Seen in Jeonju

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Supernatural Cats in Korean Cinema

13th July 2011

catRecently, Korean audiences have been treated to the release of a horror film called The Cat. You might not notice it sandwiched as it is between the releases of the overblown Transformers 3 and the much-hyped Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2, however it did manage to squeak by and land at number two in this past weekend’s box office. I mentioned in the post below how cat’s used to be more important in Korean horror films in the earlier decades, but had pretty much faded from view until this year.  I am not talking about a living cat being used as a false scare to make the audience jump, I am talking about honest to goodness ghost cats who come back from beyond the grave to seek revenge.  The Japanese film Juon (and its American remake, The Grudge) was a good example of this where the souls of  Toshio and the black cat seemed intertwined. Few western films deal with cats-as-ghosts, although they often appear in horror film and fiction as familiars to witches.  Pet Semetery (1989) comes close with the zombie cat ressurected from a pet cemetary, but that is not really a spirit and I don’t remember it doing much of anything besides looking menacing. The classic film Cat People from 1944 (and its far less classic 1985 remake) does not really fit the bill either as the cats are not really ghosts, rather a sub-race of humans.  One Canadian film from 1977, The Uncanny starring Peter Cushing talks about the supernatural nature of cats and a French film, Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye (1973) also seems to have a ghost cat, but other than these, western ghost-cats are few and far between. One of the reasons for this may be that cats, frankly are not very scary. If you were a Hollywood director and given the choice of making a horror movie about a ghost cat or a Zuni fetish doll, the doll would win everytime (Trilogy of Terror -1975 Zuni Fetish Doll!!)

bloodthirsty killerHowever, ghostly cats seeking revenge have been haunting Korean cinemas on and off for several decades. I will be giving you a short list of some examples I am aware of.  The earliest of these vengeful cats from beyond the graves seems to be from the 1965 movie A Bloodthirsty Killer (sometimes listed as a A Devilish Homicide) directed by Lee Yong-min.  This movie is not only the first cat/ghost, but it is also the most easily available to see as it was released on DVD with English subtitles. In this movie, we witness as a kind, beautiful and faithful young wife is brutally disfigured and killed by a tag-team comprised of her mother-in-law and her housemaid. The lovely young woman is finally bricked behind a wall with her cat and, later it is determined that the cat fed on its mistress’ flesh to keep alive as long as it could. Their souls appear linked in their quest for revenge against the family that wronged them and the cat ghost possesses the body of the recently slain grandmother for one of the most bizarre and disturbing scenes in any Korean film of that decade– The grandmother with a cat soul giving her sleeping grandchildren a tongue bath as she prepares to devour them…  I really love the poster pictured left with the cat reclining in a robe.

ghost story of joseon dynastyFive years later, in 1970 the master director Shin Sang-ok gave us what may be the greatest cat-horror film ever, A Ghost Story of the Joseon Dynasty. The rather uninspired English title masks a wonderfully engrossing story. I have been lucky enough to see this on tv three or four times over the years, but it is not yet on DVD. In the movie, Yoon Pil-woo is killed by the prince who has falsly filed treason charges against him. The prince framed Yoon for the simple reason that he is lusting after Yoon’s beautiful wife, Ya-hwa. However, before she can be violated by the mad monarch, Ya-hwa kills herself with a knife. As she lies bleeding on the floor, she begs her beloved pet cat to drink her pooling blood and seek revenge for her and her husband. Their souls now joined, the ghost appears as either a monstrous black cat (in one scene a gigantic, almost human sized forearm lashes out at a palace guard–we do not see the whole cat) or as a more traditional long-haired ghost. This film is interesting for another reason. There is a scene in it which called to mind the Japanese film Ring (1998) as it is revealed that the bloodthirsty ghost is living in a well just outside of town.

remodeled beautyFive more years pass and we have another cat-based horror, Remodeled Beauty (1975) directed by Jang Il-ho. Jang is more likely to be known for his melodramatic  films such as  The One Love reviewed here. However, he also gave us one of the strangest of the cat horror films. The KMDb opens its summary of the film in this way: “(O)bstetrician Jeon Dong-kuk’s wife gives birth to a cat baby. Taking a pessimistic view of this, he replaces the baby with a newborn baby in the hospital.”  I love the matter of fact way it is written! I would think that if someone gave birth to a ‘cat baby’ (kitten?) they probably would be a little more than pessimistic.  19 years later, Dr. Jeon encounters the cat woman again as she is going in for plastic surgery to make her look normal. It is here that the film takes a turn towards the supernatural for, as the cat-woman’s face is restored, the young woman Dr. Jeon has raised since infancy as his own, develops cat-like features.  The girls are linked and curing his daughter means disfiguring his biological daughter who is seeking a ghastly revenge for being abandoned.

public cemetary of grudgesThen in 1983, we are given a film entitled The Public Cemetery of Grudges directed by Kim In-soo. While the English and Korean titles of this film seems to associate the movie with the more-famous but mostly catless horror film, The Public Cemetery of Wolha (1967), Kim’s movie is actually a remake of Shin Sang-ok’s A Ghost Story of the Joseon Dynasty listed above. Modernized and with different character names, the basic plot is the same. Wealthy Jo wants So-ya, but she is already married. Jo kills her husband and So-ya kills herself. She instructs her cat to drink her blood and seek revenge. As before, the cat gains supernatural powers. After this film, cats as a source of horror disappeared..until this year. The Cat is now in theaters and if you are in Korea, you have the chance to watch it.  Or, if you are not in Korea, wait a few months and take the chance on the DVD.

Recently, I had been thinking about getting a cat–not a ghost-cat, just a regular old cat.  I visited the Animal Rescue League Korea ( for several months while I made a decision.  Since 2008, I have owned my own house, so I am not at the whim of landlords as to whether or not I can have a pet..and I have lived in Korea since 1995, so I think I am stable enough to offer a good life to one.  Well– I finally came to a decision and adopted an animal from a shelter– a dog though, not a cat. (I decided that my fish would be too tempting for a cat).  I wanted to mention the Animal Rescue League Korea here because, if you are in Korea, they do have lots of adoption possibilities for dogs, cats and rabbits or, if you are in Korea just for a year or two, they offer fostering possibilities.  It is something to look into.

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Traveling.. June 27-July 7

26th June 2011

aucklandI have caught up with a lot of behind-the seen things on this site such as upcoming movies in the ‘Filming/Awaiting Release’ section (left menu) and the list of films released this year (via the tab above marked ‘The 2010s”…not to mention the list of new dvds released in June listed below.  But I am about the fall behind again.  From tomorrow through July 7, I will be in New Zealand, slowly travelling between Auckland and Wellington. I will be posting again from July 8th.

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DVD Releases: April 3-9

2nd April 2011

Three Korean films are being released onto DVD this week.

TWO WOMEN– directed by Jeong Yoon-soo, starring Shin Eun-kyeong and Jeong Joon-ho.  Number of Discs: 1/ Subtitles: Korean & English/ Rating: ages 18+/ Format: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: dolby digital 5.1/ Running Time: 105 minutes/ Extras: making,poster shoot, trailer, 2 music videos/ Recommended Price: 25,300 KRW/ Available: April 7.

FINDING MR. DESTINY– directed by Jang Yoo-jeong, starring Im Soo-jeong, Kong Yoo. Number of Discs: 1/ Subtitles: Korean & English/ Rating: ages 12+/ Format: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: dolby digital 5.1/ Running Time: 112 minutes/ Extras: commentary by director and two leads, making, poster shoot, music video, tv spot, trailer/ Recommended Price: 25,300 KRW/ Available: April 7

COME CLOSER– directed by Kim Jong-gwan, starring Yoo Gye-sang, Jeong Yoo-mi. Number of Discs: 1/ Subtitles: Korean & English/ Rating: ages 18+/ Format: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: dobly digital 5.1/ Running Time: 108 minutes/ Extras: Commentary by various movie directors (Kim Jong-gwan, Kim Tae-yong, Byeon Yeong-joo, Lee Hae-yeong and Lee Kyeong-mi), music video, music video commentary, tv spot, trailer, 2 short films by director Kim Jong-gwan: How to Operate a Polaroid Camera (2004) and Monologue No. 1 (2006)/ Recommended Price: 25,300 KRW/ Available: April 7

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New DVDs: March 20-26

19th March 2011

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do any blogging this past week. It was a very busy time at work with guests visiting the university from a school in California and Cambodia. This coming week, we have another set of guests coming from the USA and New Zealand, but the latter is confined to one meeting on Tuesday, so I will probably have time to write a review.  As far as DVDs, we have several being released, including modern classics that should definitely be part of your collection if they are not already, Oasis and Peppermint Candy.  Below are the details of all the dvds coming this week.


SEONGGYUNGWAN SCANDAL (tv-drama)– directed by  Hwang In-hyeok, starring Park Min-yeong, Song Joon-gi, Yoo Ah-in.  Number of Discs: 12 + 84 page picture book, calendar and 10 signed cars/ Subtitles: English/ Rating: ages 15+/ Format: 16:9/ Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0/ Region Codes: 3,4,5,6/ Extras: Each disc contains 10-20 minutes of extras/ Recommended Price:  121,000 KRW/ Available: March 23

dont cry

YEOKJEONUI YEOWANG vol. 2,  (tv drama)– directed by Kim Nam-won, starring Kim Nam-joo, Jeong Joon-ho, Park Shi-hoo.  A few weeks ago, a box set containing the first 16 episodes of this tv drama was released, here are the remainder of the episodes. Number of discs: 6/ Subtitles: No Subtitles/ Rating: ages 15+/ Format: 16:9/ Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo/ Extras: Love Scenes, Filming the last episode,  a look at the cast, Shi-hoo with fans, NGs/ Region Code: 3/ Recommended Price: 77,000 KRW/ Available: March 22.

DON’T CRY FOR ME, SUDAN (documentary, tv version)– Number of discs: 1/ Subtitles: No Subtitles/ Rating: all ages/ Format: 4:3/ Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo/ Region Code: 3/ Recommended Price: 33,000 KRW/ Available: March 24


OUTLAW– directed by Song Hae-seong, starring Joo Jin-mo, Song Seung-heon, Kim Kang-woo.  Number of discs: 1/ Subtitles: Korean and English/ Rating: ages 15+/ Format: 2.35:1/ Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1/ Running Time: 121 minutes/ Extras: Making, Interview with the main actors, trailer/ Recommended Price: 25,300 KRW/ Available: March 24

FUGITVE: PLAN B (tv-drama)– directed by Kwak Jeong-hwan, starring Lee Na-yeong, Jeong Ji-hoon (Rain), Daniel Henney.  Number of discs: 10 (episodes 1-20)/ Subtitles: English/ Running Time: 1300 minutes +193 minutes of extras/ Region Codes: 3,4,5,6/ Recommended Price: 110,000 KRW/ Available: March 25


OASIS– directed by Lee Chang-dong, starring Seol Kyeong-gu, Moon So-ri.  Number of discs: 2/ Subtitles: Korean, English/ Rating: ages 18+/ Format: 1.85:1/ Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1/ Running Time: 130 min/ New extras include reactions from film festivals/ Region Code: All Region/ Recommended Price: 22,000 KRW/ Available: March 25

PEPPERMINT CANDY– directed by Lee Chang-dong, starring Seol Kyeong-gu, Moon So-ri, Kim Yeo-jin.  Number of discs: 2/ Subtitles: Korean, English, Japanese/ Format: 1.85:1/ Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1/ Running time: 127 minutes/ making, trailer, tv spots, film festival reactions/ Region Code: All Region/ Recommended Price: 22,000 KRW/ Available: March 25

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Index of 1973: 91-105

4th March 2011

Here are the next fifteen films produced in Korea in 1973.  You can click the thumbnail to view the full-sized images or you can access the images and information about the films by director through the tab at the top of the page marked ‘the 1970s’

73-091, 73-092, 73-093, 73-094, 73-095, 73-096, 73-097,73-098, 73-099, 73-100, 73-101, 73-102, 73-103, 73-104, 73-105

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Index of 1973: 61-75

19th February 2011

Here are the next 15 films of released in Korea in 1973. Click to see the full image. These can also be viewed by director via the tabs at the top of the page marked ‘the 1970s.’ 

73-061, 73-062, 73-063, 73-064, 73-065, 73-066, 73-067, 73-068,73-069, 73-070, 73-071, 73-072, 73-073, 73-074, 73-075

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DVD Releases: February 6-12

5th February 2011

no dvd

The above picture is accurate, there are no new Korean DVDs scheduled for this week. BUT there are three DVDs getting re-released. If you missed buying Mother, The Servant or The Good, The Bad and The Weird when they first came out, you will have another chance. The 2-disc versions will be available again as of February 8th.

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Best Korean Films of 2010

26th December 2010

With the end of the year, we often see ‘top-10′ lists popping up on websites, television, magazines and newspapers. Well, since I am housebound at the start of a blizzard where up to two feet of snow is expected, I will write a list of my favorite ten Korean films of the year. Sitting down to organize my thoughts and make a list of the films I liked, I immediately ran into a problem. I wound up with a list of 15 films. That is not as big a problem as not having enough films to write about, but it is going to cause me some problems as I approach the end of the list and want to include everything. Less of a problem were the top five films. These were pretty clear in my mind.  Incidently, I am currently in the USA using someone else’s computer.. I opted not to take my laptop and haven’t bought an iPad yet–but may by the end of the  no images are included in this article right now as I don’t see an icon for Photoshop on this computer and I don’t want to snoop around their files trying to find one…  I will add images when I return to Korea on January 21.  Oh–and as I am in the USA, I have not been able to view Yellow Sea which opened this past week.  Therefore, that film was not considered for this list. So let me get started–Here are my favorite films of 2010 in reversed order.

10. Unjust, Midnight FM, Man From Nowhere, Servant, Haunted House– I could not choose a number ten film, so I cheated and put all the runner-ups in this slot. All of these movies are worth seeing, but all of them have faults that make it difficult to choose among them. Choin and Unjust have frustrating endings–let’s face it Choin’s ending is extremely sudden and cliche. The Servant was an interesting take on the Chunhyang legend, but I guess I did not really appreciate some of the major changes the film made to the tale (Myong-ryeong is the hero, dammit–not the villain!) Midnight FM, Haunted House and Man From Nowhere could have been at numbers 9 & 10–I kept switching those films around–but ultimately decided I wanted to include a different genre at Number 9 as many of the films I have listed here are action/thrillers.

9. Housemaid– Had this film not been touted as a remake of the 1960 Kim Ki-yeong classic, it would have landed higher on this list. As it is, it is a good film with a beautiful, artistic set and an interesting story. However, it does not capture the spirit of the original film and winds up being a completely different story. The title character wields none of the power nor the all-consuming obsession that the maid in the original did  and she never seems like a true threat to the family. Even her ‘revenge’ in the end does not seem particularly effective although I absolutely love the final scene that shows the result of her handiwork.

8. Secret Reunion– I know there are people who are undoubtedly going to rank this movie higher on their lists, but I am comfortable having it near the bottom of my faves this year. Directed by Jang Hoon (Rough Cut) and starring Song Kang-ho and Kang Dong-won, the movie has a lot going for it. The acting as well as the edge-of-your-seat action scenes cannot be faulted. I do, however, fault the ending. The final scene on the airplane just seems very trite to me. I was also somewhat uncomfortable in the way the Vietnamese characters were handled. A little more realism in the end and a gentler hand in dealing with the southeast Asians would have allowed me to rank this film higher. Overall though it was a strong second feature by Jang who had a tough job to live up to his amazing debut film.

7. Metamorphasis– This is another film that I would like to rank higher, but unfortunately cannot. The reason for this is because of the limited number of people who have seen it–or whom may be able to see it. While I loved the movie, it was definitley pure arthouse cinema. It is unlikely, in my opinion to be given a DVD release–though I could be wrong as the recent release of the wonderful arthouse film Written shows–there is always hope.  I wrote about Metamorphasis on this site after I viewed it at the Jeonju International Film Festival in Spring. It is the story of a man who wakes up one morning and finds that he is unable to move at all. Throughout the entire film, we can only see through his perspective so 90’s of the movie is looking out the window, the rest in a view of his very small room. It might not sound exciting, but his inner monologue and the end reveal are excellent.

6. Cyrano Agency–A romantic-comedy on my list? I am surprised to see it here as well. ‘Rom-coms’ are among my least favorite genre. But Cyrano Agency won me over probably because the comic aspect is decidedly downplayed–and I actually found myself crying at a couple of points in the movie (Which was slightly embarrassing because I watched it on an airplane).   The plot looks at a company that tries to help the lovelorn find their perfect matches by staging situation–even rain!– and writing their dialogue for them. However, the target of one client’s love causes the leader of the Cyrano Agency to question what they are doing. Do not mistake this for a retelling of the classic novel Cyrano de Bergerac–there are several unexpected twists and turns to this film.

5.  71: Into the Fire– When I watched this film earlier this year, I remember writing a review for it and praising the acting of  T.O.P– the rapper for the K-pop band Big Bang.  That still stands with repeated viewings. His acting elevates this movie which, without his screen presence–may have otherwise wound up among the pile of movies in the number ten slot. But because of his understated acting–especially in the  opening sequence which as stayed with me–I am able to ignore the lesser acting efforts by some of the more well-known veteran actors and the ridiculousness of some of the Hollywood-like action scenes which should have been left out of a movie like this.

4.5- Harmony– This is an edit. A day after posting this article, I woke up early in the morning with one question in mind. “When did Harmony open?” A quick check showed that it opened in January 2010 so I had to add it to this list. Not wanting to shuffle everything around, I once again cheated and created a spot for it. Harmony is a wonderfully touching story guaranteed to make anyone cry.

4. Moss–  I absolutely loved the atmosphere in this movie. I loved the set. I loved most the acting. The fact that this movie does not wind up as number 1 or 2 is a testament to the quality of films released this year. Moss is based on a comic book, but I had never read it before watching the film. You do not need to have read it to enjoy this film. It is a must-see and would be a good introduction to Korean cinema for someone not familar with them as it is easy to understand.

3. I Saw the Devil–  Another excellent movie. Whether or not the controversy prior to its release was real or a publicity stunt (an idea proposed by many viewers in Korea) the fact is the violence is no greater than many Korean films. However, I admit the level is cruelty is higher–though not to the point of Missing (which I still haven’t gotten through).  With two powerfully talented actors like Lee Byeong-heon and Choi Min-shik, it is hard to imagine this film being anything but a success.

2. Poetry– An older woman decides to take a poetry class and winds up trying to express her life through poems. This simple premise makes for a beautiful story. This film has won numerous awards including for Best Actress and was recognized at Cannes. This impression may be too short, so I will add two more words– Watch It!

1. Bedeviled—  My favorite film of this year–and many years. Bedeviled is very nearly the perfect Korean movie. It is the kind of film that I was worried we would not see again in Korean cinema.  Many movies these days are very Hollywood-ized and lack the feeling of being true Korean films, but not Bedeviled. You could pick this film out of time and drop it in almost any decade over the last 40 years and (except for some of the violence) it would fit right in. The movie received a very limited release earlier this year–it did not open in Jeonju. I could not view it until it was released on HanaTv (a direct television service). Since watching it, I have been recommending it to everyone I know. Not on DVD as of this writing, but watch for it. If you buy only one DVD this year, Bedeviled should be the one.

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DVD Releases: June 26-July 3

26th June 2010

flying giants

Three new DVDs are set to be released this week.  First up is FLYING GIANTS (1-disk), a baseball documentary about the Lotte Giants.  The Giants have one of the worst records in Korean baseball, coming in last or near last for the past decade–except for the 2008 season when they came in third.  However, despite their terrible playing ability, the team consistently has among the highest fan attendance records in the league. Subtitles: Korean only/ Rating: All Ages/ Form at: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 5.0/ Region Code: 3/ Running Time: 85 minutes/ Special Features: None/ Suggested Price: 22,000 KRW/ Availibilty: June 30

OUTLAW (1-disk)–starring Gam Sang-woo, Jang Shin-yeong, Lee Seung-min. Subtitles: Korean, English/ Rating: Ages 18+/ Format: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1/ Region Code: 3/ Running Time: 94 minutes/ Special Features: Trailers, Special Clips/ Suggested Price: 22,000 KRW/ Availibity: June 30

pastaPASTA (9-disks)–MBC-TV drama starring Kong Hyo-jin, Lee Seon-gyun, and Alex that ran from January 2009-March 2010. The set includes a 52-page photobook and three postcards. Subtitles: Korean, English/ Rating: Ages 15+ / Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo/ Region Code: 3 / Special Features: Interviews with director Kwak Seok-jang, writer Seo Sook-hyang and stars Lee Seon-gyun, Kong Hyo-jin, Making of drama, NG, Deleted Scenes, Behind Story, Optional Commentary with Kwak, Seo, Lee and Kong/ Suggested Price: 110,000 KRW/ Availibilty: July 2

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DVD Releases: May 8-15

9th May 2010


joomoonjinAvailable from May 10th is Joomoojin. Never heard of it? It is the story of beautiful young lodge owner facing finacial disaster because her lodge is rumored to  be haunted. Instead of a terrifying ghost, she finds a young man living as a ghost on her property.  The subtitles on this DVD are in Korean only. The movie is rated for ages 12+, formated as letterbox 4:3 and has Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. The disk is coded for region 3 and is 96 minutes long.  The special feature on this release consists solely of a trailer.  The recommended price is 23,500 KRW.

noodle roadNoodle Road is a documentary that is now available on two disks. The documentary consists of 4 parts all looking at various aspects of the lowly noodle and the economic effect it has had on Asia. The disks are subtitled in English and Korean, is formated in 16:9 and has Dolby 2.0 sound. The disks have a going price of 39,000 KRW and are available from May 12th.

attack the gas station 2Attack the Gas Station 2–The sequel of the 1999 hit comedy maybe did not really live up to expectations but it may be of interest to fans Jo Han-seol. The movie is rated for ages 15+ .  Its DVD is a single disk release with Korean and English subtitles. It is formated in 2.35:1 widescreen and has Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  The scant extras include 35minutes of the making of the film, 3 minutes of shooting the poster and a 1-minute trailer. The current recommended price of this DVD is 25,300 KRW.  If iterested, you can buy it on May 13th.

swallow the sunSwallow the Sun vol.1–This SBS-Tv drama aired late last year and it was one of the few recent dramas that I watched all the way through. This DVD collection has 9 disks.  Since it says vol. 1, I assume there is a volume 2 on the way. However, the information I received does not state which episodes are included here. The DVD is subtitled in English and it is formated in 16:9 and has Dolby 2.0 sound. It is coded for regions 1,3,4,and 5.  You can buy it on May 13th for a recommended price of 99,000 KRW.

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