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[Opinion] Mercuri and Lee Chang-dong

Posted February. 27, 2003 23:04,   


Melina Mercuri, late Greek actress-turned culture minister, went through many ups and downs throughout her life before she died in 1994 at the age of 69. She got married at 16 despite her parents` disapproval and became an actress after the marriage ended as a failure. Starring in such hit movies as `A Streetcar Named Desire` and `Not on Sunday,` she won fame and fortune. Yet, her passion led her to explore a new world. After leading democratic movements against the military government, she was forced into exile in France. When she returned, she was elected a lawmaker. After appointed as the minister of culture in 1981, she waged a campaign to take back Greek treasure `Eljin Marbles` from Brits until she died of cancer.

▷There are some similarities between director Lee Chang-dong, newly appointed Minister of Culture, and Mercuri. Lee was a teacher and then a writer who debuted through Donga Ilbo before becoming a movie director to people`s surprise. He made critically-claimed movies, but earned little money. When he won the director of the year award in Venice Film Festival with his work `Oasis,` he said during his speech that `his wife might want money more than the trophy.` His remarks came from his understanding about the hard reality most artists face.

▷Lee had the time of his life last year. He won a number of renowned awards at home and abroad with `Oasis.` Having appeared on TV as a speaker for then presidential candidate President Roh late last year, he became a candidate for new culture minister. Of former culture ministers, Lee Eo-ryong was the only one who came from the field of art. Given that he was also a scholar, director Lee is considered the first-ever artist-turned culture minister. Merucuri is remembered more as a prime minister that as an actress. Although Greeks yet to have the treasure back, the campaign could gain global recognition thanks to her enthusiasm. And now we wonder what kind of culture minister Lee will be.

▷The fact that he is an artist could serve as both an advantage and a disadvantage. Of course, it a right thing to protect our culture, but he still needs to take a broad approach instead of focusing on ours only. Within the culture industry, there is already a conflict between different interests over government subsidies. If the culture ministry`s goal is to turn the domestic culture industry into an `oasis,` it must have an eye to see the entire `desert.` Lee`s life as a of culture has just begun.

Hong Chan-shik, Editorial Writer, chansik@donga.com