Seen in Jeonju

Movies and Music: Insooni

1st September 2014

I don’t usually do much with music unless it is part of an old television commercial. However, I promised a friend and former co-worker who recently left Korea after many years of living here that I would send K-Pop music videos. But there is much more to K-Pop than Psy (ugh) or Crayon Pop (double ugh…). When possible, I will connect to movies so I can make a post about the videos I am sending here. And I thought that I would start with someone I have deep respect for, the Grande Dame of Korean popular music, Insooni.

Insooni’s real name is Kim In-soon. She was born in April of 1957, but being nearly sixty years old has not slowed her down or diminished her popularity. Given her popularity, I probably heard her songs many times after I arrived in Korea in ‘95, but I did not become really aware of her until the song Higher in 2004 with Jo PD, got her a spot on a music program I was watching. Here it is below:

I initially thought that she was from a Western country but was soon informed that she was in fact Korean. Her mother was Korean and her father was an American. Her mother raised In-soon alone. As a young girl, Insooni faced a great deal of discrimination which caused her to quit school after graduating from middle school. She turned to music for comfort and hope. She joined the girl group The Hee Sisters which debuted in 1978 under her stage name Insooni. Here is an example of The Hee Sister’s early style–before they turned to disco. Insooni is the one in the middle:

If you look for Insooni in recent films, you will only find her in a cameo in The Beast and the Beauty (2005) as a jazz bar singer. However, what most people don’t know is that she had the leading role in a 1982 movie. The film was entitled The Black Woman (1982) and was directed by Kang Dae-seon. black woman poster black woman 1982 In this film, Insooni plays Nan, a woman of mixed birth. She falls in love with Hyeon-seok and the two promise to marry. However, he breaks up with her via letter with little explanation. Hating herself, Nan becomes a prostitute (it was the ’80s.. it happened in Korean films all the time. See Winter Wanderer below) and a very popular one at that. She earns a lot of money by focus her attention on ad executives and getting jobs from them. However, she still misses Hyeon-seok and sets out to find him. When she does, she learns that he has gone blind which was the reason he had left her. She forgives him and the two return to their old home together. But (it’s the 80s.. don’t expect a happy ending) when their friends go to meet them and congratuate them on their reunion, the find the ‘happy’ couple has committed suicide together.

Anyway, that was Insooni’s one and only important movie role. Below is one of her latest music videos, from September 2013, Beautiful Girl

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Winter Wanderer (1986)

30th August 2014

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Winter Wanderer (aka Wanderer in Winter)– Directed by Kwak Ji-kyun. Starring Ahn Seong-ki, Lee Mi-sook, Kang Seok-woo, Lee Hye-yeong and Kim Yeong-ae. Release Date: April 12, 1986. 120 minutes

On the surface, medical student Min-woo (Kang Seok-woo) seems to have everything. He is from a good family, has many good friends, a bright future ahead of him and, on top of that, he just met the girl of his dreams in Dal-hae (Lee Mi-sook). But things are not always what they seem. For his entire life, Min-woo’s mother had hated him. His father is lying in the hospital at death’s door. And his brother, on his way to a new life in the USA, hands Min-woo a note that that starts the latter on a downward spiral. It seems that the woman who Min-woo believed to be his mother was actually his step-mother. Instead, he is the result of a tryst between his father and prostitute.

Min-woo sets out to learn more about his birth mother and in the process meets his ‘aunt’ Kim Yeong-sook (Kim Yeong-ae) now known as Laura. Laura runs a bar/brothel that caters to foreigners. There he learns that his mother committed suicide after his birth because she could not be with his father as he was already married. Unsettled, he goes to talk to his father about the situation but before he can get much information, he is interrupted by an elderly businessman who bursts into his father’s hospital room. Saving his father from an attack, Min-woo beats the stranger with the old man’s own cane.

This sends Min-woo on the run but he is soon found and arrested. After a short prison term, Min-woo is released to find that his father has passed away. Worse, when he goes home, he finds his house has been sold and his mother has moved away without leaving a forwarding address. Min-woo falls into a deep depression. Referring to himself as nothing more than trash, the young man turns to his closest friend, Hyeon-tae (Ahn Seong-ki).

Hyeon-tae had been introduced earlier in the film as being a couple of years older than Min-woo and is on the verge of graduating from their university with a degree in Business. However, he is a bit of a Bohemian. He spends his evenings drinking and womanizing in a small pub and performing the traditional mask dance as part of his university’s club. He refers to Min-woo as “Pipe Boy” because he would play tradional pipes for the same club and his very close to the younger man. In fact, Hyeon-tae was instrumental in a successful first date between Min-woo and Dal-hae. Hyeon-tae offers to take care of Min-woo, but thinking he is undeserving of such kindness, Min-woo goes to where he believes his destiny lies– the place of his origin– the brothel.

Wrapped as it is in its melodrama tropes, I was actually surprised how dark this film is. There is no redemption for Min-woo once his sinks to a certain level nor can other characters, such as the prostitute Jenny/Eun-young who falls in love with him. Both try to escape from their situations and improve their lives, but success is brief and only partial at best. One could argue that Hyeon-tae turns his life around, but that would not be a vaild arguement as Hyeon-tae was not doing anything that could be deemed illegal. In fact, the film goes out of its way to provide clues of Hyeon-tae’s ‘goodness’ by strongly linking him with the traditional arts and having him inform the audience that he is actually from the countryside and came to Seoul for the education.

Hyeon-tae’s links with traditional Korea and a simpler life are part of a strong undercurrent in the film that the Western world corrupts. This is a common theme in many Korean films from the ’80s. However, that is an incidental. The main theme in this film is the changes that occur throughout life. It is about how dreams, personalities, lifestyles, lovers and even family relationships change over time. The movie is very successful in depicting this especially in later scenes between Hyeon-tae and Min-woo.

Ahn Seongki is good as Hyeon-tae. Kang Seok-woo was a surprise in this film. I have to admit to never noticing him before. He debuted in movies in 1978 in a Kim Soo-yong film Yeosu. He acted fairly regularly in movies up until 1995. Earlier, in 1982, he was cast in a KBS drama called Ordinary People. He liked the small screen and after 1995, he worked exclusively on television. He is currently in the SBS drama A Good Day. Lee Mi-sook was good with what she had to work with, but her character was overshadowed by the other women in the film. Kim Yeong-ae was excellent as Laura and Lee Hye-yeong gave depth to Eun-yeong, making her more than a just a victim of circumstance.

Winter Wanderer is available on DVD with English subtitles.

Ah– and just a short personal note. This is the first time I have posted on this blog since November last year. The reason was partially because I was certified by the Korean gov’t to write national exams last October and I have been doing that work frequently. That often takes a bit of preparation. I also wrote two TOEIC books, one that will be published next month and the other will be available in December. In any case, I plan to write regularly again. I have already updated the ‘filming and awaiting release’ section and listed all the films that were released during my eight month hiatus under the tab marked 2010s at the top of the page.

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50th Daejong Movie Awards

3rd November 2013

daejong festivalThe 50th Daejong Movie Award ceremony was held on November 1st. Here are the results…

Best New Actor: Kim Soo-hyeon (Secretly, Greatly)

Best New Actress: Seo Eun-ah (Jit)

Best New Director: Jeong Byeong-gil (Confession of Murder)

Best Music: New World

Best Special Effects: Tower

Best Costumes: Face Reader

Best Art Direction: Snow Piercer

Most Popular Actor: Lee Jeong-jae (Face Reader)

Lifetime Achievement Awards: Hwang Jeong-soon (actress)/ Jeong Il-seong (director)

Best Supporting Actor: Jo Jeong-seok (Face Reader)

Best Supporting Actress: Jang Yeong-nam (Werewolf Boy)

Best Lighting: Berlin File

Best Editing: Snow Piercer

Best Cinematography: Berlin File

Best Planning: Miracle in Cell 7

Best Screenplay: Miracle in Cell 7

Judge’s Choice Special Award: Kal So-won (Miracle in Cell 7)

Best Director: Han Jae-rim (Face Reader)

Best Actor: Ryu Seung-ryong (Miracle in Cell 7)/ Song Gang-ho (Face Reader)

Best Actress: Uhm Jeong-hwa (Montage)

Best Film: Face Reader

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Index of the 1970s: Director Lee Shi-myeong

3rd November 2013

Lee Shin-myeong was born in Cheolwon as Lee Il-seong on August 7, 1929. He graduated from Gukmin University with a graduate degree in Political Science. In the early sixties, he started working in the film industry and debuted in 1965 with three films that year. In the decade we are dealing with here, Lee only made 7 films. Information for the first 4 of those had been uploaded earlier and can be seen, along with films from most other directors of that decade, by visiting the tab at the top of the page marked The 1970s. As I ran out of links there, his additional films will be linked under the tab The 1970sB

leeshinmyeong1974 first guest, leeshinmyeong1976 pleasure of life, leeshinmyeong1976 unfortunate woman

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Korean Films in Theaters: Week 45

2nd November 2013

Commitment

Door to the Night

My Dear Girl, Jin-yeong

Steel Cold Winter

The Weight

Red Family will also open, however it does not appear to have a trailer available as of this posting…

20131106 commitment, 20131106 door to the night, 20131106 my dear girl jinyoung, 20131106 red family, 20131106 steel cold winter, 20131106 the weight

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Korean Films in Theaters 2013; week 44

27th October 2013

NO BREATHING

Days of Wrath

LOVE SKILL

GREEN CHAIR 2013- Love Conceptually

NORA NOH –documentary

20131030 no breathing, 20131030 days of wrath, 20131030 love skill, 20131031 green chair 2013

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Index of the 1970s: Director Lee Seong-min

27th October 2013

Director Lee Seong-min was born on November 6, 1944. After graduating from the Department of Performing Arts at Joongang University, Lee began work immediately as an assistant director working under a variety of directors including Lee Seong-goo and Park No-shik. He debuted as a full director in 1976. Although not a prolific director, Lee continued to make movies on and off until the early 1990s. In the 1970s, he has four films to his name. To see the films of other directors from this decade, click the tab marked ‘The 1970s’ at the top of the page. (Soon there will be a 1970s B added to the top menu. I have added the maximum amount of links to the THE 1970s– I cannot enter that page to edit anymore. So 1970s B will include films, starting with information on Lee Seong-goo’s posted last weekend, that do not yet have links attached to them. Other decades, except the 1960s, have fewer films than the seventies, so I don’t expect I will have to do this for each ten-year period)

leeseongmin1976 wild forest, leeseongmin1976 season of love, leeseongmin1978 two minus three, leeseongmin1978 shouting flag

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Imagination Series-Tribeca Film Festival

26th October 2013

I was recently contacted about whether I would like to share the following about the Imagination Series film competition.I thought it might be something that film lovers would be interested in and copied the email I received below. And you can vote by visiting their Facebook page:

IMAGINATION SERIES ANNOUNCE A PUBLIC VOTE FOR THE FIFTH WINNING FILM
• Four filmmakers have already won the chance to have their script made into a film • Now the public can vote for a fifth film by visiting imaginationseries.com/vote
LONDON, October 24, 2013 – BOMBAY SAPPHIRE, in association with Tribeca Film Festival, have today announced four winners of the Imagination Series film competition.
But the voting isn’t over just yet: now they’re giving members of the general public the chance to vote for the fifth and final film treatment to be selected. Film lovers can have their say and cast their vote by visiting imaginationseries.com/vote, with the winning film announced on 14 November 2013. By way of thanks, 1 entrant will be picked at random to win an all expenses paid, VIP trip to New York City during the Tribeca Film Festival.

The five shortlisted entries are:
• Karen Pessina, Italy – ‘Tea Time’ is a thriller involving two men who pull over with a flat tire. When they seek help at a nearby house, an old lady offers them tea and muffins. One suddenly drops dead after eating a poisoned muffin. His partner is reunited with the old lady.

• Allyson Morgan, USA – ‘Need for Speed (Dating)’ is a comedy about two friends that attend a speed dating event. They face a gaggle of unsavory guys one after the other and begin to think that all hope is gone. Fate intervenes and they each find a great match somewhat closer to home.

• Giles Borg, UK – ‘The Search’ is a drama about a man who fears he’s the last man left on earth. He employs an old computer terminal, BOB, to scan CCTV footage for other signs of life. BOB finds other humans but, being lonely himself, does not tell John, who leaves, hopeless.

• Effie Woods, UK – ‘Cutie Pie’ is a comedy about a man, Peter, who returns home to find he has been bought an adorable kitten by Maggie. Peter wants Maggie to return it when the kitten destroys the house. Despite their efforts to shake off the little monster, it continues to haunt them.

• Hiroshi Momose, Japan – ‘The Value of Freedom’ is an animation set in the zoo. Two birds look out through bars at the sky beyond. One bird enlists help to escape the confines of the cage. Choosing to fly off into the unknown, the other bird chooses to stay, reassured by what it knows.

Five of the most imaginative illustrators and design collectives have been selected to create bespoke movie posters for each of the shortlisted scripts. James White (Tea Time), Studio MUTI (The Value Of Freeodm), Joe Wilson (The Search), Andrew Archer (Cutie Pie) and ilovedust (Need For Speed (Dating) have all used their unique styles to bring the treatments to life.

Bombay Sapphire and Geoffrey Fletcher assembled a cross section of imaginative heavy weights from the world of film to judge the entries, which featured Academy Award winning actor, Adrien Brody; producer, Ross Katz; Naomi Foner; actor, Peter Facinelli; and senior curator at Vimeo, Sam Morrill, who between them selected nine films for their originality and imagination.
Academy Award winning screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher commented on the competition: “At a time when it’s difficult for new voices and creative visions to find funding and broad exposure, Bombay Sapphire is providing a platform and launch pad for new stories to be told on screen. We hope the films we create inspire audiences and are as resonate as they are imaginative.”

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New DVDs

22nd October 2013

It has been more than a year since I purchased some new DVDs for my collection. The biggest reason for this is because I can see many movies, both new and old, via my internet TV provider. While I have not missed buying the newest releases, there have been numerous older films appearing on DVD that I wanted to get my hands on and that BTV did not carry. When the Kim Kee-duk Collection came out this month, I could not resist any longer. I ordered it…along with a dozen or so other DVDs I had my eye on but resisted buying over the past few months. Here is a picture of what arrived in my office Monday afternoon:
new dvds

At the top we have the Kim Kee-duk Collection which consists of The Five Marines (1961), which I think I reviewed on this site this past spring as it was on EBS TV, Barefoot Youth (1964)– which I already owned as a separate DVD but I can donate that copy to the school or give to a friend– North and South (1965), a movie that I saw long ago on television and loved, and Horse-Year Bride (1968) which I have never seen.
The second row primarily consists of the three volumes of a set called The International Awards Short Film Winners (various years). I love short films and I will be excited to view them. Next to them is March of Fools (1975), a film that has been a long time coming to DVD– However, don’t get your hopes up. This DVD has no subtitles.
What DOES have subs are three of the four DVDs in the next row. Tosuni: The Birth of Happiness (1963) received the royal treatment from the Korean FIlm Archives. They included a book explaining about the film and the state of Korean cinema in relation to the government at the time the film was made. Next to it, is the unsubtitled Come Down to a Lower Place (1982) followed by Come to Me (1996) and Rehearsal (1995). I was happy to see both of these films again. At one point I had them on VHS but gave them all up when I switched to DVDs. I have no memory of the stories despite writing about them on the original Koreanfilm.org message boards. I had got my start writing about Korean movies by posting on the forums about pre-Shiri films and these were among the films I introduced.
The final row consists first of Blazing Sun (1986)– no subs- and then the Im Kwon-taek Collection (Wangsimni-1976, Genealogy-1978, Jagko-1980, and Mandala-1981). I had held off buying Im’s collection but now seemed as good a time as any. Finally there is Maria and the Inn (1997) and Fire Bird (1996). Both have subtitles. I have clear memories of writing about Maria and the Inn and I remember really liking it. I wonder if time has changed my opinions.

So.. have you purchased any DVDs lately?
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Click here to view the complete list of DVDs I own

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Two People in the Wall (1978)

20th October 2013

Two People in the Wall (1978) — Korean Title: 벽속의 두사람– Romanization: Byeoksokui Doosaram. Directed by Lee Seong-goo. Starring: Ha Myeong-joong (Myeong-ho) and Jeong Yeong-sook (Myeong-ho’s lover). Running Time: 75 minutes. Original Release Date: March 1, 1978. Available on DVD: No

two people in the wall Myeong-ho is a welder in a factory who spends his days like a zombie. He moves between his shabby home where he lives with his elderly mother and his job where he is worked nearly to death. The only relief he gets from work is a five-minute break each day and propaganda time where they chant slogans for the nation. You see, Myeong-ho lives in North Korea. He is not without his friends but he is extremely discontented with life, finding no meaning in what he is doing. He notices things that others are either blind to or have been desensitized to such as when a young woman is taken at gunpoint from his village to be gang raped by soldiers on the outskirts of town. When her body shows up shortly thereafter, he is the only one whose face registers anything. He starts noticing death all around him. Visiting his best friend to discuss his thoughts and doubts proves fruitless as his friend’s younger brother has joined a youth militia is now making regular reports to the soldiers that are an ever-present force in the small village they live in.

Myeong-ho is able to feel all-too-brief moments of escape with his lover, a co-worker in the factory. When he is being punished for sleeping at the job, she leaps to his defense– by beating his senseless, but it saves him from a far worse beating. However, she soon catches the attention of the lecherous soldiers and becomes the latest victim of their appetites. The aftermath leaves her pregnant, so she and Myeong-ho make a difficult journey into the mountains to pay a visit to a hermit who is known to perform abortions. Unfortunately, without the proper equipment or medication of any kind, it is a risky operation and the young woman does not survive. Meanwhile, his friend had been making plans for all three of to escape, but he has been reported by his younger brother and arrested. When a despondent Myeong-ho makes it back to town, he finds his friend hanging upside down from a tree.

Temporarily unhinged, Myeong-ho wanders aimlessly until his approached by a female soldier who inquires after him…rather kindly as opposed to every other soldier in the film. She is rewarded for her kindness by being raped and killed. At first it seems as if that Myeong-ho has no idea what he is doing, but after raping the woman he seems to recover his senses and her murder is intentional. He strangles her while remembering the screams of his girlfriend interspersed with happier times in their relationship. It is out of revenge that the soldier dies.

With nowhere left to go, Myeong-ho returns to his village and goes through the motions of his life. However, his tolerance of his circumstances is at an end. When he challenges the factory boss and the soldiers recruiting there, he starts an uprising among the workers. It is violent, bloody and very brief as reinforcements soon charge into the grounds and quickly disperse the workers that are not killed immediately. The death toll is high and Myeong-ho appears to be among the fallen, but he had only passed out after savagely beating a guard to death and exhausting his energy by continuing the beating long after the soldier is dead. With absolutely nothing left to lose, Myeong-ho heads south, but his sanity is not all there. He is a broken man, shouting angrily at singing birds and his sense of self-preservation is gone. He doesn’t even see the soldiers that eventually shoot at him. Tumbling down a mountain after being shot, he falls into a river (presumably the Duman as we later pan to the line of barbed wire marking the Demilitarized Zone). Crossing, he has barely emerged from the water and gotten his bearing when he is shot five or six times in the back and chest. Even then he does not fall for several minutes, presumably the hope of freedom spurring him ever onward.

A couple of posts down from this, I indexed the films of Lee Seong-goo and this was one of them. I was surprised to see it offered on BTV and decided to give it a chance. While I am glad that I watched it, I do not feel that I could recommend it to anyone else. The depiction of North Korea was how the Koran government of 1978 wanted us to see it and I strongly suspect that an accurate picture was not painted. The village was more like a prison camp than an actual village. However, the people living in North Korea were shown in a far more sensitive light than any anti-communist film I have seen up to that point. Other movies up to this point had shown North Koreans doubting their government and desiring to escape to the South, but soldiers–unless the focus of the film was on their wavering commitment to communism– were rarely shown to have human sides like the female soldier in this film. Her death upset me as there was no purpose to it, especially as it was committed by the man we are asked to identify with and root for.

Lee Seong-goo tried some things to make a rather lackluster story more interesting like the shakey camera to depict Myeong-ho’s slipping sanity near the end of the movie. That worked well and I appreciated the effort he put into it. What did not work so well was equating the attempted abortion to rape. We had already seen Myeong-ho’s girlfriend held down and gang raped and the hermit strapping her down to perform the crude surgery mimicked that. So did the expressions and screams emitted by the girl and the in and out motion the camera focussed on while the old doctor attempted her work.

There was something else that didn’t work as well because I don’t think it gave the impression the director was going for. At the end of the movie, Myeong-ho’s body is washed downriver where it will eventually wash out to see and be picked up by South Korean soldiers on the beach at the start of the film. However, while it is floating along through the rapids, the shots of his bobbing body are interspersed with cuts of South Koreans playing in swimming pools and at amusement parks. I think director Lee meant to show contrast between the freedoms and joys of the South and the pitiable death of Myeong-ho in the North, but it doesn’t work. It comes across as distasteful– the scenes of happy children and their obviously well-to-do mother splashing around in swimming pools at a park seem grossly imbalanced with life in the North as depicted in the film and makes the unknowing people in that stock footage seem uncaring to the plight of Myeong-ho and his brothers.. something I am sure the director was not aiming for.

Or maybe he was. Perhaps Lee was trying to make a statement about what he felt North and South Korean relations should be like…a risky proposition if it were true. At the time, open criticism of government policies, especially regarding the North, were not allowed. I briefly wondered too if the factory conditions shown throughout the film were very much different from what South Korean workers were experiencing in the 1970s. But then I thought that I was trying too hard to find a hidden agenda in this film because I was hoping to give director Lee some credit for trying to show something meaningful. Unfortunately, I think this film is purely a propaganda piece make the evils of the government to the Norht as evil as possible. It has little to offer except as a dated relic of its time and it is for this reason I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone were it ever to become available on DVD.

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