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[Kim Seong-kon] James Bond and older men’s wisdom, knowledge

As I grow older, I begin to look back upon my past with remorse and regret. During my lifetime, I must have done quite a few good things and did others favors numerous times. Sadly, however, I am oblivious of all the good things I have done and can only think of all the mistakes I have made, whether unwittingly or intentionally. Full of regrets, I often whisper to myself silently, “I shouldn’t have done that. How could I have been such an imbecile?” 

Perhaps the peculiar psychological phenomenon stems from the feeling that you are no longer young and there is nothing much left to choose in your future life. So you feel you should redeem your past mistakes and straighten them out before you leave this world. Or it means you have now acquired the so-called old man’s wisdom of life through the numerous mistakes you made when you were young and impetuous.

When you try to convey your wisdom to the young, however, they would immediately dismiss it as nothing but an old man’s meddling and nagging. Under the banner of anti-institutional liberalism, progressivism and counter-culture, it is the young people’s privilege to revolt against the older generation. “We, too, were once young just like you,” old people would sigh out their discontent. “And we, too, believed we were absolutely right and the older generation totally wrong. Later, however, we realized we were wrong from the beginning.” But young people would turn a deaf ear to the older people’s wisdom and advice. Although there are things you cannot possibly fathom unless you actually experienced them, the young would never admit it.

The other day, I met a young man who was a huge fan of the James Bond movies. “Did you see the latest ‘007’ movie?” he asked me. “No, I haven’t.” I answered. Actually, I am also a big fan of James Bond, but I was no longer interested in the “007” movies for several reasons. No longer a product of the Cold War era, the “007” movies today have become just action-packed movies which gravely lack the subtlety and suspense of the original spy movies in which Sean Connery starred in the 1960s. Other actors who played James

Bond such as Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan were also good, but the “007” films in which they appeared were not as impeccably good as the ones in which Sean Connery acted out as the legendary MI6 British agent. The reason is relatively simple; the Cold War era is over now.

Another reason was that the image of Daniel Craig was far from the image of James Bond that Ian Fleming originally depicted in his novels. Fleming describes Bond as a tall, dark and handsome man with thick eyebrows and a keen sense of humor ― a man who looks a little cold-blooded but not without a warm and gentle smile. Surely it was not Daniel Craig but Sean Connery who perfectly fits the image of Fleming’s James Bond. In his three “007” movies, for example, Craig never seems to smile or cast a joke. Instead, he viciously attacks and kills his opponents in a cold-blooded manner like that of a raging bull. Craig is always much too serious and rancorous, gravely lacking the subtle qualities of the original James Bond.

While I was brooding over those things, the “007” fan asked me, “As James Bond, I think Pierce Brosnan suits better than Daniel Craig, don’t you think?” “I agree,’’ I replied. “But I think Sean Connery is absolutely the best James Bond ever. You should see his ‘From Russia with Love.’” Suddenly, I noticed that he did not know that Sean Connery was the original James Bond. He had not heard of “From Russia with Love” either. Ah, he belonged to the Pierce Brosnan generation! How then could he know who Sean Connery is? But I decided to go on anyway, because it occurred to me that perhaps it would be an older man’s responsibility or protocol to let the younger people know of the history. So I continued, “You should read Fleming’s novels.” “What? Were the ‘007’ movies based on novels?” he seemed to be genuinely surprised. So he had not heard of Ian Fleming either. “Not the recent ones,” I answered. “They ran out of Fleming’s novels. Besides, Fleming’s novels do not fit in the post-Cold War era.”

It was at the very moment when I realized that it surely would be my generation’s duty to let the younger people know about things of the past, which we were well immersed with, for we actually experienced them. Otherwise, our younger people, who do not have a clue about, say, the Korean War, would dare to educate us on what the Korean War really was, even though they knew we had lived through it. To prevent this kind of inversion of civilization, we have to tell them what we know and experienced, even when they stubbornly refuse to hear.

By Kim Seong-kon

Kim Seong-kon is a professor of English at Seoul National University and president of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea. ― Ed.