Seen in Jeonju

Archive for the '1970s' Category

The World Without Mom 1 & 2 (1977)

10th May 2011

world without mother

Over the weekend, I happened to catch Lee Won-se’s The World Without Mom on KTV. I enjoyed the movie very much and, knowing that I had the DVD set which contained not only that movie, but the sequel as well, I decided that is what I would watch on the upcoming holiday which I knew from the weather forecasts would be a good day to stay home as we were going to be hit with heavy rains that will last throughout the week.

The World Without Mom is based on a diary by Kim Yeong-chool and that is indeed the name of the main character. He is a young student, approximately ten years old living in a southern coastal village where the main industry is salt farms. He lives with his father, mother and two younger brothers; Yeong-moon who is about 7 and Yeong-ho who is an infant. They are happy, but life is hard for the family and, as the title suggests, the mother exits the world early from, as Yeong-chool put it, ‘overwork.’ 

Her death leaves the small family devestated. Yeong-chool’s father turns to alcohol to assuage his grief, but it is not enough and he slowly loses his grip on reality and becomes mentally unstable. Afraid to leave Yeong-ho at home or at work with his father, Yeong-chool starts taking his youngest brother to school with him, making him the butt of cruel jokes by his classmates. His teachers, however, are more understanding and soon all the students come to respect Yeong-chool. His father becomes more unstable and, after attacking a man and nearly killing him, he is institutionalized, leaving his young sons on their own.

Yeong-chool tries his best to keep his family together as both his mother and father urged him to do, but there are many problems. The salt farm owns his house, and as his father is no longer working harvesting salt, it seems likely they will wind up on the streets. Well-meaning neighbors try to help, but Yeong-chool is too proud to fully take advantage of what they could offer. The villagers worry about the children and make arrangements for their welfare. Two of the children are set to be adopted while another will be sent to an orphanage. This does not sit well with Yeong-chool who knows they are not orphans. He decides he will fight to keep his family together. Yeong-moon comes to the same conclusion and runs away from the orphanage. The first movie ends with the brothers meeting again on the road outside their home. Their futures are uncertain, but at least they are together.

The World Without Mom 2, made and released the same year as part 1, picks up right where the other left film left off after a short recap.  The children are told by the owner of the salt farm that they can continue to live in the house and wait for their father to return from the hospital.  They receive food aid from the government and bags of rice from the villagers. Yeong-chool takes on full responsibility as parent, taking care of his younger brothers and becoming responsible for budgeting their meager savings. He receives some money from publishing his diary and a lot of donations are made to him and his family, but he misunderstands and refuses the money as he does not want people to think he is a beggar.  When it is revealed that his father’s hospital bill is late, he stops school to work harvesting seafood from the mudflats. And when his father escapes from the mental hospital, it is responsible Yeong-chool who makes the call to report his location.

However, things finally start looking up when the father does make a full recovery and is released from the hospital. He works hard for his family and the children are all happy that things are back to normal.  But the well-meaning neighbors once again interfere and tell the father that he cannot raise the children on his own and needs to remarry. They even know the perfect woman, a recent divorcee who cannot bear children but wants desperately to have a family. Yeong-chool is all for it and believes his mother would feel the same. Yeong-moon, who has been acting out all through the film, is not so sure…especially when the woman who will be his stepmother comes between him and his father with whom he is very close.

Both films are heavy on the drama and strive to make the viewer cry, and the way they go about this makes them feel a little dated. However, they are very enjoyable films and there is a lot to be said in their favor. The strongest points come from the acting of the two elder brothers Yeong-chool and Yeong-moon.  The former was played by Kim Jae-seong and the latter by Lee Kyeong-tae. Neither of these two continued in acting after the 70s but it was certainly not because of their performances here. They are naturals in the parts and the interaction between them, especially in the second film, is very believable. There are also some very artistic shots with the director highlighting the bleakness of the landscape while making it quite beautiful at the same time.

world without mom 3: festival of chicks

world without mom 3: festival of chicks

Their story did not end there. There is a third chapter called The World Without a Mom 3: Festival of Chicks made by director Lee Won-se in 1978.  However, it is not included in the DVD set nor have I seen it on tv. Just reading about it, I can tell that it does seem to differ from the first two quite a bit. For one thing, the title does not make sense as they now have a mother and father who love them and takes care of them. This in itself removes the feeling of tragedy from the film. Also, the family moves out of the village and into a larger town or small city taking advantage of low-income housing provided by the government. It does not seem to have Yeong-chool as the central figure as in the first two films. Rather it is Yeong-moon who learns at his new school that he has a passion for baseball but his talent does not match. He tries out for the team and winds up as a bat boy. The film apparently is his struggle to find the confidence and drive to succeed in his dreams… not at all the same as their previous two films where they fought to keep their family together and struggled to survive on their own.

If you can track down the DVDs of the first two films which were released together by Dreamix in 2006 with English subtitles, I highly recommend you do so. I liked these enough that if the third film ever becomes available, I will be picking that up as well.

Posted in 1970s, Review | Comments Off

A Spy Remaining Behind (1975)

7th March 2011

75-016~1Cable television channel KTV came through yet again with another movie I had never seen– this time from director Kim Shi-hyeon. I had reviewed one of Kim’s films, Fight at Hong Kong Ranch,  back in November. He directed numerous films between 1965 and 1988 and the vast majority of these were action movies. A Spy Remaining Behind is no exception, taking place in the early days of the Korean War in 1950 after Seoul has fallen and been occupied by North Korean forces.  While the southern armies were being driven back towards Busan and awaiting UN support, a spy is sent into the capital to learn about enemy plans and military manuevers.  This is Lt. Han Deok-won played by Shin Seong-il. He has been given intensive training and a support network of top undercover agents to help him move information south of enemy lines. In order to build his credibility among the communist commanders in charge of Seoul, Han is ‘arrested’ by his southern comrades and housed in a prison cell with a high-ranking communist official. After gaining his cellmate’s trust, Han and his new friend escape their captors.  While his former cellmate sets himself up as the key power in Seoul, Han hides in the house of the wife of an army officer from the north. After time passes, he makes his way to city hall to meet with his former cellmate and see what he can learn that will help turn the tide of the battle. Much to his shock, he finds his former girlfriend Mi-yeong (played by Kim Chang-sook) working there as a secretary.

Mi-yeong is the other half of the story. She had no communist tendencies but found herself caught up in the politics of the time when a man she trusted played by Heo Jang-kang turned out to be a communist spy and assassin. He duped Mi-yeong into delivering an exploding bottle of champagne to the house of a South Korean politician. While the bomb-in-a-bottle was detonated harmlessly, Mi-yeong was arrested and sentenced to prison time as an enemy of the state. However, when North Korea invaded Seoul, they freed all political prisoners and the confused Mi-yeong found herself in a position of priviledge and given a job in the city hall. However, once she meets her former lover again, she makes it clear where her loyalties lie. Her position in the government building makes it easier for her to obtain state secrets than Lt. Han can.

Their small spy ring seems to be doing quite well, but suspicion eventually falls on Han. He and his team decide that they will attempt to cripple northern army by bringing down the administration in Seoul. They plan not to simply assassinate the members of the communist party working in city hall, but to bring down the building itself in a series of explosions. To make this work, will require everyone to know his or her part and for everything to go off without a hitch.  Of course, it wouldn’t be a movie if there wasn’t a hitch…

I found this movie to be quite good, although I think I would have enjoyed it more if it had been directed by a different director. Kim Shi-hyeon’s style of directing is a little choppy and too much importance is given to people who turn out to be minor characters while not developing some other characters at all. For example, the assassin who uses Mi-yeong is made to seem like he would be important later in the movie, but he is barely seen again after Mi-yeong is freed from prison. Meanwhile, Lt. Han’s team are all given introductions complete with tight close ups and descriptions of their specialties, but they are never expanded upon after that and are pretty much interchangable.

kim soo-miShin Seong-il is good as always and Kim Chang-sook does a fair job as Mi-yeong–she tends to be a little too obvious in her ‘furtive’ movements while acting as a spy. However, there is one person who steals the spotlight in every scene she is in. Unfortunately, she is not in anywhere near enough of the movie. That is the officer’s wife who takes in Lt. Han not realizing he is a spy. You can see her in the poster above, baring her cleavage..I will blow that up for you and put it in this paragraph. It is veteran actress Kim Soo-mi in her debut film role. She had debuted on television a few years prior to this winning MBC TV’s ‘Best New Actress’ award in 1972. Kim Soo-mi (or should I call her by her real name, Kim Yeong-ok) played Ae-ja. She takes in Lt. Han after he has jumped from a moving train, offers him something to eat and ten minutes later she is in bed with him. She is motivated entirely by her own selfish needs, not politics. She apparently had thought herself a widow and greets her husband with a shocked expression and a ‘Honey, you’re still alive.’  She asks her husband to wait while she hides Lt. Han whom she has been living with several weeks by that time, into the closet. She is not worried that Han might steal the top secret documents her husband in carrying. She is only concerned that she is not caught in adultry.

Most Korean movies of the 70s have a bad reputation, but I have often found them to be fun to watch. Not just for the actors and actresses, many of whom are still active today, but for the stories themselves. I think it is just a matter of becoming familar with the style of storytelling and accepting the limitations of the film technology available at the time.  A Spy Remaining Behind is not on DVD nor do I expect it to be. But on the off chance it receives a DVD release, give it a chance. You may find yourself enjoying it too.

Posted in 1970s, Review | Comments Off

Golden Wing 1,2,3 (1978)

11th December 2010

golden wingBack in August, I had written a review of Robot Taekwon V Meets the Golden Wing. There is no doubt that the team-up project was given the go-ahead because of the popularity of the Robot Taekwon V character, but the movie left me with a lot of questions about the Golden Wing and his supporting cast. It was the Golden Wing’s second film appearance and he was a regular feature in a newspaper’s comic section at that time, so people watching his team-up with Robot Taekwon V would have already had all the answers. I did not have that advantage. Why was the costumed hero dressed in red called Golden Wing Number 1 and the giant robot called Golden Wing Number 3? Where was Number 2? One of the two posters available for this film (shown later in this review) depicts two people dressed similarly to Golden Wing No. 1, who are they? Then in mid-November this year, Golden Wing 1,2,3 was released on DVD. This movie answers all the questions I had, but left me with one more. Why wasn’t The Golden Wing more popular?  I found his story to be at least as interesting as Taekwon V’s and his supporting cast more interesting that the latter’s.

golden wing original posterThe movie starts with a blue-skinned alien driving a sports car trying to outrun a pursuing UFO. The small spacecraft eventually forces him off the road and leaves him to die in the fiery wreck. However, the attempted murder did not go unnoticed. Heon was driving his scooter in the nearby hills and witnessed the attack. He rushes to the driver’s assistance only to recoil in horror when he realizes the being is not human. The alien reveals his name to be Hinsem and convinces Heon to take him to his secret lair hidden behind a nearby waterfall. Inside the cave is an advanced lab. Hinsem’s badly injured body disappears and is mind is absorbed into a device that will keep him alive for a little longer, but he is still dying. He begs Heon to help find and rescue his daughter, Mirinae, who was captured by a criminal from his homeworld named Karlson. In return, he grants Heon superpowers although he warns him the powers can only be summoned when his motives are pure and that no one can ever learn his secret identity.  He dubs the new hero Golden Wing Number 1, because of his ‘gold suit’ which grants him electrical powers.   When he said that, I was briefly jolted out of the narrative. The suit is not gold, it is red. Did he mean it was made of gold? That does not seem practical.  Not only would be heavy, but does gold even conduct electricity? I think it’s melting point is too low.  But perhaps I should thing about it too carfully since electrical powers seem to  include super strength and speed.  He was also given a robot panther as a companion and told that this was Golden Wing Number 2.

Heon is soon given the chance to test his powers when his guardian is attacked by Uram and his deadly finger guns. His guardian is a world famous professor of robotics who worked with Heon’s late father, Dr. Oh. The professor has created blueprints for the Bronze Giant whose name is also a misnomer. As can be seen on the posters, the robot is not bronze in color, nor is he made of bronze. The professor states in a presentation that the robot is made of a titanium alloy. However, the professor does not get a chance to build the robot as the plans are stolen by Uram and Mirinae. Apparently, the kidnapping of Mirinae happened longer ago than Hinsem made it sound because the young woman believes that Karlson is her father. The evil alien builds the robot and sets it on humanity but Golden Wing 1 and 2, with the help of Deok-shim, are able to replace a component and take control of the robot themselves. They name it Golden Wing Number 3.  With the trio of the title now complete, they set off to stop Karlson and his powerful space battleship.

The characters are interesting in this film. Heon, as the hero, gets the most screen time. Described as his guardian as ‘timid’ and ‘like a girl’ he is nonetheless accepted by his adopted family. (Though honestly, their charaterization of him seems unfair. He seems neither timid nor effeminate to me). His guardian has three children of his own. Deok-shim is overweight, but strong, and not very bright. He takes over the duties of operating Golden Wing 3 but most often depicted either eating or exercising. His sister, Bo-mi, is co-pilot. She has no personality whatsoever and is notable only for the facts that she is romantically interested in Heon and that her uniform when driving the robot makes her look like a bee. (It is not the same as what is shown on the poster above).  The youngest member of the family is Na-mi. She takes to role of comic relief that Cheol holds in the Robot Taekwon V series. In fact, she is voiced by the same person.

The second poster above has more wrong than simply a coloring mistake on the costumes. The three characters on the right of Golden Wing 1 do not appear in the movie at all. This poster appeared prior to the release of the film based on descriptions of the plot and characters that appeared in the comic strip. The girl in the red mask and the man in the purple unitard are Mirinae and Uram, but there is absolutely no red blob in the movie at all and I don’t know enough about the original comic to know who he is. The poster I showed at the very top of this review came out right at the time of the movie’s release and is a much more accurate representation of what the characters look like in the movie.

I found this to be fun to watch. At just 66 minutes long, it does not wear out its welcome. I was a little surprised at one thing though. The film is digitally remastered but throughout its entire running time, it is very scratched. This is most noticable at the beginning of the film and as the story went on, I forgot about it until the scenes in space because the black background made them stand out more. This is certainly due to the state of the surviving print of the film. That is one more reason to get these older films onto DVD. DVDs do not break down as easily as film.

Posted in 1970s, Review | Comments Off

Robot Taekwon V Meets the Golden Wing (1978)

17th August 2010

robot taekwonWe have been having a lot of rain. It has been raining here in Samrye,outside of Jeonju, everyday, stopping and restarting a few hours later. Sometimes the rains have been quite heavy and there has been a lot of damage locally to bridges, crops, roads and houses. Last night, there was a loud crash as, right outside my home, a large tree broke and fell. Fortunately, there was no damage, just a blocked driveway, but it hasn’t been the best weather for doing things outside. Staying in means I have more time to watch DVDs. I was going to watch Midnight Ballad of Ghost Theater for a review that I have been commissioned to write, but the student boarder in my house asked if he could pick a different movie. He had just finished three weeks of summer session graduate classes and said he wanted to see some of the old animation movies I own. There are several of these that I have not seen yet, so I agreed.

He selected Robot Taekwon V Meets the Golden Wing circa 1978. The film marks the fourth chronological film of Robot Taekwon V following his first appearance in 1976 and his subsequent films Robot Taekwon V 2: Battle in Space and Robot Taekwon V 3: Undersea Mission. Back in 2003 (!) I wrote about the Robot Taekwon V box set released by Bitwin. That review, which provides some character information that might prove useful when reading this review is on the main site of Koreanfilm.ORG that hosts my blog. It can be read here. That was my first experience with the giant robot that is a household name in Korea. Since that time, a digitally enhanced DVD of the original 1976 film has been released with English subtitles, which has potentially introduced the character to a wider audience although viewers in the United States may have already been introduced to him in their childhoods as Voltar the Invincible.

 The Golden Wing was a character whose name I knew from reading about Korean animation, but whom I had not seen on screen before. This movie was the second, and I believe final, appearance of the character. Originally appearing in the Kid’s Chosun Newspaper, The Golden Wing’s first film—The Golden Wing 1-2-3—was directed by Robot Taekwon V’s creator, Kim Cheong-ki and opened in January 1978. Robot Taekwon V Meets the Golden Wing followed this release by just 6 months. Unfortunately, the flashbacks provided in the sequel do not provide much character information and I was forced to search through the internet and books to find out more. Most confusing are the names. There are two characters referred to as The Golden Wing. The first is the giant blue and red robot. It has not wings of any color but does have gold fins on its helmet. It is operated by a man named Deuk-shim—an overweight man with the comic quirk of only thinking about eating. The second character who answers to the name of The Golden Wing is Heon. Mild-mannered and considered a coward by people who know him, Heon usually slips away when danger strikes. However, upon leaping into the air and completing a summersault, meek Heon was transformed into the super-powerful Golden Wing—or more accurately—Golden Wing 1. With powers of flight, speed and strength and armed with a halberd that discharges a beam of force, this Golden Wing is strong enough to tackle any threat. In his origin film, The Golden Wing 1-2-3, there are two other characters in similar costumes who presumably are Golden Wing 2 and Golden Wing 3, but they make no appearance here.

 The movie opens with a tale from the Bible which had me worried immediately. If you ever sat through Kim Cheong-ki’s animated David and Goliath like I had, then you would understand. Fortunately, the story of the Tower of Babel has its ending changed somewhat as aliens take over the remains of the tower and make it their secret headquarters to prepare for an invasion of Earth. It takes a long time to travel between the stars and over the centuries, the aliens have killed any who approached their lair to preserve the secret. But human technology has advanced. Satellite images show a gigantic bird-like object dubbed the Thunder Bird destroying jets flying over the area. Both Robot Taekwon V and the Golden Wing teams are called in to discover what is going on and deal with the situation. When the two groups meet, the less mature members speculate which robot would win in a fight. Little do they realize, that question will be decisively answered before the end of the movie. Neither do they realize their enemy is already plotting against them.

 The aliens have four agents on Earth. Our heroes are aware of the mighty Thunder Bird, but they know nothing of their other opponents. These are comprised of the human-sized shape-shifter Mutant (pictured on the lower right of the poster), the ponderous Titan (middle-left with Thunder Bird) with density changing powers and the phallic-shaped super computer (upper right) that controls them all and streams a steady signal through space, guiding the invading forces towards our planet. Mutant changes into the form of Golden Wing 1 and attacks Hoon, the chief operator of the Taekwon V robot, while he is meditating. Hoon may have more experience and superior fighting skills, but they prove useless as a defense against the ray of force is emitted from Golden Wing’s weapon. After severely beating Hoon, Mutant takes his form and proceeds to steal Robot Taekwon V. He uses it to attack the headquarters of Team Golden Wing and crushes their buildings to rubble under the robot’s massive feet.

His plan to sow animosity between the two teams fails because of the unexpected appearance of Golden Wing 1. Mutant is saved from being captured by the arrival of the Thunder Bird which snatches him up to return him to the Tower of Babel. However, this does allow the robot teams to track their enemies back to their lair where the battle truly begins. Hoon and Yeong-hee operate Robot Taekwon V very effectively. Tincan Robot, aka Yeong-hee’s little brother with a kettle on his head, handles himself well using his pepper spray against both Mutant and, surprisingly, Titan. Golden Wing 1 flies in for rescues when needed and is instrumental in ending the fight when he goes up alone against the super-computer. And Deuk-shim, in the Golden Wing Robot, dies. Wait, what?

 Yes, you read that right. His giant robot proved to be ineffectual against the threats he was up against. Maybe half the problem was that he was trying to eat an apple during the first half of the fight. However, even when he is actually concentrating on what’s going on, he is useless. He attempts to save Robot Taekwon V from being crushed under the weight of Titan but it takes Tincan Cheol throwing chili powder in the monster’s eye to succeed. He grabs Titan from behind to hold him for his allies to hit, forgetting the amphorous nature of the creature. It easily reverses the hold and squeezes literally flattening the robots mid-section. Deuk-shim shouts at Taekwon V not to be concerned about him and open fire on Titan. Hoon and Yeong-hee agree and the resulting explosion of the Golden Wing Robot kills the monster as well as its driver.

 As usual, the early animated films are fun to watch. Robot Taekwon V still had the look, and more importantly, the feeling of his earlier appearances. References were made to characters and events from earlier movies adding a sense of continuity. Unfortunately, it does not appear that Golden Wing continued. Instead, animators in the seventies and eighties introduced a wide variety of other robots and the teams that drove them. They are for posts at a future date.

 Robot Taekwon V Meets Golden Wing is on DVD however it does not have English subtitles. Just for fun, click the following link (allowing a couple of seconds for it to load) and you can watch and hear the theme songs for both of the titular robots. Click here to watch the clip.

Posted in 1970s, Review | 1 Comment »

The Story of Janghwa and Hongryeon (1972)

14th July 2010

story of janghwa hongryeonI received an order of DVDs yesterday that consisted entirely of the recently released movies of the 60s and 70s that I posted about here. The student in my house, probably tired of preparing for a graduate class, suggested we watch one. I let him pick and he chose Janghwa and Hongryeon.  That probably would not have been my first choice.  Don’t get me wrong, horror is one of my favorite genres, but this film is directed by Lee Yu-seob. In my opinion, he is not one of the better directors of the period. I had previously seen My Sister’s Regrets (1971), a ghost story like this one,  and Sister (1973) one of the worst of the 70s films I have seen. It was overwrought melodrama that constantly strove the make the viewer cry and constantly failed because all the characters were so bland I couldn’t care what happened to them. I think the running time of Sister was something like 70 minutes but it felt like the movie would never end.  Fortunately, Lee does a little bit better with The Story of Janghwa and Hongryeon…but there was a lot of room for improvement.

The story is a classic Korean tale that takes place sometime in the Joseon period and the movie more or less the traditional plot.  Janghwa and Hongryeon are sisters.  Their mother had passed away and their father had remarried Mrs. Heo.  Heo is only interested in her new, wealthy husband’s riches which she wants for herself and her son, Jang-swe whose is mentally challenged and easily controlled by his scheming mother. Heo’s first step towards securing the potential inheritance for her son is to turn the girl’s father against Janghwa, the family favorite. To this end, she has Jang-swe catch and skin a rat and leave it in Janghwa’s bed in the middle of the night. She then awakens her husband on the pretense of hearing a man in the girls’ shared room and then convinces him that the bloody remains of the rat actually belong to an aborted child.  Janghwa’s father is furious that his daughter is not chaste and throws her out of the house. Jang-swe leads her away on horseback to a cliff and then informs Janghwa that he is under orders to kill her. Although he is brandishing a dagger, it seems unlikely he could actually carry out his mother’s plan, but Janghwa, shamed beyond bearing, opts to jump from the cliff on her own accord. A ghost is seen around the village and Heo convinces the family with the help of a dishonest mystic that it is attached to Hongryeon. The young girl is tortured under the guise of exorcism and she is drive mad. Searching for her sister, Hongryeong wanders into the pool at the base of a waterfall and drowns. It would seem that Heo has won except the ghosts of the girls appear to their father and a local magistrate and haunt them until Heo is brought to justice.

janghwa hongryeon 1936One of the things I wished Lee had spent a little more time with is how the ghosts of the title characters were depicted. Whenever they appeared, Lee used a red filter over them and lots of dry ice smog. Except for the fact that their hair was down and they were dressed in white, they looked like two normal women. Even the poster above makes them appear most ghost-like than they ever appear in the movie. That would be fine except that these apparitions were supposed to be so scary that several people die of terror just by looking at them. Now compare that with the 1936 ghost of Janghwa pictured right. The makeup looks pretty good– unfortunately the movie is lost at the moment– so I can’t compare the movies.  Korean  films from the 30s keep slowly turning up so maybe we can see this one day…

A little more effort should have been put into the tiger as well.  This movie takes the same approach to the tiger that Ggotne did. Instead of spending money on a tiger costume or a trained animal, the director opted for a poorly and posed tiger carcass–and not a very large one at that. Some stagehand off camera is holding the tiger’s hindquarters and jiggling the animal around trying to make it look alive.  Since it is posed in one position with glass eyes open and mouth agape–this does not work. It did make me laugh and it made me think, as bad as it was, this tiger was better than the horrible CG tigers in the recent KBS2 version of Gumiho. Trust me–they were bad and their overuse made me turn it off less than halfway the program through never to see the end.

I don’t usually write about the end of a film but in this case I have to.  And since the movie is 30+ years old, I think it will be ok. Plus, it is not exactly the end I want to discuss–it is the supposed end.  The Korean Film Archives (KOFA) gives a plot synopsis that states, at the end of the movie, Janghwa suddenly returns to life after justice is servied and marries the magistrate.  This does not happen.  No one returns from the dead in this movie…although..there is a spot where the bodies are discovered that I had an idea that she was suddenly going start breathing.  I think it might have been in writer Lee Hee-woo’s original script for the movie but someone realized how ridiculous that would have been. The final scene takes place at the shrine for the sisters shows the final fate of their father and step-brother who were not present when the magistrate’s men came to arrest the guilty parties.

It is a shame that the DVD does not have English subtitles which would have introduced the story to a wider audience. Maybe it is not the best of the 70s, and it is much more of a drama than a horror film, but it is the best offering from Lee Yu-seob that I have seen so far and I did enjoy watching the movie in spite of  its faults.

Posted in 1970s, Review | Comments Off

Secret of Troupe 77 (1978)

5th February 2010

secret of troupe 77Originally posted February 22, 2009—There have been a lot of movies lately set in Korea during the age of Japanese rule. Modern Boy, Radio Dayz, Once Upon a Time, Dajjimawa Lee, The Good The Bad and the Weird to name but a few. In those films, we are treated to the brave actions of freedom fighters battling against suppression and dreaming of the day when their nation would be independent once more. A true hero of that time was Bang Jeong-hwan (1899-1931), a writer and staunch supporter of Korean independence. He gained fame in his short lifetime however as a children’s advocate. He wrote stories and plays aimed at children, often with strong patriotic messages, and introduced western fairytales into Korea. In 1926, he wrote the children’s novel, The Secret of Troupe 77–one of approximately 50 of his creations. The story proved to be very popular and enduring. Long after his death the tale of The Secret of Troupe 77 was made into a radio serial, a comic book and finally, in 1978, an animated film.

The Secret of Troupe 77 is not really about the character prominantly featured on the poster. That is the Black Hood, a mysterious figure fighting to free Koreans who have been kidnapped and forced into labor. Instead, it is about two children, Sang-ho and Soon-ja, who were kidnapped as toddlers and sold into a circus. There they were taught to fly on the trapeze and walk the tightrope. They are little more than slaves in the circus but are afraid to attempt escape for fear on incurring the wrath of the circus master and his equally cruel wife.  They also realizes that they have nowhere to go even if they do escape because both were very young when kidnapped and they cannot remember their home .

That all changes one day when an old man enters the big top and announces he is their uncle. He had been searching for the children for the last 9 years and was on the verge of giving up when he received a mysterious note indicating that his niece and nephew were at the circus.  However, before he can get them away from their life of forced entertainment, he is stopped by the members of the circus, badly beaten and thrown out of the circus. They children are also severly punished for listening to the old man’s tale.

All is not lost however. Two mysterious notes arrive, the first for Sang-ho and Soon-ja telling them to slip outside at night where they can be helped by the Black Hood. The other note to the circus master telling him that the Black Hood will attack that night. The circus master arms the members of his troupe and everyone is on edge. A simple distraction is all it takes to get all the members of the troupe rushing outside to fight whom they think is the Black Hood leaving the children free to escape out back. However, the Black Hood did not count on the shrewdness of the wife of the circus master. She succeeds in preventing Soon-ja’s escape but Sang-ho is able to jump the wall. Another trick is required to free Sang-ho’s sister and then the two children make their way to the hospital to see their uncle. However, freedom for Soon-ja is short lived as the circus troupe has learned where they are. Lead by The Viper, who arrived that night from Japan, they kidnap the girl once again and slay the uncle. Sang-ho escapes and receives yet another mysterious note directing him to go to China if he wants to rescue his sister.

The story is quite good although the art is not as well-done as it could be. While I liked the style–very similar to the original Robot Taekwon V and Marachi Arachi–it had some problems. For example, the artist did not pay much attention to the background of the story. It is set in the 1920s yet we see people walking around during a marathon scene wearing mini-skirts. Also the way the children’s father is drawn did not match his description (With his clothes and facial hair looked more like an extra from Fiddler on the Roof than the children’s father). The Secret of Trope 77 is directed by Park Seung-cheol who only has one other film to his name, another animation entitled Space Boy Casey.

This film has recently been made available on DVD by Blue Media. The DVD features a restored version of the movie and most of it is excellent. However, the colors in the last ten or fifteen minutes of the movie are faded and it seems as if this was left unrestored. Unlike many other old animated Korean films that have been given DVD releases in the past few years, The Secret of Troupe 77  has English subtitles making it accessible to foreigners who wish  to have a better understanding of early Korean animation.

Posted in 1970s, Review | Comments Off

Extremely Good Luck (1975)

25th January 2010

extremely good luckShim Woo-seob was a prolific director who debuted in 1959 and continued to make films up to 1983.  In that twenty-four year period, he made a total of 76 films.  With such an impressive number of movies, you might think that his name would come up occassionally in film circles along with his contemporaries like Shin Sang-ok, Im Kwon-taek or Kim Ki-yeong however he remains virtually unknown.  The reason is because the vast majority of his films were comedies. In fact, he was known as the master of the comic film during the 60s and 70s often working with the biggest names in comedy at the time including Ku Bong-seo and Kim Hee-gab. His better known films include Daughter-in-Laws from 8 Provinces (1970) which is one of the numerous ‘Paldo’ movies, and The Male Housemaid (1968).  He also directed The Male Beautician (1968) reviewed earlier on this site.  The vast majority of his films have no deep meaning. They were meant as pure turn-off-your-brain-and-just-watch entertainment.  Extremely Good Luck, like some other Korean comedies of the early 70s, has a very Disney-esque feeling to them. During my childhood in the 70s, Disney studios has moved a little away from cartoons for awhile and was making ‘live-action’ films such as the Apple Dumpling Gang or the North Avenue Irregulars.  While watching Extremely Good Luck, I kept picturing Dick Van Dyke in the role of Sam-ryong.  Van Dyke would have excelled at a role like this and his comic timing and delivery was exactly what this movie needed to make it better.  As this is not on DVD and there is probably a zero percent chance that it ever will be, I will talk a little bit about the plot. 

Sam-ryong (played by Bae Sam-ryong) is a kind-hearted but rather simple man. However, he is also extremely poor. While he may not seem to need much money for himself, his hardworking girlfriend who has been supporting him is now in finacial trouble. Seeing that he has little choice, Sam-ryong decides to become a thief.

Unfortunately, Sam-ryong’s kindness and good-manners work against him in this profession. Before burglarizing any house, he announces his intention loudly to give people a chance to say that they don’t want to be robbed.  His first venture proves successful as the drunken owner of the house gives Sam-ryong the combination to the safe and allows him to take as much as he needs. His next attempts are far less successful. In one of them, he is continually interupted in trying find money to steal by bill collectors at the door. The considerate robber pays each out of his own pocket. He also has to do some errands for the house owner who calls and mistakes him for one of her servants. She arrives home before he can make off with any valuables. In another situation, while casing homes, Sam-ryong thwarts a more ruthless thief played by Lee Ki-dong.  Ki-dong offers to split the loot with him but the honest Sam-ryong cannot accept stolen property and his cries of ‘Thief’ quickly drive Ki-dong away.

Ki-dong becomes a rival of Sam-ryong and the two encounter each other at almost every robbery with the latter coming out on top. Sam-ryong never actually steals anything else though. He winds up returning a briefcase he found containing some important documents but talks the reward money down as he doesn’t need the full amount that was being offered. And while breaking into another house, he manages to stop a murder plot from being carried out. Both of these situations demonstrate his honesty and sense of responsibilty and make for a happy end to the film.

The film is mildly entertaining, suffering a bit with the passing of more than three decades. However, its biggest problem lies in the execution and timing of the sight gags. Something that his funny once is dragged out until it wears out its welcome. This is especially true in the tiger rug scene where a tiger skin falls on the stunned Sam-ryong and he crawls around the house terrifying people. The first person he encounters screams and faints dead away. So does the second. And the third. And the fourth and fifth.  It was funny once. I was willing to let it slide the second time. But five times were too many.

Although it was not a great movie and a little on the childish side, I would be willing to see more by this director.  I wish there were more interest in older films where someone could put together a Shim Woo-seob or a Ku Bong-seo DVD boxset and people would be interested in buying it. But with the lack of interest and current state of the DVD market, I do not think that will be happening soon.

Posted in 1970s, Review | Comments Off

The Life of Ok-Rye (1977)

9th January 2010

life of okryeOriginally posted July 30, 2007–One of Korea’s most recognized names in directing films is Im Kwon-taek. He is perhaps best known for his more recent works such as Low Life and Chunhyang but he has been around for years. Ask most Korean men over thirty about their favorite movies and they will certainly list Im’s Son of the General  series among them and he gained quite a bit of critical acclaim with his masterpiece Seopyeonje.

However, Im Kwon-taek has been around a long time, debuting sometime in the early 1960’s. He rarely mentions his older films because he claims to be embarassed by them. I, for one, think that is a shame.  Although his older works, generally gangster/action films or melodramas, do tend to be a little simple–they reflect the film-making techniques and formulas of the times. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but rather provides an interesting look history–both of when these films were made and when they take place.

In the case of The Life of Ok-Rye, the viewer is treated to something that is both interesting and entertaining (which, as we know, are not necessarily the same thing). The entire film takes place on Cheju Island. When we first meet Ok-Rye, she is working as one of the island’s famed women divers, harvesting seafood from the deep to support her enormous family. She has something like seven or eight siblings and a sick father. Because times are hard, Ok-Rye’s parents accept an offer from a family on another part of the island and allow Ok-Rye marry their son, sight unseen, for a sum of money. 

Ok-Rye dutifully travels to the family’s house on a mountainside with her uncle who arranged the union and that very evening she finds herself participating in a marriage ceremony. Both she and her uncle receive a shock when the groom turns out to be severly handicapped. Uncertain what to do, Ok-Rye continues with the ceremony while her drunken uncle’s loud protests are quickly silenced with the offer of food and spirits.

Unable to uncurl his legs or arms, Ok-rye’s husband is carried from place to place by friends or various family members.  On the night following the wedding ceremony, everyone’s unease is palpable. Her in-laws clearly love their son and are worried that this wedding will not work, her husband who has not yet spoken to her seems as if he might be mentally challenged as well and Ok-Rye entertains thoughts of running away.

But, as it turns out, Ok-Rye’s husband not only very intelligent, he is extremely kind. Ok-Rye returns the kindness as well and begins a physical therapy program on his arm. Both mother and father-in-law treat Ok-Rye as they would their own daughter and life seems good—until Ok-Rye’s father comes to visit. One look at his son-in-law’s shrivelled limbs and he is dragging Ok-Rye back home.  Ok-Rye is now torn between duty to her husband and duty towards her parents.

Eventually, Ok-Rye chooses to return to her husband without her father’s blessing and for awhile life is good. She becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, but that same day her father-in-law dies.  From that time on, Ok-Rye’s life becomes a constant struggle.  She has an infant to take care of, her mother-in-law has fallen ill and cannot get out of bed, and her husband, who also cannot leave the house, is becoming suspicious of Ok-Rye believing that she may be having an affair with his best friend who is helping her on their farm.  Soon the entire village comes to believe that she is having an affair and she is ostracized.  How she copes with all of these problems is the subject of the second half of the film.

The movie is quite good and better than many similar melodramas of the times.  For example, Lee Yoo-seob’s movie Sister (1973) is so meladramatic that it is laughable. So many random and horrible things happen to main character of that film that it slips headfirst into the ridiculous and it is almost unwatchable. However, Im Kwon-taek handled Ok-Rye’s problems in a logical way–they build on each other and each of her setbacks are not met with an overblown deluge of tears or by the main character bemoaning her fate. In fact, the theme of The Life of  Ok-Rye is that we can overcome any adversity we encounter through hard, honest work and a quietly positive outlook on life.

The Life of Ok-Rye may not be for everyone. The slow-motion flashback scenes may set  modern viewers to daydreaming themselves. But it is certainly worth a look and offers a better than average example of a melodrama from decades past.

Posted in 1970s, Review | Comments Off

Neumi (1979)

9th January 2010

neumiDirector Kim Ki-yeong is rightfully remembered for his innovative film making throughout the 1960s and 70s.  His most famous movie, The Housemaid (1960), remains on lists as one of the greatest Korean films of all times.  But that was not his only film. His movies Woman of Fire (1971) and Insect Woman (1972) were very well received even at a time when censorship was at its strongest.  Neumi (1979) is another film that deserves wider recognition.

Neumi is a melodrama which revolves around the relationship between Yoon Joon-tae and a young mute woman for whom the movie is named. Joon-tae is college educated and a young man of priviledge. He takes a small room near a brick factory although ‘factory’ may be the wrong word.  There is a small dilapidated plant where clay is pressed into thick square rods and chopped by hand into brick-sized chunks. These are then carried out by numerous workers to dry in large stacks in a muddy, grey field. Rows upon rows of these bricks create a depressing environment and that depression is mirrored on the faces of the workers laboring there.

Living in a shabby hut with old foreman Shin and an infant daughter is the beautiful Neumi played by Jang Mi-hee.  She works right alongside the men (as do many other women) carrying cartloads of bricks to the fields and loading up trucks to supply the developing nation with building material.  Neumi is oddly expressionless but dutifully serves Shin with her whole heart.  She shaves him, washes his feet and cuts his food into bite sized pieces even though he makes it quite clear that he believes her to be a second-class citizen.  For his part, Shin is very possessive of her and when she takes gum from a truck driver the foreman wastes no time in slapping her across the face.

That was probably a mistake for in the very next scene, the truck driver backs his vehicle up onto Shin, crushing him between the truck and a building and burying him under a ton of bricks.  The driver makes no effort to hide his actions and happily tells Neumi that he has freed her–only to have her fly into a grief-filled rage and beat him, screaming like a wounded animal the entire time.

Joon-tae, fascinated with Neumi, begins to look in on her and take care of her. At first he makes her food and then he buys her new clothes. Followed by furniture, a tv and other luxuries that seem quite out of place in her dingy hovel.  The ridiculousness of his gifts is highlighted when Neumi goes out to lug bricks around in a brilliantly colored red dress and long necklace.  Joon-tae does not notice–in fact, Joon-tae is oblivious to pretty much everything and treats everything he does like its a game. When he first tours the factory and helps the workers load the bricks in trucks or takes them to the fields, it feels as if he is playing. His treatment of Neumi is the same–it looks as if he is playing with a Barbie-doll–putting on her makeup, dressing her up and buying her gifts she couldn’t possibly use.

The other workers notice though. When Neumi was one of them, she was accepted. Now she appears to be the mistress of a rich young man (despite the fact that they held a pretend wedding), the other workers watch her with baleful glares. Of course, Joon-tae doesn’t notice their looks and, meeting a mob of workers outside Neumi’s house after spending the night with her, Joon-tae greets them all exuberantly because he thinks they are there to congratulate him on his ‘wedding’.  But as soon as Joon-tae rounds the corner to go to work, the workers turn on Neumi and literally tear down her house with their bare hands. Neumi has nowhere to go but to move in with Joon-tae. But this causes problems in itself as the people moving in Joon-tae’s circle are not ready to accept a mute woman from such a vastly different social class.

That is the main theme to this film–the difference in social class and failed attempts to rise above one’s station.  And while no direct criticism of the unrestrained development or the plight of the workers would have passed censors of the time, the director manages to make his feelings on the matter quite clear through his depiction of life among the labors and the actions of under-priviledged people shown throughout the film’s 90 minute running time. The filmography is beautiful (even if my video’s quality is not the best) but dismal at the same time gray and reds fill the screen  and the music for this film is quite unique. Frequently the score seems to be two drumsticks being hit together with the speed and intensity of their beat matching the scenes’ contents.  There is so much that happens in this film that I have not mentioned–a horrifying suicide/double murder attempt, a spiteful secretary spurned by Joon-tae who, as usual does not even know her feelings towards him, and the return of the truck driver obsessed with Neumi.   However, it is the ending of this movie that stays with me whenever I watch it.  The finale is quite shocking and unexpected but unfortunately, I cannot reveal it here.  It is something that you should see for yourself if this is ever released onto dvd.  This movie is definitely at the top of the list of my favorite films from the 1970s.

Posted in 1970s, Review | Comments Off

A Car That Runs On Water (1974)

26th November 2009

car that runs on water Originally posted December 7, 2007–The 1970s saw an increase in the number of films released for a younger audience. High school students in particular were the target of filmmakers  in an effort to lure people into theaters. The entire movie industry was suffering for a variety of reasons but most importantly because of the wider availabilty of television.   During this period, Yalgae, a Highschool Joker  and its sequels and the Im Ye-jin’s trilolgy of  I Really, Really Like You, I Really Really Hate You and Really Really Don’t Forget  were made and became very popular.  Another movie.  A Car That Runs on Water, directed by Lee Hyeong-pyo, follows along this vein of films.  I found it to be worlds better that the Highschool Jokers movies–overacted yes, but with a genuine sense of fun.

The story is about two sets of roommates living across the street from one another, the first set, three young women, move into a plush rental and quickly establish themselves as ‘the brainy one’, the artistic/tomboy, and the musician.  Their neighbors from across the road are three young men..a brainy wanabee inventor, an athlete and a musician. Even before we see their interactions, we can guess with certainty who will end up with whom. 

As is standard in this kind of film, their first meeting of these soon-to-be couples is antagonistic.  They get into a war over which house can make the most noise to disturb the other after the girls have mocked the boys’ pasttimes.  However, it is not long before they have a mutual admiration society started and they are all falling in love.

There is an out of place subplot that is pure melodrama that was added in to perhaps give the film some form of drama or suspense. It involves ‘the athlete’ who has been working as a bodyguard for a wealthy divorcee. She has been trying her hardest to seduce him while he stoicly refuses to respond to her advances though never making a move to decidely escape them for fear of being fired. ‘Artistic/tomboy’ gets a job in the same house as a tutor to the wealthy woman’s daughter only to witness and misinterpret a situation occuring in the master bedroom. All in all, it is a minor subplot that is unimportant to the rest of the film

Lee Hyeong-pyo does an excellent job capturing the exuberance of his young characters and he would take on another youthful drama/comedy with his film Mi-In in 1975.

Posted in 1970s, Review | 2 Comments »