the heart of the city, when viewed from an alternate angle, is contrasted with a nearby coast. However, as we peek closer and seep into its ground, a trench sprawls deep beneath the structure. 


Each cut and sequence from Letters to Buriram (2019) is a visual manifestation of Minwook’s perspective towards war, the casualties, and historical narratives surrounding the Asian Pacific War in general. Throughout the film, he carries out various cinematic experiments, from the ghastly camera movements hovering through the underground trenches, juxtaposed images and sound, to the symbolic depiction of a child’s longingness for her mother. 


One of the methods Minwook uses to embed emotion is through stark juxtapositions of images and sounds. Conflict is displayed in a contrasting manner. This is visible through his depiction of Japan. The city’s bustling crowd is linked to a demonstration towards the Japanese Emperor, as a tourist climbs atop the Hachiko’s statue. On another occasion, Minwook displays a peaceful imagery of Japan. The way Japan is usually portrayed, with its neat burial complex and aesthetical Zen gardens. Minwook deliberately positions himself in reinterpreting historical archives. Specifically, histories regarding the war in Korea, Taiwan, China, and Japan. 


Minwook questions the common historical account told mostly from a militaristic perspective. That being said, the treatment of this documentary is not meant for advocacy. In a film discussion themed Nggaer Film, Njogo Kampung (2016), Dyna Herlina explains that an advocacy film works as a tool to address issues from the creator’s analytical point of view for campaigning. By directing the audience to act upon an issue, he/she liberates them.


As an audience, I find that certain portrayals in this film reflect the creator’s highly subjective standpoint. As seen through the piled-up casualties in the sea, woven with the statement: “Humans are victims of the war” (Oh, 2019). 


Besides questioning the common history, I also see Minwook’s intention to critique the desire for control. Whether it’s shown through his religious, cultural, and state narratives.


Each event woven in Letters to Buriram (2019) all boil down to one question, “Are tales from the war always as tense as soldier’s marching and military combat drills?”


Letters to Buriram (2019) is a part of the Perspektif program. Watch the film for free here.



Written by Annisa Rachmatika

Translated by Lintang Jelita Anjani

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