The third film from Seoul 1988, Beyond All Barriers, directed by Lee Ji-won, deals with the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, with a montage of seven minutes of competition coverage thrown in. There is a good reason why the film devotes 55 minutes to the Opening Ceremony: it is an exceptional display, spectacular, but with a narrative that goes beyond the history of Korea to include its spiritual traditions, especially as they relate to the best of Olympic values.
Unlike other Opening Ceremonies, the Seoul ceremony begins outside the stadium, on the Han River, with 400 boats leaving a shipyard in the direction of the stadium. Inside the stadium, 1,200 drummers enter and, with the spirits of ancestors, cleanse the area before the formal Ceremony begins. Included is a half-ton yonggo barrel drum. Drums, we are told, mimic the sounds of the human heart.
The theme of East meeting West in peace is repeated throughout both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. In the Opening, 44 Korean fairies dance with 44 Greek goddesses. In the Closing, Korean Samgo-Mu dancers join with Western rhythmic gymnasts.
The Olympic cauldron is lit by three people—a teacher, an art student and a marathon runner—who symbolize academics, arts and sports. Not discussed is the fact that upon its lighting, the Olympic flame incinerated several white doves.
We do learn that the 76 parachutists shown in Im Kwon-taek’s Hand in Hand as a counterpoint to bombs dropping, represent a blessing from God. Various dance and music presentations symbolize eras of conflict and discord being broken up and replaced by a harmonious future. We are told that on this very spot, less than forty years earlier, people were killed in warfare. Now, the same spot hosts the Olympics, the symbol of peace. This message is emphasized by the singing of “Hand in Hand,” one of the better Olympic theme songs.
The Closing Ceremony in the stadium concludes with symbolic boats heading home, while dances and prayers wish everyone safe journeys home.