Seen in Jeonju

Archive for the '1980s' Category

Winter Wanderer (1986)

30th August 2014

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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Lost Youth (1982)

13th October 2013

Lost Youth (1982)– Korean Title: 버려진 청춘– Romanization: Beoryeojin Cheongchoon. Directed by Jeong So-yeong. Starring: Nam Goong-won (as Mr. Han), Lee Gi-seon (as Myeong-ja), Park Jong-geun (Woo-shik), Choi Hee-jeong and Kim Gi-jong (as Woo-shik’s father). Running Time: 89 minutes. Original Release Date: September 24, 1982. Available on DVD: No

lost youth Myeong-ja ran away to Seoul when she was in her teens in order to escape an unhappy family life in which her father was abusive to her mother and her younger siblings could not afford to go to school. She took a job in a factory with dreams of helping her mother and siblings. But life in Seoul was not at all what she expected. One night, Myeong-ja is raped and her perspective on life changes drastically. Rationalizing that the world was evil, Myeong-ja sets out to make money in any way she can and that includes lying, cheating, blackmail, stealing and selling her body. We know little of her background when we first meet her on the prowl at Kyeongpo Beach. (A beautiful beach, by the way. Not too built up, clean water.. good alternative to Haeyundai Beach) After a quick look through the cars in the parking lot and a chat with the clerk at the front desk of a hotel, she determines that her target is there. She takes to the beach and eventually finds her prey.. Woo-shik. She arranges to ‘accidently’ meet him and is soon heading back to his hotel room where they spend the night together. Myeong-ja sneaks out early in the morning, but before heading back to Seoul she intentionally bruises all of her limbs. The purpose of these self-inflicted injuries is to manufacture ‘evidence’ to support her claim that Woo-shik raped her. Heading the Woo-shik’s father’s home, a large mansion she had scoped out earlier, Myeong-ja arrives during a party. She meets with the wealthy parent and threatens to go to the police with her story if he does not pay her five million won. He relents and gives her the money she requests.

All of that, although a substantial portion of the running time, was to establish the character of Myeong-ja. Woo-shik and his father will appear again in the film, however their role has mostly been played out. The body of the story is Myeong-ja’s meeting of Mr. Han and how they change each other’s lives. They meet in a the lobby of an expensive international hotel is Seoul where Mr. Han is entertaining a rich client from Japan and Myeong-ja is attempting to seduce and rob foreigners. Their exchange inside the hotel is brief but they meet again in the parking lot when Myeong-ja, attempting to escape the enraged Woo-shik, dives into Han’s car and hides in the backseat. There she falls into a deep sleep so Mr. Han takes her home and puts her to bed.

In a Korean film made in the 1980s, you would not often be wrong if you suspected the worst from this situation, but in this case you would be. Director Jeong had a lot of class and Mr. Han was played by Nam Goong-won, so Myeong-ja was perfectly safe in this situation. Waking up in the morning, she strikes up a friendship with Mr. Han. In her case, she is enraptured with his wealth and the size of his estate. For his part, he is fascinated with this charming, young free spirit. Han confesses that he has not been with a woman in seven years, since his wife and son died in a plane crash. Myeong-ja takes this up as a personal challenge, and a chance to make a lot of money, and promises to seduce him in no time at all. After several failed attempts, Myeong-ja finallly succeeds in tempting Han to have sex with her, but her success may be largely due to the fact that the pair seem to have fallen in love with each other although neither will state that at first.

Here the movie could have ended happily ever after except for several things. First, Myeong-ja rediscovers her conscience and sets out to make ammends for some of her recent crimes such as returning Woo-shik’s money and visiting her mother and brothers and helping them as she intended. Unfortunately, neither of these things go off as smoothly as she had planned. Then there are those reoccuring headaches that Myeong-ja suddenly develops– and their instensity seems to be increasing rapidly. Will Myeong-ja get the happy ending she dreamed of all her life?

Lost Youth is a very good story marred slightly by the 1980s obsession with sex. Not that sex is bad in a film, but the overtness of it and the voyeurism the camera indulges in is often uncomfortable. This is especially true when the film is dealing with Myeong-ja’s loose friend whose breasts are exposed whenever we see her, be it at home or drunk at a club. And Myeong-ja’s attempts to seduce Han provide the camera ample opportunities for those uncomfortable ass and crotch shots. Barring that however, the movie is quite good and is an interesting character study, especially of Myeong-ja and the changes she undergoes throughout the film.She moves from being a character out only for herself to one who finds a larger purpose.

This was the last of director Jeong So-yeong’s regularly produced films. He did make two more movies after this.. one six years later in 1988 and a remake of his most famous film series entitled Again in 2001. But up until 1982, Jeong had been making one, two or more films for decades. The film starred Lee Gi-seon whom some readers may know as the shaman’s daughter/maid with the haunted doll from the 1981 horror film Suddenly at Midnight. It also starred veteran film actor Nam Goong-won. This makes for an odd pairing as Nam is more than 20 years Lee’s senior. In the film, Myeong-ja claims to be 21 and by this time the film was made, actor Nam was nearly 50 (although his character’s age is never stated)

All in all a good film, considerably better than I expected. It is not, however, on DVD at the time of this writing although it was, at one point, on VHS. I was lucky enough to see it on Btv and if you are in Korea, you can see it there along with many other classic films.

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The Carriage Running Into Winter (1981)

21st August 2013

The Carriage Running Into Winter– Directed by Jeong So-yeong. Starring Kim Yeong-ae, Lee Yeong-ha, Kim Dong-hyeon, Kim Jin-gyu and Hwang Jeong-soon. Released January 1, 1982. 108 minutes.
carriage running into winter I have been watching a lot of newer movies these days as this summer’s releases have been really excellent. Snowpiercer, Hide and Seek, The Terror Live!, Killer Toon.. and so on. But everyone and their uncle are writing about them. I will wait a few years to do that. Instead, I found another movie I can watch. The title seems to imply that it this movie will, like Snowpiercer, will have something to do with trains* and snow. Well, don’t get your hopes up on that score. This movie is pure melodrama.
The film starts with a depressed Yeo Yoon-hee going quickly into a flashback to the happier days that led up to her marriage with Jeong-woo. The two were deeply in love and married over her parents objections that he and his family are too poor to support them. This turned out to be true but it did not stop their happiness. Yoon-hee made ends meet by secretly borrowing from her parents to run her household. However, it was doomed to end too soon. Jeong-woo is killed in an accident…after several extended scenes designed to tug at the heart.
Widowed while still in her twenties, Yoon-hee devotes herself to her work doing what appears to be layouts at a newspaper. Through her boss, she becomes acquainted with Mr. Park who soon surprises her with a proposal of marriage. Mr Park is considerably older than Yeon-hee and she soon finds out that he is unbelievably wealthy. She remarries, again over her mother’s objections, and it again ends in tragedy. Her husband to be has a severe heart attack at the altar. She moves into Park’s house where his mother, sister and son from a previous marriage live with a number of servants. She visits Park every day in the hospital, but it is clear that the female members of Park’s family blame her for his heart attack.
Park never regains consciousness and becomes gradually worse. The only member of the household who treats Yoon-hee with kindness is Woo-seob. But there is a reason he does so. He is very attracted to her, so much so that while his father lies dying in the hospital, Woo-seob startles Yoon-hee by embracing and kissing her in the kitchen of the house. This leads to Yoon-hee running away and making a convoluted plan to kill herself in a way that it looks like suicide. However, she is tracked down by Woo-seob. After a long talk, he confesses his love for her and she agrees to go back to his home. There she falls ill. Woo-seob takes care of her and comes to Yoon-hee’s defense when a family meeting is called to turn Yoon-hee out of the house.
In the aftermath of the family row, Yoon-hee has a sleepless night. Wandering into the hallway she accidently glimpses Woo-seob butt naked. This three-second flash of flesh has Yoon-hee flee into the garden and experience a fantasy involving her and Woo-seob. The young man follows her and soon the fantasy is well on its way to becoming reality. Yoon-hee has a change of heart and runs back into the house. She realizes that she has to leave and after meeting unexpected opposition from Park’s mother, she does just that. Yoon-hee goes back to thinking about her suicide plan, when Woo-seob shows up at her door. To his surprise, she is no longer against being with him and to two spend a week or so of pure bliss together. He offers to take her away from Korea, but she refuses. The thought of the future terrifies her and Yoon-hee once again goes back to her plan of suicide.
The Carriage Running Into Winter is quite melodramatic but it is watchable. It was interesting to see Hwang Jeong-soon (Park’s mother) and Kim Jin-gyu (Park) near the end of their careers and their acting certainly is part of the reason the movie is so watchable. Kim Yeong-ae (Yoon-hee) is another. Less so is Lee Yeong-ha as Woo-seob. The movie is not available on DVD though it was at one point on VHS as the image above shows. (I far preferred it over the original poster though I use that when I index this film)

*The Korean title makes it quite clear that the movie does not contain a train. Instead, the carriage in the title refers to a horse drawn carriage. What is not clear is how that.or any part of the title.. is related to the movie at all. ..

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Revenge Week: Day 4

11th July 2013

canton viper
It was only a matter of time before I had to touch on the kung fu craze that dominated Korean action films for more than two decades. They are unavoidable when discussing revenge and Korean cinema unless you are limiting the discussion to just recent films. From the mid-60s to the late-80s, literally hundreds of these martial arts action films were created either as co-productions with Hong Kong film companies or as imitations of that popular style. The background of the movie could be different—set in the distant past the film would often be about an evil bandit or warlord and his gang that are terrorizing the countryside and who may have killed the hero’s family. Or it might be set in pre-World War II Asia where the Japanese army is moving gold or supplies through the region and the best friend of the hero’s, more likely than not working for the Independence Army, is killed fighting for a cause that the hero will pick up. Set in modern times, the movie was likely to involve drug trafficking where, once again, the family and/or friend of the hero is killed or the movie would be about two martial arts academies/temples/schools of thought that are rivals and the bad school winds up killing a student or teacher from the good school, so revenge becomes the goal of the day.

In fact, I think it is nearly impossible to separate the element of vengeance from the vast majority of Korean action films from this period. So why not tackle it directly? That is exactly what actor/director Hwang Jeong-ri did in his 1983 creation Canton Viper aka Kwangdong Viper. The story begins typically enough in that the truly despicable villain of the piece, Cheon-soo, is on the loose in the region, killing, raping and stealing wherever he wishes. One of his victims is the mother of young Ma-ryong. Left to his own devices, the child vowed revenge against the murderous Cheon-soo. Ma-ryong spends the next two decades training himself in various forms of combat for the fateful day when he challenges Cheon-soo.

Unlike many similar films, that climatic battle does not occur at the end. Normally in a kung-fu film, if the hero meets the villain early, it results in the hero getting soundly thrashed and nearly killed, sending him back for a montage of recovery and training. Not so in Canton Viper. Ma-ryong defeats and executes the villainous Cheon-soo, but the story does not end there. Instead the focus switches to pre-teen Il-pyeong, the son of Cheon-soo. The boy vows vengeance against whoever it was who killed his father—he is a little unclear on the matter—and sets off into the mountains to find a master of the martial arts to train him in fighting. The mountains are no place for a child on his own, and Il-pyeong barely survives the trek. He is discovered by Ma-ryong and his companion and the pair nurse the boy back to health. Ma-ryong agrees to train the boy in how to fight but it is not long until the child realizes Ma-ryong is the man who killed his father. Ma-ryong decides to spare the boy decades of bitterness and stop the cancerous desire of vengeance before it can take root in the boy’s soul. Giving the boy a trident, Ma-ryong allows himself to be run through, allowing the boy to fulfill the promise he made to his father’s memory and freeing him to grow up with the gnawing thoughts of revenge that had haunted Ma-ryong all his life.

It is an interesting touch that the name of the main character Ma-ryong is generally a villain’s name (Ma literally meaning ‘devil’—Ma-ryong’s name literally means Devil Dragon). I think the point that Hwang wanted to get across is that in another story, Il-pyeong would have been the hero seeking revenge against the man who killed his father, the evilly named Devil Dragon.

I have included two links below. The first is for a website that shows the last two minutes of the film. The second is for the trailer which, to be honest, is not the better of the two things to watch. The trailer consists entirely of fight scenes and they are not the best choreographed that I have seen.

I admit that I have a hard time sitting through this style of action movie… But the ending is really quite good.

The end of Canton Viper (광동살무사 aka Kwangdong Viper)— Only visible if you have a NAVER Id… if you don’t have one, you can view the the scene near the end where Il-pyeong is goaded into stabbing his teacher– just they don’t show the very touching death scene… However, the whole movie is available to view on Youtube, so you can see it that way..


Now head over to Modern Korean Cinema and see what other films are being covered for REVENGE WEEK

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Revenge Week: Day 3

10th July 2013

Report of Daughter in Law FlowerIt is day three at Modern Korean Cinema’s REVENGE WEEK and I continue looking back at forgotten movies of past decades where vengence plays a major role. Today’s film is the awkwardly titled Report of the Daughter-in-Law’s Rice Flower as it is called on the KMDb but also known as Report of Cowwheat (Daum). It is a film from 1989 directed by Ryu Jae-moo and starring Na Yeong-hee. In this film, Soon-yi has tragedy after tragedy heaped on her before she finally snaps and seeks revenge. She started out as a small town girl who becomes pregnant after sleeping with her best friend, Chang-soo. However, he leaves before learning that she is carrying his child. Much later, she goes to Seoul to be with him only to be surprised that he wants nothing to do with her. Distraught, but unwilling to remove Chang-soo from her life, Soon-yi gets a job in her former lover’s company and works under him just so she can be near him. Whether or not her plan to win him back would ever work becomes a moot point when Soon-yi sees the terrible conditions at the workplace and comes to the conclusion that the workers need to unionize. This does not go over well with Chang-soo who arranges for the troublesome Soon-yi to be kidnapped and held in the red-light district to work as a sex slave.

Soon-yi does not take this quietly and she kills one of her captors in an escape attempt. This lands her in jail where her bitterness grows. Eventually released because of the circumstances in the case, Soon-yi goes back to work in the garment factory but she is harassed by the sewing machine repairman. He eventually attempts to kill her at Chang-soo’s request. She kills him first, but realizes that a second murder in self-defense, especially of a man whom she was not getting along with at work, would not be treated as leniently as her first killing. Knowing that she is likely to lose her freedom and all chances that she has at getting revenge for her predictment against the man behind it, Soon-yi goes through with her plan to kill Chang-soo who was on his way to kill her personally. Soon-yi then attempts to flee Seoul but finds she has to shoot her way out as the police are out in force to stop her killing spree. Alas, Soon-yi does not survive to see the credits role.

refusing the tofuI might not have considered this film too seriously for REVENGE WEEK except for one major point. There are points in the film where I was strongly reminded of Sympathy For Lady Vengeance. Oh, the reason for vengeance is entirely different and, let’s face it, Soon-yi is no Geum-ja. The latter planned everything down to the smallest detail while Soon-yi just has things happen to her. One of the most obvious ones is Soon-yi’s refusal of the tofu after being released from prison. If you watch any number of Korean films involving crime or gangs, you will have seen someone eating a hunk of bean curd immediately after being released from prison. This is to symbolize a new start– the pure white tofu reprsenting the ex-con’s spirit which has paid for its sin and now has the change to live ‘white’ (pure) as famously said in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance before Geum-ja drops her face in the cake. Soon-yi is having none of that. She is already planning revenge against Chang-soo and no such desire to be innocent of crime exists in her heart at that point.

The ‘Be White’ line in Sympathy For Lady Vengeance is also said here, but in a much longer style. In the trailer below you will hear Soon-yi talking with her daughter at the table and telling her to live with a “Clean heart, body and soul” to which her daughter replies that she will “be clean.” What triggered the connection for me was one small visual. You will see in the trailer a clip where Soon-yi is marching down the street wearing a spotted scarf. I thought to myself, “She looks like Geum-ja with the polka-dot dress” before realizing that there would be several other connections in the film.

Meaningful connection or not, watch Soon-yi as she lashes out against Chang-soo and his friends in the trailer for Report of the Daughter-in-Law’s Rice Flower… (sigh– there is just no way to make that title sound good..)

Report of the Daughter-in-Law’s Rice Flower

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They Shot the Sun (1981)

9th July 2013

They Shot The Sun (1981)– director: Lee Jang-ho– Starring: Park Il, Lee Yeong-ho, Bang Hee, Lee Kyeong-shil and Kim Gi-beom. Running Time: 100 minutes. Release Date: February 25, 1982.
theyshotthesun Looking for a film to write about for REVENGE WEEK over at Modern Korean Cinema, and wanting to review I film I had not seen before, I stumbled across this title and wanted to take a look. As an action/crime movie, there was a chance it could have been revenge-themed but as it turns out, it wasn’t. Of course, I could have saved myself the time by reading the descriptions of the film available online, but then I would have missed out on seeing this exceptionally well-crafted movie.
The story begins with a collage of events– a woman praying in a church, a group of children catching insects in a field, and a drive-by shooting of a woman with an infant followed by a tearful interview of a family whose father was just found shot. These last two events we soon learn are connected. The shooting of the woman was accidental. It was the result of a struggle taking place within the care owned by the two criminals who are the stars of the film, Jong-bae and Do-seok. These two men had just kidnapped a man carrying a company’s payroll. Oblivious of the danger, the man struggled with Do-seok in the back of the car and, in the course of the fight, Do-seok’s gun went off and the woman on the street was shot. A few moments later, Do-seok ends the struggle by shooting the frightened man as well.

Returning home after spending some of their money, the pair shower their families with presents. Both men have two children and a devoted wife. Their interaction with their families reveals more about their characters– Do-seok, now guilt-ridden and determined to leave the life of crime behind, is gentle to his kids and loving to his wife. Jong-bae plays a little rough with his son and his wife is clearly less trusting of her husband although it will be revealed just how deeply she loves him at a later time. Unlike her counterpart at Do-seok’s house, Jong-bae’s wife is instantly suspicious of her husband..even before he returns home. While watching the news, she hears the story of the shooting and the type of crime committed. She immediately goes to the set of drawers in her room and discovers the gun and ammunition kept within are gone. When she confronts her husband with this fact, he spins a quick lie as to why he needed the guns and she allows herself to be convinced..or at least to pretend to be convinced.

She has the right to be suspicious. Jong-bae is an ex-con and that is where he met the Do-seok. The two seem to be a perfect match and act like they have known each other all their lives. However, when Do-seok announces that he wants to turn himself in as a murderer, Jong-bae does not hesitate to beat up his friend in a scene that I noted on a scrap of paper, “Looks like the ending of Rough Cut” — the fight takes place on a mudflat and by the end of the very long fight scene, the two combatants are so covered in mud that they are indistinguishable. In the end, Do-seok agrees not to go to the police, but neither will he join Jong-bae on any more crime sprees.

His resolve however is remarkablely short-lived. In order to make an honest living for himself, Do-seok buys a taxi. But while driving around clients one night, he hears on the car radio about another robbery/shooting of a payroll courier, this time with many witnesses present. He is so distracted by the report that he drives recklessly and causes an accident that lands him in jail. His wife comes to bail him out, but that is the end Do-seok’s attempt at an honest living.

The irony of trying to live right but winding up in prison while having gotten away scott free with murder is not lost on Do-seok and he becomes more brutal in his crimes with Jong-bae than he was before. He stands by, not even looking concerned as Jong-bae chokes an innocent man to death as part of their plot to secure a getaway vehicle for their next crime– the robbing of a bank. The plan this caper as if it were a game, joking, laughing and role-playing their way through the heist, and blindly see it as the perfect crime. However, before they are barely underway, they run into problems–namely car problems. While pretending to repair their car on the side of the road and making plans to steal another from a good samaritan, they have an encounter with a police officer who is immediately suspicious of them. This leads to a shootout and a car chase as the two robbers try to get back to Seoul where it will be easier to hide.After avoiding many roadblocks, the pair make it home, only to discover that the police had thier ID’s and know where they live.

This last part of the film is the most shocking and I will be spoiling it here. However, the movie is not available on DVD (although it really should be) and unless you are living in Korea, you are unlikely to ever come across it. For that reason– and the fact that the movie is thirty years old– I feel no pangs of conscience about revealing the end. If you don’t want to know it, skip the next paragraph.

Do-seok and Jong-bae know the police will come for them. Do-seok removes his wife and eldest son from their home and takes them to a house owned by Jong-bae–much larger than the virtual one-room dwelling the latter lives in with his wife and two children. His youngest child, an infant that does not yet know his father, is left in the care of the housekeeper. Do-seok gives his wife a long note while he leads his son upstairs. By the time she reaches the end of the letter where he explains what he is going to do, it is too late. From upstairs a shot is heard and the terrified woman dashes up the stairs begging her husband not to kill their son. It is too late. Another shot rings out as Do-seok commits suicide. For his part, Jong-bae joins the police in a firefight with his wife and children in the house. Surrounded by more than two dozen cops, plus reporters and onlookers, it looks like Jong-bae is hopelessly outgunned– until his wife picks up a gun as well and joins him in the fight, foregoing the chance to escape. However, the situation is still hopeless and they too decide on suicide to escape capture and disgrace. Jong-bae’s wife begs him to shoot her first as she cannot stand seeing her children killed and Jong-bae proceeds to shoot them one by one before turning the gun on himself. Roll credits.

This has to have been one of the most shocking Korean films I have seen from the ’80s and it was social commentaries. One of the things that I loved was the comparisons of the family dynamics. Jong-bae more violent and wild nature was making his son into the same kind of person which we see while the boy is playing with toy guns. Many children do play with toy guns, but Jong-bae’s son is especially aggressive and gleaful at the imagined bloodshed he is causing. On the other hand, he is shown doing small acts of kindness –such as given money to a homeless man unbidden- and we know there is hope and innocence still in him. The two children of the first shooting victim are also followed by this film for a time, long after they have direct impact on the plot. They are just there to hammer home the relationship and bonds between father and children perhaps to help us understand the later actions of our anti-heroes, though certainly not to condone them.

There are some excellent technical bits to this movie as well as some things that don’t quite work. The use of black-and-white while the two men are planning the bank robbery was a good choice as was making that whole scene almost–but not quite– like an interpretive dance which highlighted the fact that this scene was a fantasy and that their plan in real life was full of holes that only in their daydreams could be avoided. I was not as sold on the brief musical number near the beginning of the film, nor the filtered lens during the sex with the crazy woman on the beach scene. However, both of those scenes got me thinking that the friendship between those two cellmates was very close..and made me wonder just how close the director wanted us to think of them. This was especially the case during the sex scene where Jong-bae spends the entire time watching his non-participant friend on the beach.. the camera focused on Do-seok and moving up and down with Jong-bae’s humping of the crazy, flower-eating woman. However, the film makes nothing more of that so further speculation is useless.

I might be feeling extra-generous today– (I decided to stay home rather than type this in my office and I feel very relaxed..) — but I am giving this film nine out of ten stars. It is an excellent movie that I hope will one day get a wider audience.

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Hotel at 00:00 (1983)

16th June 2013

Hotel at 00:00 directed by Nam Gi-nam. Starring Baek Il-seob, Choi Hee-jin, Kim Dong-hyeon, Kwon Soon-yeong, Lee Eun-sook and Byeon Hee-bong. Running time: 101 minutes. Original Release Date: May 20, 1983

zero hour hotel

My internet TV provider had added recently added Hotel at 00:00 to its horror/thriller menu. Before deciding whether or not to watch it, I checked with the KMDB to read what they have to say. Here is a description of the according to the Film Archives:
Wu Nam-ho is the second son of the head of Wuil Corporation. Nam-ho and his bride Hye-won stay at a hotel before leaving for the Canadian branch and their honeymoon. However, the bride is murdered. At this time, Sung-min, after his release from jail, kidnaps the popular singer Mun Hi-seon and brings her to the hotel. The investigators look into Hye-won’s personal life. Of the three men she dated, they suspect Dong-gu and arrest him. He confesses that he went into the room to kill Hye-won but she was already dead. It is revealed that Nam-ho is actually the murderer. A complicated relationship between Nam-ho, Hye-won, and Nam-ho’s brother became the impetus for murder.”

The Korean version of the above is an abbreviated description of a plot synopsis I read published 1985 and basically says the same thing. However, that is not what happens in this film. Yes, Nam-ho marries Hye-won and they are celebrating with their friends at a pre-honeymoon party at the hotel they will be staying at before embarking on their trip. However, it is not Hye-won who is murdered. She is not in the room when someone enters the hotel suite, interrupting Nam-ho’s shower, and slashing the handsome, young man’s throat while he gawks in surprise at his attacker. The vicious attack happens so quickly that hardly any struggle is involved. Hyewon later brings her brother in-law and his wife up from the hotel nightclub to have them say goodbye to Nam-ho, intead they find him sprawled in the bathroom, quite dead.

The police are promptly called and they begin an investigation into the unfortunate victim’s death. However, it is here that the movie gets derailed. This is namely because it gets too distracted by unrelated side plots. The most major of these is the kidnapping of the night club singer Moon Hee-seon (or Mun Hi-seon as written above). Threatened with an old-syle, straight-edged razor, Hee-seon has little choice by accompany her attacker back to his room where he reveals himself to be her ex-boyfriend. Out of prison, he has hunted her down and confronted Moon with her perceived betrayal of the love they shared when they were both youngsters on Jeju Island. He even goes so far as to insinuate that it was this betrayal the led him to a life of crime. There are a couple of reasons to have this incident taking place in the very hotel where a murder was just committed. One is to provide a red-herring suspect. The razor Seong-min is wielding as he kidnaps and continues to theaten Hee-seon looks exaclly the same as the murder weapon. The blade is the only thing we see as Nam-ho is killed.

The other reason the kidnapping case goes on far too long and we spend too much time away from the main plot is more unfortunate. The threat of rape becomes constant for Moon about halfway through the film. In her first escape attempt, Hee-seon’s dress is torn off in the most improbable and lurid fashion. For the majority of her scenes afterwards, Hee-seon is in her underwear until a kindly policeman covers her near the end. This type of uncomfortable sexual situation is what I feel often marks Korean films from this periods and makes the ’80s– and early 90’s– my least favorite period of Korean cinema. Moon’s situation is not the only example of sexual perversion in the film but the other, although more important to the film, is thankfully carefully edited and mostly implied. Apparently, Nam-ho had a fetish for whipping which turns out to be the reason for his death. It is a credit to Nam Gi-nam that, despite the sometimes uncomfortable shots of the shivering Hee-seon, she is rescued before she can be raped and that Nam-ho’s turn-on is handled with some restraint. I have not been a huge fan of director Nam’s work, but I think that is probably because most of the things I have watched from him were primarily aimed at children. For example, he was the original director of Shim Hyeong-rae’s Young-gu films and his most recent movies have featured the cast of Gag Concert (a weekly comedy series) and are also meant for much younger audience members than I.

Hotel at 00:00 (which is a title I opt to read as Hotel at Zero Hour since it sounds dramatic) is rather bland as it meanders around its plot. I mentioned the kidnapping incident, but we visit several other hotel rooms and spend a little too much time in each and this distracts from the plot which should have been the center of the film. The closing scene where the police inspectors wax profound at the slice of humanity they witness in the course of that evening seems an loose attempt to justify spending so much time away from the murder mystery, but it is too little, too late. Calling it a thriller is certainly a stretch. However, few people will be able to judge because this movie is not available on DVD.

I would give it a rating of four stars out of ten. The KMDB and Daum offer no ratings, but 4 Naver users gave it an average rating of 6 out of ten stars.. overly generous I think.

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Another’s Nest <1982>

25th January 2013

ANOTHER’S NEST <1982&gt;– directed by Lee Gi-hwan. Starring Kim Mi-sook as Soo-hee , Ha Myeong-joong as Byeong-no and Ahn Seong-ki as Min-wook. Running Time: originally 105 minutes–see below. Originally released on November 20, 1982>

anothers nest Soo-hee wants a baby more than anything in the world. She is not feeling fulfilled as a housewife and has filled her side of the bedroom with baby dolls..the larger of which she knits clothes and booties for. Her husband, Byeong-ho has filled his side of the room with cacti, a symbol of the fact that he is unable to father a child. This unfortunate condition constantly preys on his mind and he searches desperately for a cure through both ordinary channels and the extreme, like drinking fresh snake’s blood. He clearly loves his wife and sympathizes with her desire for a family. He tries to distract her by providing her with anything she clothes, a beautiful, modern apartment.. to no avail. Whenever Soo-hee sees children at play, her mind wanders away and she becomes sullen and distant. This distance is growing into an insurmountable gulf with her husband and Soo-hee is soon seeking attention from men outside of the home…and with one man in particular..Min-wook. The two meet with growing frequency and both start to become careless in keeping their relationship a secret from Byeong-no. One especially close call sends Min-wook out of the window on a tiny ledge some 10 or 12 stories above the ground.

This narrow escape does nothing to diminish Min-wook’s desire to be with Soo-hee and he all but confesses to Byeong-no that he has been sleeping with his wife. Soo-hee, for her part, becomes cold and suspicious towards her husband, creating scenarios in her head in which her jealous husband murders both herself and Min-wook. Then one day, Soo-hee’s prayers are answered when a visit to her doctor confirms that she is pregnant, but when she tells her husband it does not have the desired result. First of all, she is no longer in love with Byeong-no and the thought of raising a child with him no longer interests her. Secondly, it makes Byeong-no very suspicious of his wife’s behavior. Despite all the treatements and tonics he has been trying, Byeong-no knows that he will never be able to father a child and he starts paying closer attention to what his wife is up to. Her late night disappearing act from the home is no longer going unnoticed and Byeong-no eventually learns the truth about his best friend and his wife. Rather than confront the pair, he starts playing mindgames with them like frightening his wife with a box of snakes. His torment of Min-wook is a little more serious when he nearly has him crushed under a hydraulic press they are working on.

Although Soo-hee never learns of her lover’s near-death experience, she begins to fear for both of their lives and makes a plan to run away with Min-wook. In spite of some snags along the way, the pair are able to escape and wind up at a seaside villa. There they passionately confirm their love, blissfully unaware that Byeong-no has located them and is on his way for a final confrontation.

It is hard to stay interested in the film when you begin to really hate the main character. Her treatment of Byeong-no was terrible. I am not saying that it was necessary for her to stay with him especially when it is clear that she no longer loves him, but she had no basis for creating scenarios in her head in which Byeong-no is a vicious killer. Also, her motive for cheating was rather shallow. She is bored. She knits baby clothes for a child whom she doesn’t have and stares out the window at the children playing outside her apartment complex. It is also strongly suggested that sex with Byeong-no is not very satisfying as the rather stubby, malformed cactus he is nursing when we are introduced to him not-so-subtly indicates. So she seeks sexual satisfaction outside of the house. Although she is meeting Min-wook from the very beginning of the film, there is no indication that she knows who he is or his connection with her husband. Their secret meetings are done entirely in pitch blackness from the moment she walks in the door of Min-wook’s home. The only way Min-wook learns more about her is by following her out.

anothers nest still imageOnce the two realize that they are connected through Byeong-no, Min-wook seems to take this as a new and exciting challenge. He flirts with danger by strongly dropping hints to Byeong-no about his relationship with his wife. Prior to that, he often filled in his friend and co-worker on his sexual escapades with a mysterious girl. Later, he convinces himself that Soo-hee needs rescuing from her husband whom we have seen up to that point showing nothing but kindness to Soo-hee. In his mind, Soo-hee moves from being a fantasy sexual adventure to a real-life adventure where he must save the damsel in distress. Does he really love her? Despite what he may say to Soo-hee, I think that he does not. Once she becomes available, the adventure will be over. I think it was telling how distant he was during the final, anti-climatic confrontation in which all of Soo-hee assumptions and fears about her husband and what he is capable of prove to be false. By the end, she is free to go with Min-wook and have their child together, but I wonder how long their relationship will last now that it is not forbidden and dangerous anymore. And that is not just because of Min-wook.. even Soo-hee continues with her coy ‘turn off the lights’ game prior to sex, re-creating the atmosphere of forbidden love when it is no longer necessary.

After watching the film, I read what was written about it on the KMDb. To my surprise, there was an extra sentence that implied Byeong-no kills himself, however this does not happen in the movie. I then did some checking and found that a scene had been removed from the original script in which Byeong-no does indeed kill himself after admitting to himself that Soo-hee and Min-wook are in love and that he has lost his wife forever. The version I saw was apparently from the VHS release which was a full 15 minutes shorter than the theatrical release. I, for one, am glad that was left on the cutting room floor when the video version was made. It makes Byeong-no more sympathetic and courageous and less in need of our pity.

Another’s Nest is not available on DVD. I was able to view this film via HanaTV.

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A Country Affair <1984>

17th January 2013

A Country Affair <1984>– Directed by Kim Eung-cheon. Starring Jo Yong-won , Choi Yoon-seok and Hwang Joon-wook . Running time: 95 minutes. Originally released May 26, 1984.

country affairDue to her mother’s battle with cancer and the need to be near a specialist in that disease, young Shin-ae is uprooted from Seoul and sent far down the peninsula to the island of Eulpo off the coast of Yeosu.  If this move distresses her, one would never know because Shin-ae always shows herself publically to be a bright, positive and confident young lady who seems not to have a care in the world.  Money is certainly not an issue for her or her mother and Shin-ae is always dressed in the best clothes and even has her own autobike that she plans to ride around the island and to her new school. However, she does not start out by making the best impression on her new neighbors, classmates or school adminstrators.  For example, on the boat to Eulpo, she is approached by a man in his thirties who appears to flirt with her. She lies and claims to be a college student and able to smoke or drink if she wishes, only to discover that man is Mr. Han, one of her high school teachers. Another teacher, Ms Kang, takes what seems like a personal dislike of this priviledged young woman. Ms Kang is in charge of morality and life ethics of the students and she finds Shin-ae’s expensive clothes and long hair offensive as well as her frank way of speaking.  And then there is Hoon, the son of Dr. Kim whom Shin-ae and her mother are boarding with for the foreseeable future.  He is about the same age as Shin-ae but finds her casual way of speaking to him offensive and he resents how Shin-ae and her mother get along so well with his father, appearing like a ready-made family while he still misses his deceased mother. 

The problem with Hoon is rather easily solved as he soon finds himself falling in love with Shin-ae.  His father points out that he barely knows the girl and recommends he cool his heels for a while, but the two naturally begin to grow closer and spend some time together.  Shin-ae’s initial lie to Mr. Han is also easily forgiven although her second lie to him is a little more difficult to let slide.  In order to get out of cutting her hair, Shin-ae lies to Ms Kang saying that Mr. Han had allowed her a month’s grace period and that she could get away with having long hair for the time being.  Mr. Han covers for Shin-ae, preventing her lie from being exposed, but that causes resentment to build up in the crowded classroom.  The other girls are regularly inspected by Ms Kang for make-up, hair length, clothes styles and even perfume. The fact that Shin-ae appears to be getting preferentional treatment does not go over well with most of the other students but she does manage to make one close friend.

Shin-ae complicates the issue by growing a little too close to Mr Han.  To apologize for lying, Shin-ae goes to Mr. Han’s room and spends several hours cleaning it while he is out. She brings him flowers, invites him for ice cream and takes long walks on the beach with him.  Inadvertantly, she develops a full-blown crush on her teacher and his responses to her seem to give her hope that her feelings are reciprocated. She believes the only thing keeping them separated is the fact that he is the teacher and she is a student, but that is something that will not be an issue forever.

Meanwhile, the girls in Shin-ae’s class have had quite enough of this teacher’s pet and decide to teach her a lesson. While on a field trip in the hills, one clique of girls attack and overpower Shin-ae who had wandered off on her own after submiting her essay. Armed with a pair of scissors, the bitter girls make short work of Shin-ae’s luxurious locks.  When the teacher finally arrives on the scene, Shin-ae is sobbing alone, her hair butchered and much of it scattered around the forest floor. This is made even more poignant as Shin-ae’s essay is read over the images where she explains there was a reason she was insisting on long hair.. and it was here that I was pleasantly surprised. The movie does give a valid reason–which I will reveal shortly because, let’s face it, this movie will never be released on DVD with English subtitles– and it is one I should have seen coming but never considered. Like her jealous classmates, I had assumed that Shin-ae was hanging on to her long hair out of a combination of vanity and a sense of superiority. I believed that she thought that since she was from Seoul, a far more progressive city than the town of Eulpo, and she was trying to teach the country-folk the new, better ways of living.  Boy, was I wrong about her. The reason that she wanted long hair– and wanted to grow it out for just one more month– is that her mother will be starting chemotherapy soon and she wanted to make a wig for her mother in case she lost her hair in the treatments! 

I was very impressed by that revelation. In short order, her classmates apologize, Mr. Han and Ms Kang convinced not to resign because of this incident and the end of the school term comes. I thought the movie was ending here but was surprised to see that I was only a third of the way through. The script then made it clear that they were going to spend the rest of the movie dealing with the very uncomfortable-to-watch relationship between Shin-ae and Mr. Han.  In reality, it is not so bad. We the viewers know that Mr. Han is in a relationship with Miss Kwon, another teacher at the school, but this fact is unknown to the students. However, what we are shown are Shin-ae’s fantasies about her and Mr. Han. While I know that it may not be uncommon for a young student to have a crush on a teacher, it seems completely wrong to be privilege to these intensely personal feelings for a man that is completely inappropriate for her. And these daydreams are made worse because the older man takes on the role of pursuer of the teenager. 

When Shin-ae finally realizes that Mr. Han has no real interest in her and wil soon marry Miss Kwon, she has an emotional breakdown and collapses unconsious in the wet sand on the shore. How long she lay there is unknown, but we next see her, still unconscious, hooked up to an IV in the hospital fighting for her life against a high fever, with the all-but-forgotton Hoon loyally and hopefully remaining by her bedside, his love for her still strong despite her attraction to someone else. Will she recover? Will Hoon’s unrequited love be rewarded?  Or will she sink from coma into death and leave everyone to mourn the loss of her bright presence?  After the events of the horrible haircut, this whole situation seems tacked on as an afterthought and, in fact, is very anti-climatic. The last thirty minutes of this film manages to lower the overall quality of the script which was relatively well-paced and well thought out in its first hour. Because of that, the movie moves, in my estimation, from being good and easy to watch to rather forgettable and a little dull in its finale.

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The Goblin’s Club (1986)

26th November 2012

The Goblin’s Club– directed by Park Seung-cheol, Voiced by Ki Eung-do.  Running Time:  60 minutes.  Date of Release: July 20, 1986.

p1In the dead of night, sinister ghost-like figures dance in the darkness on the outskirts of a sleepy village. One by one, the residents of the town extinguish their lights to retire for the night and, as the last light goes out, the waiting spirits make their move. Flowing like water, merging together and dividing again, the spectoral visitors attack each house, frightening the peasants from their slumber. In some cases, the spirits take on a solid form revealing themselves to be purple-skinned monstrosities with horns like a devil and armed to the teeth. In the morning, the villagers find some of the men of the village have gone missing, taken away to wherever these mysterious beings dwell. Night after night this scene plays outself out, leaving the remaining villagers helpless and terrified for their lives.

Cha-dol knows nothing of this. He is far more at home in the woods than in any village. He and his best friend, a talking bear, live free to spar when they want and go where they please. They know nothing of the terrors faced each night by the villagers until a chance encounter with Ibbeun. After rescuing her from some roving bandits, Cha-dol and Bear learn that her father was among the men who disappeared in the middle of the night. Also hearing that the stories of the nocturnal visitations are being attributed to goblins is the Goblin King. He is furious knowing that his subjects would never violate the peace that exists between humankind and his underground race. He sends a party out with a magic, golden club to seek revenge on those perpetrating the reign of terror. Leading the small band of goblins is the Goblin Prince, little more than a boy himself. His inexperience proves to be his undoing as he gets into a fight with Bear. The massive and clumsy animal crushes the Prince who loses the club. While the other goblins are dealing with bear who escapes back to Cha-dol, a watching peasant makes off with the prince’s club.

The peasant makes his way home and is attacked by the purple-skinned goblins upon his arrival. Even without knowing how to control the goblin’s weapon, it is powerful enough to send them running. In their efforts to escape, one of the attackers drops something which had come loose in the fight. It turns out to be a mask and their is a human face underneath. The peasant is not clever enough to make the connection, but Cha-dol and his band have been joined by an emissary from the King and the goblin prince. They confront the peasant and he returns the goblin’s property and explains what happens. As he does this, the entire party is attacked once again. The phoney goblins have returned, this time with a powerful witch who is able to transform them into the spirits we saw at the beginning of the film as well as hurl powerful blasts from her hands.  In the ensuing chaos, she steals the magic club, but not before the prince is able to deactivate it so it cannot be used.  She returns it to her master who is kidnapping the villagers to work in an enormous underground cavern containing veins of gold.  The small band of heroes make their way to the hideout and prepare for a life-and-death showdown between the fake goblins, their master, the witch and her equally powerful brother. 

Korean goblins are an interesting lot that have not received very good treatment on the big or small screen. Few movies deal with them and those that do are often very childish. They are often seen in tv shows designed for very young children, often taking the roles of genies and granting wishes for kids while teaching reading or counting. I would like to see a more serious movie about them, especially if it were in the vein of the horror genre. They certainly could fit the bill of a horror movie monster based on appearence with the horns, warts and animal skin clothes. They often carried a large, spiked club which was the source of their power and I believe had the ability to transform themselves into brooms so they would not be detected by humans. While not technically evil, they would take revenge for perceived wrongs and would enact punishment on the wicked. I could definitely see them being used in a horror film set in modern times. Someone needs to get to work on a screenplay right away.

I first learned about Korean goblins through a folk tale. In it, an old man with a hideous goiter was walking through the woods singing when he encountered a goblin. The goblin demanded that the old man give him the secret of such an excellent singing voice. Knowing that goblins are powerful, but not very bright, the old man quickly claimed that the goiter was the source of his vocal prowess.  In an instant, the goblin removed the goiter from the old man and magically attached it to his own neck. The creature then ran away, cackling madly as it thought he had tricked the old man into giving up his prized possession. The old man returned home where his neighbor saw he had been cured. The neighbor also possessed a goiter of large size and wanted to know what had happened. After hearing the story, the second old man ran off into the woods and found the goblins lair. He hid there until the goblins had gathered and then made himself known. He claimed he had another goiter for them that would make them sing beautifully but before any of the goblins could move, the first goblin cried out that they were being deceived as his goiter ‘no longer worked.’ The irrate goblin pulled it from his neck and attached it to the old man. The man was forced to return home, with two goiters instead of one. 

goblins clubThe goblins in The Goblin’s Club are not frightening. The atmospheric beginning is quickly made less frightening when the glowing spirit forms begin dancing and marching like something out of a Betty Boop cartoon. Despite some violence, the movie quickly establishes itself to be for younger viewers. Most Korean animation up to this point in time were made with the target audience of children in mind, so it is not surprising, but the watchability depends on a high degree of tolerance for repetitive scenes and actions and the ability to turn a blind eye to obvious plot holes. By repetitive actions, I do not mean that animation is reused for different scenes– most animations were guilty of that– I am talking about the actions as when Cha-dol gets his hands on a cap of invisiblity made from tiger whiskers and proceeds to stab people in the but with an icepick.  The first time it happens, it is fine albeit a dangerous idea to put in the heads of kids.  However, by the fifth or sixth time it happens.. or the tenth and eleventh.. I was pretty annoyed and wished he would do something a little more creative while invisible.

I was actually surprised to see Cha-dol and Ibbeun.  The two seem to be the same characters as had appeared in Hopi and Chadol Bawi (1967), one of the two sequels to Korea’s first animation Hong Gil-dong.  At least, the names, ages, personalities and time period are the same. However, no other connection to Hong Gil-dong is present in terms of credit to past creators so it could be coincidental. More likely, the writers and artists of Goblin’s Club were using the names with knowledge of the implied connection. Cha-dol and Ibbeun were popular characters in comics and in early animation and both Hong Gil-dong and Hopi and Chadol Bawi film received re-releases during winter and summer vacations throughout the 70s, so audiences would still have been familiar with the characters despite two decades having passed since the height of their popularity.

The Goblin’s Club is available on unsubtitled DVD.  If one is interested in the history of Korean animation, then I recommend it as an alternative to the plethora of giant robots and sci-fi based stories that had taken over the animated scene since the late ’60s.

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