Seen in Jeonju

Archive for the '1980s' Category

The Ball Shot By a Midget (1981)

9th January 2010

ball shot by a midgetOriginally posted September 13, 2007–I really wish that people who put out dvds of classic films did more to promote them. Here is a film that is in dire need of promotion and it is readily available on sub-titled dvd.  It is an excellent, if somewhat above average, example of Korean cinema from the 1980s.

The Ball Shot By A Midget was directed by Lee Won-se based on Jo Se-hee’s 1976 best-selling novel.  Now you might be thinking, “Wait a minute…The film was released in ‘81, the novel was written in ‘76. Why does the original poster have 1979 written on the top?”  That is nothing to worry about. In 1979, the novel was nominated for the Dongin Literary Awards.  You also might want to ignore the English title on that poster, Flew One Little Dad. That has long since been discarded in favor of a direct translation of the Korean title. While you’re at it, ignore the woman on the original poster who is making this look like cheap porn. She was only put there to get people into the theater.

The movie is a very well made social criticism which certainly would not have been allowed just a few years earlier. But by 1981, there was a new regime that was trying to legitimize itself. Restrictions on movies were slowly being relaxed and, as this film is set in 1975, it was not a direct criticism of the new government’s policies (although it would be guilty of the same things that the movie’s antagonists were).

It is the story of a family whose father, Bul-yi,  happens to be vertically challenged.  His son Yeong-soo has just been released from prison for some unknown offense.  His daughter Yeong-hee works at a combination grocery store/diner and his youngest son washes cars for a living and dreams of becoming a boxer.  Bul-yi’s wife works the salt fields while Bul-yi was recently released from his job in a travelling circus where he played the trumpet.

Bul-yi has always felt inadequate because of his height, but that feeling is now strengthened as he is unemployed. Hating the idea of his wife and children supporting him on their pitiful salaries, Bul-yi takes the only job that he can. He becomes a doorman of at a bar dressed in an offensive suit that robs him of his dignity.  Bul-yi also hates how everyone treats his grown children when they discover who their father is. For example, Yeong-hee was being followed by a boy to shy to introduce himself to her. A little annoyed at his awkward advances, Yeong-hee runs over to her father. When the boy sees how small her father is, he quickly runs away leaving Yeong-hee to happily declare, “That’s the last I’ll see of him!” not realizing just how hurtful those words are to her father.

Yeong-soo is the one that the family seems to rely on for so many things although he seems to be quite ineffective.  He had started to study higher education, but apparently gave that up. He is told by each member of his family at one point or another that he never should have done that. He is simply not meant for hard labor.  He does do his best though, taking a job at a local factory making pots and pans. His job was to fill a bucket with molten steel, walk it over to the pot molds and poor it in.  Sounds dangerous? It is and his inexperience at that kind of work soon leaves him injured and housebound for awhile. 

The family might still have been able to eke out their existence if it hadn’t been for fate. The waters around the village have become polluted making the salt worthless. The owners of the salt farm have pulled out and the entire village is about to be torn down and replaced by factories and new apartments.  The government offers everyone the opportunity to sell their little shacks, but the buying prices are not enough to put a down payment of an apartment. And they have no choice in the matter. They can either accept the compensation money that is being offered, or their house can be knocked down and they get nothing.

The family has to decide what they will do, where to go, and how they will stay together in a situation that they have no control over.  Highly recommended

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Invited Pinocchio (1987)

9th January 2010

Originally posted November 13, 2007–High school student Na-yeong comes from a troubled family. Her mother often comes home late and leaves Na-yeong to fend for herself. Her father is frequently drunk and loudly boasts of his time in Vietnam. When her parents are together, there is continuous, sometimes violent, fighting.  Perhaps this is the reason that she seems so withdrawn from her friends in school. While all the other students are socializing between classes, Na-yeong sits alone reading or composing letters. She has developed a crush on singing star Shin Dae-cheol (second from left in the picture above), a singer in the popular hard rock band Shinawe.  In one horribly embarassing moment, a letter she has written to her idol is taken from her and read in the front of the class. But Na-yeong doesn’t really care as long as she knows that her idol, or as she calls him her ‘god’, understands her and possibly even loves her.

Knowing, as rabid fans often due, when her favorite stars birthday is, she makes her way down to the recording studio where she believes he will be with a present for Dae-cheol. She meets the band’s manager who informs her that the singers are not there at the moment. While he is looking at her, the manager is polite, but as soon as he turns his back–not even waiting to be out of earshot–he starts complaining about fanatical fans and wondering out loud where the security is in the building. Although she does not leave the present at that time, Na-yeong receives an invitation to a concert that appears to have been sent by Dae-cheol whom she has written frequently. On the day of the concert, Na-yeong dresses beautifully and prepares to go out to expecting to meet the man she loves from afar.

Invited Pinocchio, (misspelled Pinokio on the box of the newly released DVD, My Beautiful Short Films 3 but accurately spelled in the credits of the film where the original English title is revealed to be Pinocchio Gets An Invitation–why was it changed? I don’ t know), was directed by Oh Seok-geun who would go on to make such films as The 101st Proposal (1991) and Love Is A Crazy Thing (2004). The film is easily understood by anyone who has gone through their teens and developed impossible crushes on celebrities. It features the band Shinawe which was formed in 1986 and continues to play to this day–nearly a third of this film’s 15 minute running time is devoted to footage of an actual concert by the group. 

The film itself is not bad but there is one thing that has kept me wondering. Why is Na-yeong refered to as ‘Pinocchio’?  After thinking about it, I decided that it must be because the heroine does not feel as if she is a real girl.  Her actions at school are wooden and mechanical and the care she puts into her preparations to meet Dae-cheol show how much she really does yearn to be real.  But though Na-yeong is ‘Pinocchio’, it is up to you to watch it to see if Dae-cheol is her ‘Blue Fairy’ that will make her dreams come true.

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Spinning a Tale of Cruelty Towards Women (1983)

27th October 2009

spinning a tale of cruelty towards womenI was not sure what to expect when I saw that EBS was airing the awkardly titled Spinning a Tale of Cruelty Towards Women.  On the one hand, I was excited that I was given the opportunity to see a movie I had never watched before.  On the other hand, it is from my least favorite period of Korean film-making.  The early eighties were an unfortunate time.  Although some of the restrictions that had hampered directors in the previous decades were being relaxed, the filmmakers were taking advantage of this by filling thier movies with overtly sexual imagery–whether it was necessary for the story or not.  In small doses, it is fine–in larger doses it becomes funny…but when it is overdone, it just becomes uncomfortable.   The first 30 minutes or so of this film had me wondering if I would be able to get through it.  Phalic-shaped rocks dotted the landscape and women made use a giant wooden morter to grind grain while giggling suggestively.  Not to mention the main character was raped twice in about ten minutes. However, I stuck though that part and my patience was rewarded with a surprisingly well-told story—particularly the final chapter.

The story can basically be divided into three parts.  The first chapter finds our heroine, Gil Rye given to a wealthy family to take part in a ’spirit wedding’.  By that I mean that she is wed to a man who has been dead for years since a soul was believed not to be at rest if the person died a virgin.  The living half of this type of couple was expected to behave as if his or her spouse was alive.  That means that Gil Rye, a widow before she was even married, was expected to remain chaste.  She proves to be up to the challenge and does her best to impress her in-laws who, in return, set her up in a beautiful home with many servants.  The problem comes from a lecherous man living nearby who realizes that Gil Rye’s house is inhabited only by women.  He begins to make nightly visits to Gil Rye’s room and she finds that she is powerless to stop him fro raping her. However, the man is seen leaving the house by Gil Rye’s father-in-law who sets a trap for the rapist.

Although, Gil Rye is clearly not responsible for what happened, she is thrown out of the house. This is actually an act of mercy on the part of her in-laws who could have enacted a much more extreme punishment. Left to her own devises, Gil Rye wanders the countryside for awhile until she meets Yoon Bo. Yoon is the son of a fomerly wealthy family who has had their titles and property removed. He is now working as a common laborer for a rich noblemand and Gil Rye finds herself working a serving girl there.  The two fall in love but their feelings for each other are threatened by the nobleman who seeks to bed Gil Rye.

After an event that could have turned quite tragic, Yoon Bo and Gil Rye seem to have at last found peace.  With his title and wealth restored, Yoon formerly marries Gil Rye with his parent’s approval and for a short time things seem happy.  But this is not destined to be and in the final years of her life, Gil Rye is doomed to suffer some of the hardest emotional trials anyone could be asked to bear.

This film was directed by Lee Doo-yong whose action movies of the 70s I have always found to be competent if uninteresting.  He seems better suited for melodramas.  Lee has remained active right up until 2002 when he tried his hand at a remake of Ariang… (Which hasn’t been released on DVD….I wonder why?) The lead actress was Won Mi-kyeong who does an excellent job in the first and final chapters of Gil Rye’s life. She seems to slip in the second chapter however.  I was actually unsure for a little while if her character was meant to be the same person or not.  While playing the serving girl, Won makes Gil Rye almost a comic relief simpleton–quite at odds with the dignified lady of the earlier and later chapters. I got the impression that perhaps the middle portion of the movie was filmed first and Won was not yet familiar with the story.

In any event, despite the title and a few problems with the story, Spinning a Tale of Cruelty to Women is a very watchable movie and worth the 100 minutes it takes to watch it.

On a quick side note, I am still upset with EBS TV for blurring out knives, blood and cigarettes on their late night movies…but I am also happy that they are branching out a little and now including movies from the 80s and 90s.  Next weekend they will be screening Green Fish.  I will skip it as I have it on DVD, but it is an excellent chance to watch this film if you have not already seen it.

Posted in 1980s, Review | 1 Comment »

Carniverous Animals (1984)

17th October 2009

carniverous animalsAh, Kim Ki-yeong…this is the third film of yours that I have reviewed on this site and I have to say that I am becoming increasingly disillusioned with your work.  After viewing The Housemaid (1960), I thought you were a genius.  I was very impressed with your 1979 movie Neumi. But then you made Woman of Fire in 1982 which was a new– but not improved version of The Insect Woman. And now this–Carniverous Animals–which not only rehashes several plot points of your earlier works but has managed to sear into my head some of the most disturbing fetish images I have ever seen on screen.  I am not so happy with you right now…

Carniverous Animals stars Kim Seong-gyeom as Dong-shik (the name of main character in both The Housemaid and Woman of Fire).  Dong-shik is married to a strong confident business woman played by Jeong Jae-soon and has a son and a daughter, both of college age. Dong-shik’s major problem is that he does not have the respect of anyone in his family primarily because his wife is the major bread-earner of the household.  He suffers insult after insult and is even at one point locked in a small room by his wife.  He feels as powerless as an infant…a point that will come into play soon.

Dong-shik spies a pretty young bargirl played by No Kyeong-shik. He pays her employer to allow him to get her drunk and then takes her out to his car and rapes her. The bargirl threatens to go to the police unless he takes her in as his wife and she is fully supported by her co-workers and boss who storm Dong-shik’s home while he is out and break dishes and furniture forcing his true wife to come up with a plan of action.  None to pleased with what is occuring she decides to teach her husband a lesson.

His wife arranges for Dong-shik to live in two houses and and will even give his mistress an allowance on the condition that Dong-shik does not lose weight while with her and that he is always ready to return home at midnight. At first Dong-shik cannot believe his wife’s generousity however it does not take long for him to realize that living this double life is not only exhausting mentally and physically, but it can also be dangerous. Squabbles break out nearly daily between his family and his mistress who his children are asked to call their ‘little mother’ even though she is younger than they.  Then their is the mysterious appearance and disapperance of a baby in his mistress’ house before a stranger turns up dead in her basement.

The movie has many of the same thematic elements found in Woman of Fire–a man, devoid of power, trapped between his wife and his mistress.  There is also the presence of rat poison which pops up in most of the other films by Kim that I have seen.  The scenes with the rats are very well done. When we first see them, they are rising out of a manhole cover in the mistress’ basement–literally. They were piled onto the cover and then it was raised so it looked as if hundreds of rats were pouring out of the hole (when if fact there were probably less than two dozen). While the young woman is aware she has a rat problem, she is not aware how serious it is–at least not until she leaves the baby alone in the house for several hours…

The subplot with the baby was very interesting and may have been the highlight of the film–what was not so good was the subplot of infantilism–the fetish of dressing up and acting like a child.  On three separate occassions Dong-shik and his mistress role-play baby and mother. The first is the worst where middle-aged, overweight Dong-shik dresses up in a diaper, bonnet, bib and bottle. Prior to having sex, his mistress tells him to dirty his diaper so she can change it–the whole scene is very disturbing…. The final time they take on their roleplay parts, they wind up having sex on a glass table covered with hard candies (actually marbles). The camera is placed below the table so we are ‘treated’ to this scene from underneath. Blah.  In Woman of Fire, Kim had his actors painted with gold paint and filmed them through a fireplace for a very artsy look.  There is nothing artsy about this scene though–not only is it unappealing, it looks extremely uncomfortable.

I recommend that if you are looking to watch films made by Kim Ki-yeong you should avoid anything made after 1980.  His early works are great–his later works will leave you cold.

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A Good Windy Day (1980)

10th October 2009

good windy dayOriginally posted March 11, 2008—This movie seems to have been randomly assigned many different English names over the years–A Fine Windy Day, A Windy But Pleasant Day… I decided to use the name listed at the Korean Film Archives, A Good Windy Day.  But by any name, this film by director Lee Jang-ho is a masterpiece of filmmaking.  It is socially relevant, filled with interesting symbols and imagery and is compeletly entertaining.  It is a character driven story and all the performances by all the primary actors are astoundingly good.  The lead character is played by Ahn Sung-ki who is currently in theaters at the moment with his new film, My New Partner.  Those who are familiar with Mr. Ahn only through his more recent works, you are missing out.  In his earlier career, Ahn Sung-ki was a versatile actor who could convincinly portray a wide range of characters with ease–from a shy, book-smart philospher in Knee To Knee to an obsessed young man trapped in a fantasy nightmare in Flower on the Equator to likable, simple Deok-bae in today’s film.

Deok-bae, Choon-shik and Gil-nam are all struggling to make a living in a poor area of Seoul. The three have come to the city from various parts of Korea in the hope of earning a lot of money and taking part in the Miracle on the Han.  However, their lives they are living are less than miraculous.  Deak-bae works delivering Chinese food and is looked down upon by his wealthy clients. Choon-shik works in a barber shop and Gil-nam in a motel.

Their accents mark them and those around them as outsiders in the city. The true Seoulites are without exception, either spoiled brats (for the younger generation) or malicious corruptors of the innocent.  Take for example Myeong-hee.  We meet her when she is speeding away from one of her boyfriends and his fancy foreign car.  She plows into a group of school children and doesn’t even stop.  Her friend following from behind stops for a minute as the kids pick themselves up– but only for a minute and he drives around the ones that were too injured to get up quickly.  Myeong-hee is forced to stop when she hits Deok-bae, knocking him over and throwing the food he was delivering all over the road.  She and her boyfriend do not acknowledge Deok-bae at first as they proceed to get into a heated discussion in the middle of the street.  Myeong-hee is truely contemptible in the way she treats those she perceives as her social inferiors.  She baits Deok-bae, inviting him to her house and laughing mercilessly at this shy, humble actions. She takes him out for a drive and starts to seduce the innocent young man only to draw back and laugh when he finally starts to succomb to temptation.

While Deok-bae is dealing with the awful Myeong-hee, Choon-shik tries to deal with his feelings for a co-worker, ‘Miss Yoon’.  Yoon is also quite poor and is doing her best to support her father and many siblings through her work.  Unfortunatley, wealthy Mr. Kim often comes to the shop and she is expected to massage his arms and legs as he lounges in the chair and tries to grope her.  Choon-shik runs interference when he can and their blossoming love is sweet to watch.  Unfortunately, Yoon needs money and it is uncertain just how long she can hold out before she gives in to the proposition the Kim dangles before her.

At the start of the film, there is a wonderful short animation that sums up the movie to the point of where we are introduced to the characters.  Three figures are blown from different corners to the center of the screen where they fight against the powerful winds. By leaning together as a tripod, the three are able to stand tall.  However, even better, this same animated clip is played backwards as the closing credits roll.  Instead of the characters being blown together–the winds now appear to rip them apart from each other–which is certainly reflected in the film.

The three characters are always struggling against society and the class differences they encounter and, in a way, against their own country.  At one point, Deok-bae joins a boxing gym in the hopes of bettering his life. But in his first sparring match against one of his trainers, he is beaten nearly senseless.  We watch helplessly as he takes blow after blow from a large man in a training suit with the word KOREA emblazzened across his back.  However, even though he is knocked down–Deok-bae never gives up.

The class struggles are obvious from early in the film and director Lee draws parellels with the life these men lead to the way people treat dogs.  Early in the film, this is made clear with the men actually interacting with dogs of various sizes–Deok-bae with a large dog who refuses to give up what’s his and the talkative Gil-nam meeting a small, yappy terrior.  Later, when the three friends have an arguement, the sound of dogs barking at each other is played simaltaneously.  When Deok-bae goes to Myeong-hee’s house, she invites him to sit as she settles into a large sofa.  Deok-bae sits on a footstool and when Myeong-hee asks him what he is doing, the shy young man quickly apologizes and sits on the floor like a dog–sending the evil Myeong-hee into fits of laughter.  Also, later in the film, Choon-shik is thrown into a rage and literally froths at the mouth much as one might imagine a mad dog would do.

It is not all doom and gloom for these three, however and there are some small victories in unusual places.  Myeong-hee takes Deok-bae to a disco patronized by foreign residents of Seoul.  She pulls Deok-bae onto the floor and starts dancing with abandon to Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough (yes–i am embarassed that I knew the song…).  Deok-bae has never been to such a place and has never seen people dance so wildly–except at the farm festivals in his home where musicians in traditional costumes would spin long ribbons on their hats in wide arcs while throwing their bodies into the air.  He draws on his roots and succeeds stunning Myeong-hee and earning the respect of everyone in the night club.  A surprising but short-lived victory.

As I already mentioned, Ahn Sung-gi is brilliant as the shy, slightly stuttering Deok-bae. Lee Yeong-ho as Chun-shik was also amazing with sad stares and, at times, smouldering anger.  For most of the film, I did not care for Gil-nam, but actor Kim Seong-chan managed to change my mind in the last 20 minutes or so of the movie.  Im Ye-jin, as Choon-shik’s sister is also good, as is Yoo Ji-in as Myeong-hee but the actress who stood out for me was Kim Yeong-ae in a very minor role.  She has no lines and only appears in two scenes, but her character and the performance she gives is extremely memorable.

A Good Windy Day was released on DVD as part of the Korean Movies Masterpiece Collection–but unfortunately, that series is not subtitled.  Hopefully a distributor will pick it up and make this wonderful film available internationally.

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