'Les Miz' Meets 'Gangnam Style,' and YouTube Cheers

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SEOUL, South Korea -- The "Gangnam Style" video has spawned seemingly endless remakes; there are even sites that allow viewers to insert photos of themselves onto the animated bodies of people performing the famous horse dance.

Now the viral video has inspired another South Korean blockbuster, a parody of the movie musical "Les Misérables" featuring members of the air force. After just five days on YouTube, the video had been viewed almost three million times. (It probably did not hurt that one of the stars of the Hollywood movie,Russell Crowe, reposted a tweet with a link to the video.)

The video, "Les Militaribles," opens by spoofing the dramatic first scene of the movie version of Victor Hugo's epic novel, set in a jail where men live under the tyranny of the guards.

Les Miserables ROK Air Force Parody Les Militaribles / 공군 레미제라블 '레밀리터리블'

In the 13-minute South Korean version, the nemesis is a taskmaster officer who keeps his exhausted conscripts clearing snow -- a chore that many young South Korean men face while serving mandatory time in a military on guard against a militaristic North Korea.

"Dig down, dig down, raise your shovels high. Dig down, dig down, and clear the snow below," the airmen chant as they struggle to clear a runway. "There is no end to this accursed snow. Dig down, dig down, you still have two service years to go."

At first glance, the video -- based on a novel about an often unfeeling bureaucracy -- would appear to be the work of young men unhappy with their lot, serving in a hierarchical military that has been accused of sometimes brutal treatment of conscripts in the past.

But "Les Militaribles" was produced by the South Korean Air Force's official blog team, and is a celebration of sorts of airmen's shared sacrifice during two years of service.

"Clearing snow is especially important for the air force," said First Lt. Chung Da-hoon, 26, who directed the video. "We must keep our runways free of snow so our jets can take off any time to deal with North Korean threats."

"Through this parody," he said, "we wanted to tell our families, our girlfriends and the people that what we do in the military is hard work, but is necessary for national defense."

His boss, Maj. Cheon Myeong-nyeong, the planning officer for the air force's Media Content Team, said, "Our 'Les Militaribles' triggered nostalgia among millions of people who have served in the military."

With nearly all male adults having served in the armed forces, there is a fair amount of nostalgia for time in the service, and the months spent in military barracks in remote parts of the country are a common theme in jokes and daily conversation.

But public relations efforts like "Les Militaribles" also reflect the military's increasing difficulty in inspiring a sense of duty among those who are serving or awaiting their call-up. After six decades of peace on the divided peninsula, many young men regard their service as an inconvenient interruption of civilian life, rather than a "sacred duty," as their fathers' generation did.

The air force's media team gathered talent for the video from air bases across the country. The director majored in video arts in graduate school and many of the singing airmen were music school students.

The airmen said "Gangnam Style" (at 1.3 billion views) raised hopes that their video might gain at least a small international following, and they included subtitles in English to help it gain popularity.

The creators also were careful to include a several-minute love story.

In a divergence from the Hugo plot, "Airman Jean Valjean" can spend only 10 minutes with his girlfriend "Cosette," a beauty who came to visit him despite a heavy snowfall. He begs for more time, but "Lieutenant Javert" says snow shoveling cannot wait.

As it turns out, that plot twist has a foothold in South Korean reality: one of conscripts' greatest fears is that their girlfriends will not wait for their return. With an eye toward the lovelorn, the makers of the video billed it as "a super military blockbuster" about "the choices Airman Valjean has to make between snow and love, the love story that the heavens forbid!"

Shreeya Sinha contributed reporting from New York.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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