Seen in Jeonju

Archive for the '1970s' Category

Two People in the Wall (1978)

20th October 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Revenge Week: Day 5

12th July 2013

Incest as a tool of revenge must surely be one of the most shocking methods of achieving vengeance. The role it played in the most popular of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy shocked audiences around the world with both its venom and its creativity. The more recent Dirty Blood features a young woman intent on getting revenge on her father and begins a sexual relationship with him without him knowing her real identity. Are these cases unique in Korean cinema? The answer, of course, is ‘No.’

Back in 1971, we have another example of a young woman out for revenge against her biological father. The movie this occurred in is called I’m Your Daughter and it was directed by Jo Moon-jin and it had some big-named stars in it. The incomparable Moon Hee played Baek Yeon-hee opposite Shin Yeong-gyun who played Mr. Baek and Shin Seong-il who played her former lover, Seong-ho. Two other major actresses of the time, Ko Eun-ah and Hwang Jeong-soon also appear in the film.

In the story, Yeon-hee lives in poverty. Her mother bore her out of wedlock when she had an affair with Mr. Baek and never recovered after he abandoned her. After her death, Yeon-hee turns to her boyfriend, Seong-ho for comfort and becomes pregnant with his child. Seong-ho attempts to do the right thing and marry her, but cannot oppose his family who object to the marriage because of Yeon-hee’s background. Instead, Seong-ho is married off to Mr. Baek’s legitimate daughter, Ja-myeong and Yeon-hee is left to fend for herself and raise her son on her own.

To support herself, Yeon-hee becomes a hostess—entertaining men at a bar. She moves closer to Seong-ho’s house so her son can get to know Seong-ho a little. It is there that she is presented with a chance to avenge her mother, and Yeon-hee hatches a dreadful plot. The womanizing Mr. Baek frequents the bar in which Yeon-hee works. Throwing all morals to the wind, Yeon-he gradually becomes closer to him, seducing him and allowing Baek to fall in love with her. When sh is ready, Yeon-hee finally reveals who she is, taunting him with the information and blaming him for her mother’s death and her own ruin. It turns out that Yeon-hee had concocted the ultimate revenge against Baek. Upon learning of his incestuous relationship with his daughter, Baek has a heart attack, keels over and dies. Yeon-hee leaves her son in Seong-ho’s care and leaves for parts unknown.

A decade earlier there were a couple of other films where adult children enter their fathers’ lives without their identities being known, to wreak havoc on his family and business. There is one where a son comes back, gets a job with his father, and attempts to make his stepsister fall in love with him as revenge before having a change of heart and another from 1966 where a young woman gets a job in her father’s office as his personal secretary and feeds confidential papers to rival companies for revenge.

Unfortunately, while these films still exist, a trailer or film clip is not available. So instead, I will leave you with the clip from Who Broke the Red Rose Stem? (1990). A more typical revenge film where a woman sets out to avenge the deaths of her father and husband as well as her daughter’s lost sanity against a cooperate director responsible in his effort to steal the company from her. Five years later she has reinvented herself as a fashion designer and with her model bodyguards enacts revenge on the businessman only to have it revealed that her husband is alive and was manipulated by the evil corporate heads into killing her father. She decides to take her vengeance out on everyone involved, manipulated or not…

Trailer of Revenge 5!

Don’t forget to head over to Modern Korean Cinema for more Revenge Week

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True Love For Wife <1975>

16th December 2012

True Love For Wife <1975>– directed by Kim Eung-cheon. Starring Bae Sam-ryong <as Heo Mu-tae>, Park Nam-ok <as Mu-tae’s wife>, Lee Yeong-soo <as Yong-gi> and Yeo Soo-jin <as Yong-gi’s teacher.  Running Time: 108 minutes. Release Date: March 31,  1975

75-020~3Mu-tae works as a photographer for a cosmetics company and is responsible for taking pictures of the models and products. Because of his keen artistic eye, he often acts as creative director as well, writing dialogue for the commercials. This earns him the praise of his bosses and a hefty bonus. It is an understatement to say that Mu-tae needs the money. His wife is seriously ill and needs a pacemaker on top of her heart medication and his usual salary of 39,500 KRW a month does not buy very much. He also has his son, Yong-gi, to think about and provide for.  Naturally, his son’s needs go beyond the monetary. As his wife is unable to exert herself, Mu-tae has taken over the cooking and the housework. He also attempts to attend his son’s school events and this gets him in trouble at work.  However, attending a mother/child picnic at an amusement park with the school introduces him to Yong-gi’s teacher who takes an interest in the family after this meeting and becomes like a second mother to Yong-gi.  She is the one who initiates a special dinner for father and son– and herself– and an evening at a pinball arcade. She even pretends to be Mu-tae’s wife for an important company event.. and seems quite comfortable in the role. 

Although her actions may seem suspect on the surface, there is no ulterior motives to her her interactions with Mu-tae despite how close the two seem to have become. She knows that the photographer loves his wife deeply and there is no room for another woman in his heart. In fact, he had told his wife beforehand about the fact that the teacher would be masquerading as his wife and there are no hard feelings. His wife appreciates all the help and attention that the teacher is giving her family. She is gradually growing weaker and is in dire need of surgery. However, money is tight. Forget the pickpocket that relieves Mu-tae of some of his earnings, his salary is barely enough to cover the monthly expenses.. 5,000 for charcoal bricks to heat the house, another 5000 for Yong-gi’s education expenses, and then there is food and medicine on top of that. Mu-tae finds himself forced to take several other jobs on the side. He gets up in the pre-dawn hours to sell fried eggs and coffee to people exercising in the cold morning air at the park. After work, he moonlights as a waiter and bartender. And whenever he as free time, he attempts to make a little extra cash by taking pictures. But the cost of the pacemaker is said to be 1500 US dollars and his aforementioned salary would be about 35 dollars a month with today’s exchange rate, in 1975 it was a fraction of that! He has to work hard for a long time to get enough money to buy it, even once his salary is raised to 55,ooo KRW a month but, as it turns out, his wife’s condition has deteriorated too rapidly. There is nothing to be done as she finally breathes her last…

When I saw this film was available on Hana TV, I was surprised how low a viewer’s score it received.. just one star out of five. Even the worst films usually are given two stars..  But I am glad I watched it. Not only was I pleasantly surprised with the story which could have veered off into ridiculous levels of maudlin,but it also showed some very negative aspects of business in the mid-70s– something film directors usually steered away from doing or risk severe penalties. The ’70s were hailed as a huge success for businesses as Korea pulled itself back up after a devestating war. The ‘miracle on the Han’ occured with a great sacrifice of human rights. At the very start of this film, we are treated to the inside of a real cosmetics factory where we see hundreds of women dressed in uniforms laboring at crowded tables, packing boxes with the make-up and lotions as the role off the conveyor belt. It looked a little like a scene from the film A Single Spark, which was made to criticize business practices and memoralize Jeon Tae-il who fought for workers’ rights.  Usually in the 70’s, this kind of scene is shown with an air of pride as the government was pushing for the success of industry and wanted to portray it in the best light both at home and abroad. In this film, I feel the director was offering a critique veiled in a melodrama of a dying woman–and that may be how he avoided the censors. The bosses in the company are greedy idiots. The owner of the company, who at first praised Mu-tae for his creativity, later seems to unthinkingly mock him. He knows what kind of salary Mu-Tae makes yet he takes him to an expensive hostess bar where he proceeds to embarrass him by asking the girls he paid for how much they make a month. They respond that they make 100,000– twice that with tips! Mu-tae is shocked when he realizes they make three to 6 times more than he does.  Later, the bosses are painted in an even worse light when they fire Mu-tae for moonlighting.  By working extra, he has tarnished the image of the company. The employeess, the state, are the face of the company and by working as a waiter, he gives the impression to people that the company is not taking care of its workers. Image is everything.

Now, I said above that the film does not fall into overly maudlin however I will be honest and say that the script does try to do just that.  Any scene with Mu-tae’s wife ends up with her crying or collapsing, close to death. And strangely, the movie gives her not one, but two death scenes–one real and one imaginary, after the fact where she dies at her son’s school picnic that she never attended. It was a strange moment as is the end where both Mu-Tae and Yong-gi speak each morning to a gigantic billboard with the face of their lost loved one on it.  I don’t mean speak to as “I miss you” or “I love you, Mommy”.. they have actual conversations with it as the painting tells them to ‘Straighten their ties.’ Presumably this is in their heads and no one else can hear it, but they answer out loud which is more than a little odd–especially on a busy street. 

I was also confused at the end as to whether the teacher had taken on the role of step-mother to Yong-gi. The movie was certainly leading up to that. Their uncomfortably romantic walk by the river after leaving Mu-tae’s wife at home and the way Mu-tae stairs at the teacher’s lips during the company party certainly implied that there was something beginning between the two. It seems unlikely, especially since she knows how much he adores his wife– she is the first to see the huge mural he painted of her for the billboard and, while romantic from one perspective, it also is a little creepy.  However, at the end, the teacher is walking Yong-gi to school with Mu-tae just ahead of them. Did they all leave the house together?  The way the teacher refers to Yong-gi’s deceased mother makes me think that they are all living together. However, it is to the movie’s credit that they leave this point vague and I was grateful that there was no scene in which the dying woman gives her blessing for the husband to find a new love after she passes. Those scenes never work…

True Love For Wife is not on DVD and I suspect will never be. However, it is not a bad film. On one level it is a solid, if standard for the period, melodrama. On the other hand, it offers a view of business in the ’70s that I have rarely seen in a film made at that time. It may not be for everyone, but I found it to be very watchable and have no major complaints.

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Ever So Good <1976>

13th December 2012

Ever So Much Good– directed by Lee Hyeong-pyo. Starring Im Ye-jin <as Kim Seon-hee> , Jeon Yeong-rok <as Jae-yong> and Hwang Hae <as Jae-yong’s father> . Running TIme:96 minutes. Released in theaters: July 3, 1976

76-080~1Kim Seon-hee has graduated first in her class and now dreams of going to a high school in Seoul. Her reasons are twofold. The first is that there is a general perception–no doubt correct in ‘76 but unfortunately persisting to this day– that the schools in Seoul are the best. The second reason is that her hometown sweetheart has also gone to Seoul to study.  In order to accomplish her goals, Seon-hee has secured herself a position as a housemaid with a moderately wealthy family. She is met at the train station by the eldest son of the household, Jae-yong and the two bond quickly. On the way home, they stop in at a dining place called Small Boy next to Jae-yong’s house that gives Seon-hee a chance to meet and charm her new neighbors.

Everyone loves Seon-hee at first sight. And what’s not to love? She is cheerful, bright and unfraid to speak her mind. She has a kind word for everyone and has probably never had a negative thought in her life. The title of the film, Ever So Good, sums up her character in every aspect. Unlike many similar films, this new housemaid from the country is not instantly scolded and chided by the mistress of the house. Instead, Jae-yong’s mother treats her like one of the family and tries to get Seon-hee to call her ‘mother,’ and honor the young girl refuses on the basis that the title of mother is very important and that she has a mother already. It is revealed shortly thereafter that the mother <played by Tae Hyeon-shil> lost a daughter in a traffic accident and Seon-hee bears more than a passing resemblence to her. Even the youngest child, Jae-ho, treats the new maid as a sister and a playmate and it helps that Seon-hee is very athletic and has a passion for soccer and climbing trees.

The only person who does not instantly love Seon-hee is Jae-yong’s girlfriend, Yeo-joo. The reason is because Seon-hee’s rather flipant and casual telephone manners cause a misunderstanding. However, even Yeo-joo is won over once she meets Seon-hee face to face and realizes that she is not a romantic rival for Jae-yong.  In fact, everywhere she goes and everything she does seems to have a successful.. and even joyful… resolution.  So where is the drama in the story?

Well, frankly there is not very much drama.  There is a rapidly solved problem between the waitress at the diner and the cook, but Seon-hee quickly points out that the tension between them is because the cook is in love and the waitress has been to self-absorbed to notice.  One date later and the problems has vanished.  There is also the time that Seon-hee gets carbon monoxide poisoning from the charcoal bricks used for heating the home and the unconscious girl  is rushed to the hospital but this scene takes place entirely off screen–no doubt to avoid distressing the viewers with a scene of a suffocating Seon-hee– and we are introduced to this scenario with Seon-hee waking up and getting told what happened along with the audience. She does have a headache from the experience, but her near-death experience serves a purpose. It forms a fast friendship between the grocery delivery man and the charcoal delivery man who, after duking it out, visit the hospital together. Really, that is about as dramatic as this story gets. We watch Seon-hee go on dates to an amusement park, we worry as Jae-ho forgets his homework and we fret as Jae-yong tries to decide on his future.. but there is no suspense.

The lack of a clear problem to overcome, however, is not a detriment to the film. I actually enjoy watching this kind of movie– the very definition of a ‘high-teen’ drama which were all the rage in Korean cinema of the mid/late ’70s.  And there is no doubt that a large part of the reason I like these films is because they often star Im Ye-jin.  In fact, in the year that this film was made, Ms Im also made two of the ‘Really, Really…’ series of films; I’m Really Really Sorry and and Really, Really Don’t Forget. Singer Jeon Yeong-rok as Jae-yong..aka Small Boy.. is always fun to watch in films even when he does not get a chance to sing like in this movie but what was interesting was seeing him sharing the screen with his real-life father Hwang Hae, here playing his character’s father. Their natural connection works well here and elevates the acting to a whole new level.. and when you add Im Ye-jin into the mix who is always a joy to watch, and experienced Tae Hyeon-shil  then the movie rises far above what its limited script and story.

While the acting throughout the film is excellent by most of the actors, one problem I had with the film was the portrayal of people from the country. Although the movie manages to avoid extreme country accents–something even modern comedies rely on overmuch– Seon-hee arrives in Seoul carrying three dried gourd bowls. That seems a little much, doesn’t it?  I live in the small, country village of Samrye outside of Jeonju, but I do not carry gourds with me when I travel. Yes, my neighbors grow gogourdsurds on their roof, but that doesn’t mean we carry them everywhere!  …  The gourds were played for a visual gag and do not make another showing in the film, but there is another thing that Seon-hee does brings a smile to the faces of the sophisticated Seoulites. In the diner, the server brings a first course of soup, followed by steak, to Jae-yong and Seon-hee. Seon-hee requests some rice along with her dinner and then proceeds to dump it into the soup in order to eat it. Unlike the visual gag with the gourd, this scene is more of a character-defining moment. Rice is often held up as being ‘pure Korean’ and their are often PSA on television that spout the benefits of eating rice at each meal rather than bread and milk. By asking for rice and incorporating into her Western-style food, Seon-hee’s purity of heart would have been immediately recognized by viewers and even the other characters smiling at her actions are not laughing at her, but instead smiling warmly at her innocence which they find refreshing.  However, it does play into the stereotype that country folks are innocent and pure as opposed to the jaded, westernized denizens of Seoul, but that depiction is more of a personal pet peeve than an actual complaint.

The story is based on a novel called Small Boy by Park Soon-nyeo.  I am not sure why the English title was not made that as well since the title of Park’s novel was already English, but it was selected as Ever So Good <or as the KMDb calls it Ever So Much Good– far too ungrammatical for me to write>.  Ever So Good was a loose translation of the Korean title the producers chose over Small Boy and the Korean title, by repeating the word Neomu <which means ‘very’> in the title, connects it at least in the minds of the paying audience with the Really, Really.. films which were extremely successful.   Ever So Good is not available on DVD, but it is a movie that should be. True, nothing much happens plotwise, but the film is saved by some decidely excellent performances.

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The Sun Rises At Night <1974>

9th November 2012

The Sun Rises at Night– Directed by Lee Gyu-woong.  Starring Yang Jeong-hwa <as Yeong-rim>, Kim Jin <as Woo-yeong> and Nam Goong-won <as Hyeong-jae>. Running Time: 93 minutes.  Originally released on August 9, 1974.

leegyuwoong sunrisesatnightFull of confidence and courage, a recent highschool graduate arrives in Seoul from the countryside with nothing more than her transcripts and a letter of acceptance to a prestigious university.  Having nowhere to go does not bother her as she approaches an art professor and places herself in his hands.  While she does take the first step in asking him to buy her dinner, which she wolves down greedily, the teacher, Hyeong-jae, makes arrangements to set her up with her own apartment. Of course, there is a catch. Yeong-rim is asked to model for him twice a week.  Yeong-rim sees no danger in this and thinks nothing of the fact that the much older man lets himself into her apartment anytime he wants. She is so trusting and comfortable with him that she has no problem with walking around in front of him wrapped in nothing more than a towel and, judging from the portraits we see on display, she has posed in the nude for him. It is clear from her words, actions and body language, she views Hyeong-jae as a daughter views a father. Hyeong-jae’s motives and feelings, however, are extremely questionable…

Aside for her apartment arrangement, Yeong-rim has a very normal life as university student. She has become close to her classmate and excels in her studies. She frequents coffee shops and does volunteer work on the side. In the course of these events, she even has time for her friends to set her up on a date with Woo-yeong. After a rough start, the two eventually hit it off and become an official couple.  The realization that his project has a boyfriend closer to Yeong-rim’s age– otherwise known as half Hyeong-jae’s age– does not sit well with him. He does his best to sabotage the budding relationship by forcing Yeong-rim to miss her first all-day date with Woo-yeong, but at the first opportunity, she makes it up to him.

Witnessing the young couple walking down the street arm-in-arm drives Hyeong-jae to drink and brood.  As his mood becomes darker and more self-absorbed, he convinces himself that he has fallen in love with Yeong-rim. He once again lets himself into her apartment, this time startling her because of the his hardened demeanor and the lateness of the hour. She has good reason to fear him as he proceeds to attack her while confessing his ‘love.’  Despite her struggles, Yeong-rim is no match for the heavy-set Hyeong-jae and she is soon overpowered and raped. It is a crushing blow to the formerly carefree young woman and she wanders around for hours in the dead of a rainy night. She is filled with self-destructive thoughts and feels that she has become ‘filled with darkness’ and is now a ‘fallen’ woman. 

Collapsing on the street, Yeong-rim is taken in by a kindly prostitute. Even though she does not tell her rescuer what has recently transpired, the other woman guesses and gives some sage advice which gives Yeong-rim the hope she needs to go on with her life and to dismiss the other thoughts she had on punishing herself, either by suicide or by turning to prositution as she is ‘runined’ for a decent marriage. She attempts to go through her daily routines are difficult however, as she has told no one what has happened. Her former light-heartedness is gone and her friends are finding her hard to be around. Her boyfriend too is very confused. Yeong-rim clearly needs him and she does her best to reach out to him in a limited fashion, but she quickly pulls away from him when he tries to become closer and shudders or jumps whenever there he touches her.  His solution is to introduce her to his family and propose marriage.

Yeong-rim goes along with his plans with reservations. She still feels she is no longer worthy of the love of such an innocent and sincere young man. Also, making matters worse, the art teacher is looking for her and asks her friends to arrange a meeting between himself and Yeong-rim.  Is there anyway to make that situation more uncomfortable for the poor girl? Yes! The rapist brings along his wife who wants to confront Yeong-rim about what seems to be an affair between the two. Oddly, Hyeong-jae leaves the two women to talk alone he sits at a different table and smugly smokes. He strongly dislikes his wife and, even though they live together, he snidely mentions that he has had nothing to do with her for the past ten years. He seems to believe that his wife will leave him after talking with Yeong-rim and he is just smug enough where he may believe that the young college student will become his now that, traditionally, she has limited options and if his wife is out of the way.  He may even feel that Yeong-rim will not relate the actual events out of shame. However, he is mistaken. Yeong-rim opens up to Hyeong-jae’s wife and relates events exactly as they happened and the older woman is sympathetic. The two women actually wind up meeting again when Yeong-rim and Woo-yeong meet Woo-yeong’s mother at a coffee shop and we see that the mother and Hyeong-jae’s wife are close friends. However, out of pity and respect for Yeong-rim, her secret is kept.

The strain of keeping such a painful secret gnaws at Yeong-rim until she decides to reveal to her boyfriend what happened. Taking him to a hotel room, she tells him her situation and why she has changed so much in recent weeks. Woo-yeong’s reaction is despicable, yet not unexpected if one has watched many old Korean movies. The young man who seconds ago was smitten with Yeong-rim, now finds her disgusting and strikes her across the face, knocking her to the floor before storming out of the hotel.  To her credit, Yeong-rim does not immediately collapse in grief over losing him. Instead, she summons her strength and trudges back to her apartment….

…Only to find Hyeong-jae waiting in the dark for her!  He now claims her as his property and proceeds to attack her again.  Yeong-rim cries out this time and struggles more vigourously than before, but it is to no avail…or is it?  Their struggles have brought them to the living room. Yeong-rim is thrown onto the sofa but, just out of reach, there is a large kitchen knife she was using to peal apples. Things happen fast and the next thing Yeong-rim knows, Hyeong-jae is lying dead with the knife plunged deep into his back.

Yeong-rim is carted off to prison and a trial and even she cannot say for sure whether she murdered her rapist in self-defense.  There are other suspects after all including the possibility that Woo-yeong had a change of heart and followed her back home and witness what happened. Or was there someone else who decided to help Yeong-rim and who may reveal him/herself in time to save her from a life of imprisonment?

The Sun Rises At Night is interesting as it challenges the notion frequently seen in older Korean movies where a woman who has lost her innocence is no longer fit for marriage. I can’t tell you how many movies I have seen where someone is raped and then is either forced to live with her attacker as husband and wife or else falls in love with the man who raped her. And it is not confined to older movies as the otherwise excellent Oasis pulled out that same old trope.  Here, Yeong-rim makes a conscious choice not to follow the paths of her cinematic predecesors and she elects instead to go on with her life.  Her confession to Woo-yeong is not an admission of guilt, but rather a way to both unburden herself of the tragedy she experienced and as an explanation as to why she does not want him to touch her even though she claims to love him. Her resignation to his immediate and violent reaction is a sign that she was not expecting him to understand her problems and lend his support in her recovery.  Although drained at that point, we know from her behaviour previously that Yeong-rim will not give up even though the man professing to love her seems to have abandoned her without a second thought.

The story telling technique, while not uncommon, was handled well. The story starts in the present, switches into an extended flashback that comprises most of the movie, and then returns to the present. The start of the film is actually when Yeong-rim and Hyeong-jae’s wife meet and former tells the entire story which we get to watch unfold.  This explains the confusion I felt at the opening five or ten minutes where characters just come in and out without introduction. It felt as if I had walked in on the middle of the film and, because there are no intros, I think that is exactly what happened. The movie feels as if it were filmed with time flowing in the standard, lateral motion but then the director decided to cut the story and insert the beginning portion in the middle for the flashback. The feeling of not knowing what is going on or who the characters are quickly passes as Yeong-rim relates the events up to that point and I appreciated the director trying something a little more creative like that.

The print of the movie I watched on Hana TV was in rather poor condition.  The lighting especially was a problem and even viewing the bright, outdoor scenes is like watching a movie wearing sunglasses. There is also a problem with how the reels of the film flow together. At three or four times during the film, the reels changed and we are treated to watching upside-down numbers count backwards from four. And at one point in the movie, visuals cut out altogether and we are left with looking at a white screen while various characters recite their lines. Fortunately, the effect does not last long.

Just a quick note– the video box image depicted at the top of this review manages to get the name of the film wrong in Korean.  It is written 밤에 뜨는 태양.  However, the name of the title of the film is actually 밤에도 뜨는 태양. Oh well, no one is perfect…

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Angry Young Men (1976)

19th September 2012

Anrgy Young Men.  aka Angry Apple.  Director: Park Ho-tae. Starring Lee Deok-hwa <as Cheong>, Im Ye-jin <as Ah-mi> and Jang Dong-hwi <as Mr. Kang>. Release Date: February 18, 1977. Running TIme: 108 minutes.

76-069~3Left alone after his mother’s untimely death, recent high school graduate Cheong goes off in search of his father whom he learned was alive after a lifetime of believing himself to be fatherless. He tracks his father down to the countryside where he owns an expansive apple orchard. Cheekily jumping the gate when the old caretaker proves to be too slow answering his knocks, Cheong introduces himself to his long-lost parent with high hopes of acceptance and making a new life for himself.  However, suddenly appearing in the living room of a person, claiming to be their son from a relationship nearly two decades in the past is probably not the best way to get started. Cheong father, Mr. Kang, reacts with disbelief and shock.. and not a little bit of fear as he worries how his wife and legitimate son, Jin-woo will react. However, he is convinced that Cheong is telling the truth based on a strong resemblence to a woman Kang had loved long ago, so instead of throwing the boy out onto the street he takes him on as a laborer and asks him to help with the harvest. Cheong is understandably not happy with his small shelter among the apple trees and feels as if he has been rejected and abandoned..and resentment starts to build within him from the moment he first spies his step-brother driving up in a new, red convertible with his soon-to-be bride on his arm. Jin-woo does not know he has a brother and takes an instant dislike to the handsome newcomer, especially when his girlfriend, Ah-mi, seems to be interested in getting to know Cheong better.  After the pair take Jin-woo’s car without his permission, the priviledged young man lashes out and soundly pummels Cheong.  This is not the only time Cheong is beaten up in the few days that he is on the orchard. The foreman does not like him either as he is popular with all the female apple-pluckers and seems to have developed a special bond with Seon, the girl the foreman has been unsuccessfully courting. To complicate matters, Seon was the former lover of Jin-woo from when they were both in high school. After he had gone to Seoul, he changed into a more wordly man and abandoned country-bumpkin Seon in favor of the sophisticated Ah-mi. With all of the injustices Cheong sees around him– a wealthy life of ease with a loving family that he should be a part of, his brother’s callous treatment of women, his unfilled yet growing love for Ah-mi– is it any wonder that Cheong eventually snaps with devesating results for the family at which his anger is directed.

In Korean, the title of this film is shared by another, earlier movie directed by Kim Mook in 1963 and starring Shin Seong-il. The two movies also share the same plot and I had hoped I would be watching the 60s version as I am a Shin fan.  However, a little research would have shown me that the Kim Mook’s film is among those lost at the present and I would be watching the 70s remake. Seeing the cast eased my initial disappointment as this movie starred the fantastic duo of Lee Deok-hwa and Im Ye-jin. This pair led the cast of half of the “Really, Really…” films of the mid-70s. The “Really, Really..” series were among the best of the high-teen dramas and had titles like I Really, Really Like You, I’m Really, Really Sorry, Really, Really Don’t Forget and I Really, Really Have a Dream.  But after the beginning of the movie and Cheong is supposed to have bitterness eating at his very being, I realized that Lee Deok-hwa was not pulling off the role. His image was too positive, too wholesome. Shin Seong-il could take his romantic behavior and good looks and turn himself into a believable monster bent of vengence. The role of Cheong was clearly made for him, not for boyish, innocent Lee Deok-hwa. 

Im Ye-jin was not necessarily miscast in this movie. However, she was wasted in the part of Ah-mi. Ah-mi is merely an accessory who has remarkably few lines.  Had she not been at the height of her popularity when this movie was released, I doubt she would have received second billing. Im was at her best when she was allowed to flash her easy smile and many of her previous characters could simply be described as charming and sweet without being saccharine.  Ah-mi does not have enough character to warrent a description. She allows a man she just met to get beat up twice in her presence for her.. not his actions. She is the one who convinced him to take Jin-woo’s car and she sought Cheong out in the orchard causing the foreman to attack the hapless young man. However, she barely raises an ounce of protest. The character was dull and not worthy of Im.

Unfortunately, the same could be said for this film. Some movies are harder to get through than others..and this one was hard. I am used to Korean melodramas from earlier eras and I have a high tolerance for the occasionally bogged down pacing, but I found it impossible to concentrate on this movie.  It may be because that, once  I knew the actors, I was hoping for something lighter like in their high-teen pairings. Rather than just awkwardly remaking the material of a different decade, director Park should have added something of his stars’ specialty into the script to keep up with the times. As it was, Angry Young Men feels dated and stagnant, making it impossible to recommend should it ever become available.

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Zero Woman <1979>

16th September 2012

Zero Woman:  Directed by Byeon Jang-ho.  Starring Ko Eun-ah <as Jeong-hee>, Nam Goong-won <as Dr. Kang>, and Yoo Ji-in <as Na-mi>- released September 1, 1979– Running time: 98 minutes

79-008~2Dr. Kang is a professor and researcher passionate about studying the effects of pollution and intent on contributing to reducing it for the sake of the future of life on the planet. However, while his passion for his work is obvious, he is less adept at showing passion for his wife Jeong-hee.  She is an intense, lonely woman whose loneliness, suspicions and inability to navigate through the pitfalls of life are slowly driving her insane. When we first meet her, she is a danger to herself, walking down the center lane of a six-lane highway. She slowly evolves into a danger to others, shooting at the caged birds the professor keeps scattered around the house and then attacking Na-mi, the beautiful graduate student that Dr. Kang brings into their home to help his wife.  Na-mi becomes the focus of her frustration and madness largely because of justifiable jealousy. Dr Kang spends far too much time with his student in a way that cannot really be interpretted as purely innocent although both would deny their is any attraction, initially at least. It is clear that their is some relationshiop developing that goes beyond mentor and student and in fact does cross the line at the height of a horrific thunderstorm that drive Na-mi into Kang’s arms in fear.  Their night of passion causes both participants to feel a degree a guilt. Na-mi leaves for a short time, uncharacteristically without Dr. Kang, to spend time with a fellow grad student whom she knows likes her.  Kang takes his wife on a trip to the country and they spend time in an isolated villa accessible only by boat.  Unfortuanately, their time there is spoiled by the arrival of Na-mi. She and Kang express their feelings for each other with Jeong-hee overhearing all and this causes the already unstable woman to fall irreversibily into a murderous psychosis with Na-mi and her husband as her targets.

While the theme of this movie, anti-pollution, is driven home at several points in the film including the end when an Anti-Pollution Parade marches by the mental hospital where Jeong-hee is incarcerated–the participants carrying signs like “Pollution is the Enemy of Humanity” or “Protect the Environment for a Bright Future” – I think that director Byeon needs to lay the blame where it truly belongs, at the feet of Dr Kang and Na-mi.  Despite Kang’s rambling lectures and beakers of colored liquid proving his ’science,’ at no point does he convince me that Jeong-hee’s problem stems from the environment. Rather it seems to stem from the fact that she is lonely and feels isolated.  These feelings are exasperated by the amount of time Kang actively avoids his wife and refuses to sleep with her using his research as an excuse.  And while he is too busy to spend more than five minutes in the ame room with his wife, he is more than willing to spend time with Na-mi, playing ping-pong, accompanying her to the grocery store and taking her fishing. I was finding Jeong-hee’s suspicions perfectly justified. However, there is no justifying her subsequent actions. Those were just driven by madness..

Jeong-hee proves herself an excellent shot with a rifle during the second bout of madness we are witness to. Not only does she shoot out the windows in her husband’s study and take pot shots at some of the ever-present caged birds, she threatens the housekeeper with the business end of the gun as well.  Surprisingly, the loyal housekeeper does not quit on the spot. Even more surprising, there are no consequences to this rampage. It simply is business as usual in the house and the incident is not mentioned by any of the characters. Her attacks on Na-mi are more creative, such as filling her bad with lab rats, and more brazen, like when she sliced up Na-mi’s shoulders with her wedding ring during a massage. Despite her tendency to be homicidal, Jeong-hee is actually a very simpathetic character.  Na-mi is less so.

Na-mi starts of her relationship with Kang as a bizarre father-figure fixations that later blossoms into a full-fledged affair. It is more than a little creepy and undoubtedly inappropriate..not only because he is married, but she is also his student. Na-mi chalks Jeong-hee’s crazy antics against her up to the older woman’s mental state and never considers for a minute that she may be contributing to Jeong-hee’s growing insanity.  She could have very well simply walked away after the night of passion in the storm with Dr. Kang that she knew was wrong, but she comes running back to him in a very short period of time –going so far as to track down where Kang and his wife went for vacation– and confessing how much she missed him. The neediness of Na-mi and the reasons for her initial attraction to Kang borderline, to me, underscore the fact that Jeong-hee is not the only person in this film with psychological issues.

Kang himself is not free of blame nor clear of madness, although his madness takes a different form than the other characters. If this were another sort of movie, Kang would have been a mad scientist.  His home and office are filled with beakers of impossibly colored liquids that movie scientists often mix at random for purposes of bringing monsters to life or some such thing.  During a massive thunderstorm, he throws open the windows of his home cackling at the power of the storm. And his house is filled with every kind of animal you can think of, both alived and stuffed.  In cages he has the usual..such as wrens, canaries and squirrels.  Later, you start noticing more unusual things such as peacocks, the beautiful, native hoopoe and those green and red snakes that I see once in a while on the campus where I work..<and I just learned they are poisonous!> Posed stuffed around his home are deer, ferrets, owls and the heads of boars.  I could easily see him experimenting on these or making plans to add Na-mi to his collection– he doesn’t of course– the movie chooses to villainize only Jeong-hee.

Poor Jeong-hee.  Kang cheats on her with Na-mi, twice physically and throughout the film on an emotional level.  However, the one time she turns to someone for comfort– when both her husband and Na-mi left her alone on the island home with no way off– the music and lighting unite to villainize her and, before she can do more than unbutton the short of the man–her gardener– whom she has invited into her bedroom, she is caught in the act by Na-mi.  The look of horror on Na-mi’s face infuriated me. Who is she to judge considering what she had already done with Jeong-hee’s husband?  Why does the film treat her action so much worse than when Kang and Na-mi are both guilty of it as well?  Of course, I know why.. a double-standard often exists in these films and this is just one more example.

I had mentioned the music in the paragraph above as it plays a large role in setting the tone, but I had to wonder about it. Had I just been listening to the soundtrack, especially at the beginning of the movie, I would have thought I was in for a horror film. It is a familar tune that I associate with horror/sci-fi of the ’60s where some alien protoplasm or a severed hand is creeping across the floor towards and unsuspecting victim.  At the beginning of the film, it plays as we get a fish-eyed view of a street from the windshield of a moving car.  It does a lot towards letting you know that on some level, this will be a horror movie.

Zero Woman is not available on DVD, not even an unsubtitled one.  I was able to see it on television with my internt TV provider. If it is ever available, it is one I recommend seeing.

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The Woman Who Leaves Work In The Morning (1979)

12th July 2012

79-022~3The end of the 70s was an unusual, and frustrating, period of Korean film history. On the one hand you had people like Kim Ki-yeong with movies like Iodo and Neumi, pushing the envelope with experimental imagery but his commendable frankness about sex is starting to slip into near-exploitation– a fault suffered by many films of many director the 1980s. And then you have films like this which falls back on the tried, true and safe formulas of the late 60s and early 70s.  On the surface, through its title and its title, The Woman Who Leaves Work in the Morning seemed like it might have fallen into the former grouping, trying to sell the film by making it appear far more sensual than it actually is– another trend of the 80s, especially when covers were shot for the VHS markets.  This movie debut work of director Park Yong-joon who would continue to direct films until 2001 when he directed the direct to video Game Over and draws from more famous movies–or perhaps their source materials– of the past, particularly I Hate You Once Again and a little bit of Heavenly Homecoming of the Stars.  Two of the good things about this film are Ko Doo-shim in her first role and Ha Myeong-jong showing why he could easily be thought of as the Shin Sung-il of the 70s.  I did not mind watching the film for these two and the story did have some interesting moments but for the most part, it was very familar. 

Jang Soo-mi (or Jang-Mi–meanng Rose–for short) is a hostess in a bar, meaning that she sits with the male customers, pours drinks and flirts with them to ensure they keep coming back. One morning, while walking home, she encounters a young photographer and is smitten by his good looks and charm. They meet only a couple of times before the artist, Song Woo-yeol, simply moves into the small apartment that Jang Mi shares with her younger sister Yeong-ah. The elder sister is clearly in love although the two have no commitment to each other at this point, and she resents that Yeong-ah and Woo-yeol are growing quite close. It is quite innocent on the part of Yeong-ah who, although having graduated from high school, is not yet out of her teens but Woo-yeol is something of a ladies’s man and it is hard to believe his protestations of innocence–especially after Jang-mi walks in on the pair kissing. She knows that Woo-yeol cannot be in the same house as her sister, so Jang-mi makes a choice– and kicks Yeong-ah out of the apartment!

I wish, and fully expected, that more time would be spent on Yeong-ah after leaving the house. How did she live? Was she resentful? What happened to the relationship between the two sisters. But no. The film glosses it over. Yeong-ah admits her mistake, packs her bags, and leaves not appearing again.  Nor does Jang-mi bring her up in one of her moments of guilt or self-pity that she regularly has bouts of.  Instead, she and Woo-yeol become lovers. They both continue with their work and lives while living blissfully together.

However, this bliss does not last. Woo-yeol returns home to visit his father who tells him that he must marry soon.  The young photographer becomes engaged to a woman in his own economic class which, as it turns out, is considerably higher than how he presented himself. His status all but ensures that he could never realistically marry a hostess.  After calling his home to find out when he will be returning, Jang-mi learns that Woo-yeol has another girlfriend. At first infuriated, Jang-mi soon calms down after talking with Woo-yeol. He promises to come to see her the following day, which is her birthday, instead of telling her the truth, that he will be married in two days.  After she prepares her own birthday dinner and waits up for him all night, Woo-yeol finally gets around to telephoning and explaining that he could not come because he was planning his wedding.  Once again mad with rage, Jang-mi drives to the wedding site, half-intending to kill her lover for his betrayal, but becomes frozen after getting his attention after the ceremony. Not only does she not attempt to kill him, she does not even tell him that she is pregnant. 

The movie then jumps ahead approximately 6 or 7 years and the story of I Hate You Once Again starts and continues for the last 30 minutes or so of the film. Anyone familar with that classic story knows that the single mother in that story gives up her child to the father so the youngster can be raised in luxery, only for the child to be miserable for missing his real mother.

The movie ends on a note that should be somewhat happy, but somehow just seems to sudden and incomplete and while it was clearly tries to dredge up feelings of nostalgia for one’s mother, it fails miserably in doing so. I blame the child actor… he was quite bad, often looking at someone off camera and being very unconvincing in his rapid mood swings.  While not a terrible movie, it is perhaps a little too typical of early-70s film-making in Korea. If you have not seen many films from that period, you may find it interesting. But the fact that it comes after that period had already passed made the viewing experience seem a little out of date and if you are familar with 70s films, you can probably skip this one as it offers nothing new.

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The Heavenly Homecoming of the Stars (1974)

1st April 2012

74-062~1The Heavenly Homecoming of the Stars was based on the work of novelist Choi In-ho and inspired two sequels. It won numerous film awards including prizes forBest New Director at the 1974 Grand Bell Awards, and the 1975 Baeksang Art Awards where it also won Best Cinematography. Not only that, this movie screened at the 24th Berlin International Film Festival.  It would seem as of this would be a hard act to follow for debuting director Lee Jang-ho, but that turned out not to be the case.  Lee would follow this up with such masterpieces as A Good Windy Day, Children of Darkness, Knee to Knee and, of course, Lee Jang-ho’s Baseball Team.  Incidently, Chilren of Darkness will be released later this month on DVD but, like today’s feature, it will be sans subtitles.  That is a shame because these older films have a lot to offer, not only in potential stories, but in history as the backgrounds, fashions and culture of Korea of decades past comes to life before our eyes.  In the case of The Heavenly Homecoming of the Stars, the background takes on a life and is actually blamed by the author for its callous treatment and the eventual destruction of Kyeong-ah. 

Personally, I have a hard time blaming Seoul for the turn of events. Rather, the downfall of Kyeong-ah can be blamed on the rigid morality and double standards of men at the time– at least in films.  Kyeong-ah’s early life seems very happy and as a young woman, she is wooed by her true love Yeong-seok.  In fact, the two seem perfectly suited for each other and they have an understanding that they will be married until that fateful night Kyeong-ah gives into Yeong-seok’s persistant demands for sex.  That night started a double tragedy for the young, vulnerable woman.  First, it did far more than rob her of her virginity which by 1974 was not enough to get a heroine dumped by her lover, but it left her pregnant and forced her into a backroom abortion clinic.  Yeong-seok never looked at her again without feeling guilt and that effectively destroyed his love for her although she loved him with all her heart right up until her last breath. The second major influence that night had on Kyeong-ah was that it began her reliance on alcohol. To take the edge off her nerves as she became determined to satisfy Yeong-seok, Kyeong-ah turned to drink for the first time.  This reliance on liquor becomes more severe as the years progress until she is a full-blown alcoholic. 

Alcohol ruined more than one subsequent relationship after Yeong-seok’s marriage to another woman.  Kyeong-ah began seeing a much older widower and soon marries him. Moving into his enormous house must have seemed like a dream come true until she realizes that she is living in the shadow of his first wife. While her husband is on a business trip, she throws out everything belonging to the deceased woman, Kyeong-ah’s happiness is cut short due to their first fight and her drunken explanation as she drinks heavily to get the courage to explain herself. Although her husband, who loves her deeply forgives her and much of her past, he cannot live with her when he later discovers that she had an abortion.  Her pleas for him were reaching him even as he was leaving out the door, until he realizes that she is in a drunken state. Rather than let him go, Kyeong-ah says that she will leave on her own, and this leads down a road to ruin.

Not having any way to earn a living, Kyeong-ah needs a way to support her habit. It is because of her reliance on drinks that she falls under the control of the dangerous pimp Dong-hyeok who tatoos his name on her as if she is his property when she tries to escape.  It is at this stage in her life when the other main character enters the picture, artist Kim Moon-ho. His one night stand with her turns into a continuing relationship which gives Kyeong-ah the courage to escape from her life as a prostitute and try for respectability.  However, she cannot escape from herself or her memories. Her addiction to alcohol and her past regrets are both destroying her from within… as is a case of TB she picks up along the way…

In the movie, we are actually introduced to Moon-ho first and it is through him that we learn of Kyeong-ah’s life. In fact, in the opening scene, Moon-ho is carrying a box of ashes wrapped in white, so we know right from the start that things are not going to end well for the tragic young woman. Her entire life is told as a flashback within a flashback.  At some points in the film, we are actually four levels deep in flashbacks as the Moon-ho remembers Kyeong-ah when they were together telling him about the time she told her husband about how she became pregnant.  The movie continues like this jumping in and out of various depths of the past, but due to the director’s skill, it is never confusing. 

Some quick research reveals that the first of the two sequels deals with Moon-ho who is suffering from TB as well and has met a new lover– Soo-kyeong– who suffers from mental problems. Soo-kyeong has a baby and at first claims that it is Moon-ho’s daughter (and he, in a nice bit of continuity, promptly names her Kyeong-ah), but it would turn out that Soo-kyeong is lying and Kyeong-ah is not his child.  The second sequel (The Heavenly Homecoming of the Stars 3) follows the life of the sole remaining living character at the end of the second film, Soo-kyeong and what leads to her unhappy marriage and death. 

One can only hope that these movies will also be released on DVD at sometime in the near future..maybe as part of a Heavenly Homecoming collection. Is that asking for too much?

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Testimony (1973)

20th June 2011

testimonyThere is really only one word that can be used to describe master director Im Kwon-taeks’s 1973 war film Testimony and that is ‘ponderous.’  It is a case where the topic of the film being too big for the actors and actresses. Their personal stories really do not seem to matter in the big picture and they are overshadowed by the events of the war. The  movie sets out to be told from the perspective of Soon-ah played by Kim Chang-sook.  Living in Seoul at the start of the Korean War on June 25, 1950, Soon-ah does not flee the city ahead of advancing North Korean forces due to her elderly mother being unable to withstand such an arduous journey and the fact that her lover, Lt. Jang (Shil Il-ryong), will be staying to fight.  However, Seoul falls quickly and Soon-ah is arrested and interrogated for her known connection with an southern army officer. Unable… and unwilling… to provide information to her captors, Soon-ah and a number of other prisoners are herded into the back of a small truck and sent to Pyeongyang where they expect they will either be placed in a prison camp or executed upon arrival. Either way, they believe they will never see Seoul again and, in the case of everyone but Soon-ah, they are right.   The truck comes under fire on the north side of the DMZ and the prisoners take the opportunity to escape.  All of them, save the film’s heroinne, are gunned down as they attempt to scatter throughtout the bombed out city the truck had stopped in. Her persuers also killed in a plane strife, Soon-ah is able to escape and begin her long, difficult and dangerous trek homeward.

Up until this point, most of the movie has been told through Soon-ah’s experiences. However, around this time, the narrative loses focus. A voice-over comes out over scenes of war explaining the horrific events and indicating the passage of time.  It is a little jarring and frankly not a very good story-telling technique. We do eventually catch up with Soon-ah again where she meets farmers or the ocassional deserter heading south towards Seoul, but you would never want to travel with her because all of her companions wind up dead. The movie loses focus again as we watch scenes where other refugees attempting to head south and escape the war and communism come up against North Korean forces.  These have little connection to Soon-ah’s story, although she does eventually stumble across the tragic aftermath and scrounges some food from the packs the corpses hold.  Instead, they seem solely designed to depict the North Korean officers as evil.  I suspect this was necessary. 

Back in 1965, director Lee Man-hee was fined and imprisoned by depicting a North Korean soldier as being compassionate in his film The Seven Female POWs.  The South Korean government at the time had very strict anti-communism laws and the humanizing of the soldier was a crime.  Censors during the sixties and seventies even objected if the actor playing a communist soldier was ‘too handsome.’  However, in Testimony, Im Kwon-taek actually goes a long way towards showing pity and humanizing some of the enlisted–or rather–drafted men of the North Korean army and, because of this, I suspect he needed to make the officers and true communists that much more evil to satisfy the censors and to keep himself safe. Im shows many of the soldiers fighting for North Korea as having no choice. They were drafted off the side of the road as they tried to flee or were captured in Seoul and forced to fight. The most touching scene of the film is that of the Seoul baseball player who dies in Soon-ah’s arms. It is not often that old war movies can have an affect on me, but that scene brought tears to my eyes.

Testimony is not on DVD. I watched it on KTV which has been showing Korean War films throughout the month of June.  However, since director Im is one of the most famous names in Korean cinema even today, there is a good chance that it will be released on DVD sometime in the future. When it is, you might want to pick it up and have a look.  Although the movie lacks polish, it is still watchable and has several good moments.

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