Film review: The Map Against the World

‘On the road there are no ranks and classes only the man that travels it.’

In a time when access to information was restricted to those in power, maps were seen as an important commodity to which only the elite could gain access. Restrictions of this information revolved around authoritarian control of a country’s citizens by kings and government officials in regards to travel, religion and property ownership in order to prevent any political upheavals which may have challenged those in power.

Directed by Kang Woo-Suk The Map Against the World is a historical drama about a Korean mapmaker named Kim Jeong-Ho (Cha Seung-Won) who sets out to chart the entirety of Korea after the passing of his father due to an inaccurate map which led men to their deaths.

Kang’s film is a visually stunning piece which follows Jeong-Ho’s journey of mapping Korea, taking the audience on a journey observing Korea’s vast, picturesque landscapes of mountains, lakes and forests which makes the film well worth seeing on the big screen. Jeong-Ho maps the islands of Korea by using carefully painted calligraphic strokes that seem almost poetic when paired alongside imagery of landscapes and triumphant orchestral scores in Kang’s film.

Maps which were issued and controlled by the state were restricted due to the fear that state secrets could be placed into the hands of enemies who could influence a country’s citizens and therefore published on a need-to-know basis. This however meant that maps could quickly become outdated if not used often and therefore inaccurate once roads were built and a land’s topography changed. As people would put their faith in the maps given to them to navigate, any inaccuracies could lead to death if sent the wrong way.

Kang’s film illustrates the importance of the public being able to freely access information, a reason why Jeong-Ho went on his four-year journey to map Korea in order to provide the Korean people with an accurate map. Upon his return, Jeong-Ho’s job was to oversee what seemed to be Korea’s first national map archive where people would copy maps by hand, the film highlighting the risk that copying by hand could lead to mistakes and misinformation. This lead to the conclusion that carving detailed maps out of wood – so that they could be mass produced – would be both accurate and easier to share. In what is essentially the advent of the mass printing, the distribution of information is politically dangerous for governments who choose to control their people, as Kang’s film demonstrated. The influence of mapping impacts land rights, zoning and property ownership and any inaccuracies may influence the deciding factor of land disputes and other legal matters.

Whilst important, Jeong-Ho’s passion for mapmaking lead to him sacrificing his relationships, in particular with his wife and daughter in order to fulfil his cause. After returning from his four-year journey, he didn’t recognise his now grown up daughter Soon-sil (Nam Ji-Hyun). The Map Against the World focuses not only on Jeong-Ho’s mission of mapping Korea but his relationship with his daughter and the disconnect they need to repair. The film speaks of the sacrifice Kim Jeong-Ho had to make in order to map Korea.

The eighth Korean Film Festival in Australia travels around the country throughout September. For schedules, tickets and film information, head to



Review by Addy Fong.