Seen in Jeonju

Archive for the '1970s' Category

A Woman with Half a Soul (1973)

14th November 2009

woman with half a soulOriginally posted July 26, 2007–I had the opportunity to watch the 1973 classic A Woman With Half A Soul the other night.  It was a surprisingly good film directed by legendary Shin Sang-ok who was able to imbue the atmosphere and feeling of the Universal monster movies of the 1930s such as Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy.

Looking at the above ad, one would never realize that this is a horror film. In fact, the ad seems to dedicate a lot of space to the lead actress rather than revealing much of anything about the movie. That is because the lead actress was none other than the great Hong Kong actress Li Ching. Throughout the seventies, Hong Kong films were very popular. Shaw Brothers’ releases enjoyed a high degree of success. Li Ching was a staple of those ‘kungfu’ films but in the early 70’s she did made a handful of Korean films. One was the melodramatic A School Mistress. Another was this competent horror film.

The story is about the handsome young noble Han Do-ryeong who comes across a house in the forest. Living in the house is the beautiful Yeon-hwa and her elderly guardian. Clearly attracted to each other, Han makes his way each night to their house and the young couple fall in love. What Han doesn’t know is that everyone in the village fears the name of Yeon-hwa.  One night, his servants follow him to his lovers house, however they are shocked to see Han conversing with no one at all. There is not even a house..Han is sitting on the forest floor talking to himself. The merely strange becomes the terrifying when Yeon-hwa’s guardian makes her presence known and the servants are lucky to escape wih their lives. Everyone else who sees the true face of the guardian dies of fright.

Yeon-hwa seems like a very sympathetic ghost. After all, she is merely looking for someone to love, right?  Well…I was thinking that too until she and her guardian attack the customers at a bar–scaring some of the revelers to death when they reveal their gruesome features. As Han is forced to confront the true nature of his lover, the ghosts become more desperate. What do they want? And how does Han fit in with their plans?  I don’t want to spoil the ending so these are questions you will have to find out for yourself if a dvd of this film is ever released.  It seems an increasing number of older films are slowly finding their way to dvd—so maybe you won’t have to wait long.

This is a very easy film to watch. It is very well paced and the acting is quite good, and Han’s servants steal quite a few scenes.  This is one that I highly recommend.

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Mystery of the Title Change

14th October 2009

6 million dollar man 26 million dollar man 1Originally published January 28, 2008—I was digging through newspapers today from 1977 I came across this ad for the Korean made film The Six Million Dollar Man directed by Kim Shi-hyeon and released  on July 24.  The following week, the ad appeared again with a significant change.  No–it is not the way the number is written–that is the same difference as writing 6 million as 6,000,000. The major difference is that the title changed–the first ad reads ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’. The way it appears in that first ad is the way tv schedules at the time had written the name of the tv show starring Lee Majors which was airing at that time in Korea. The second ad deletes the word ‘Man’ altogether. It simply reads ‘Six Million Dollars’.  Interestingly, this latter style is the way it is recorded in the Korean Film Archives as well.  What was the reason for this? Were there complaints from people going to the theater expecting to see their television hero only to find themselves watching a knock-off starring someone else. They should have expected that..the first ad plainly states that this Six Million Dollar Man ‘can’t be seen on television.’  Was there a sudden fear of a lawsuit on the part of the producers.

Who starred in this movie is actually in question. The ads above list Bionic Man as being played by David William.  That is what I will eventually go by when I start typing up the cast list for this movie. However, the Korean Film Archive lists the main actor as a man named John K. Justice–though they do list a co-star as Nick Williams.  A book I have which was published in 1986 states the Bionic Man was played by John K. Jullus (the spelling is an approximation as the credits in the book are in Korean).  One of the co-stars in the film is Joan Wells–according to the ads above. However, the Korean Film Archives  lists her as Kelly Wells.

I guess this is going to be a mystery until I can actually see the credits for the film–which fortunately is housed at KoFa

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Maruchi, Arachi (1977)

10th October 2009

maruchi arachiOriginally posted February 20, 2008– In the late 1970s and throughout the 80s, Korean animation was dominated by giant robots.  More often than not, they were often imitations of Japanese-made cartoons or pale imitations of the earlier Robot Taekwon V.  However, that does not mean that cartoonists were not offering quality films–they were. And Maruchi, Arachi was one of the highlights.

Maruchi, Arachi was directed by Im Jeong-gyu who, unfortunately, made surprisingly few films.  The story seemed like a cross between the Hong Kong kungfu revenge films popularized by the Shaw Brothers in the seventies and a James Bond adventure. It was also featured an interesting blend of impossibly high-tech machines and mystical fantasy. On the downside, it also has quite a few childish features but these would have proven necessary for younger viewers–especially the inclusion of Doli and Jumbaki (more on them later)–for despite the action, the plot is rather heavy and serious for young viewers.

The story begins with Miss Jang and Mr. Yang hiking through the mountains where Disneyesque birds and animals frolic. They discover a cave that is obviously inhabited and, being hungry after their long walk, immediately begin eating the food they find there. The young owners of the cave are surprised to have guests but are far more gracious than I would have been in the circumstances as they offer yet more food and shelter to the pair.  The cave-dwellers are none other than Maruchi and Arachi a boy and girl respectively who appear to be about 16 years old (Arachi may be a little younger). They explain that they were raised in this cave by an elderly man who was an expert of the martial arts. However, he was slain by a large, flying skull surrounded by blue flames that shot lightning from its eyes. The children have been on their own since. Jang immediately suggests that the children accompany them back to civilization. Jang is a teacher and Yang is a taekwondo instructor.  With them the children can study and hone their skills.

And hone their skills they do. The pair quickly proove that they are superior fighters to anyone training at the taekwondo gym so Yang gives them their own personal training routine. Later, Maruchi is entered into an international taekwondo match and seems to be sure to win when suddenly the competition is interrupted by a hideous green combatant. He quickly takes out Maruchi’s opponent and almost kills the boy before escaping.

The puppy belonging to Jang’s younger brother chases after the attacker and trails him to his hideout. He watches as the man uses a de-aging/aging machine to transform back to his natural age and then report to none other than the floating skull, Blue Skull 13!  The plucky puppy then makes his way back to Jang’s house where the police and army are alerted. They storm the house led by Maruchi and Arachi, but the skull escapes along with his second in command, the evil green-skinned woman named Para.  The house blows up behind him leaving no clue as to where the skull may have gone.

However, the question of the skull takes a back seat to a more important event coming up–a Nuclear Scientist Peace Council is being held at a secret underwater facility. Jang’s father is a nuclear physicist and so Maruchi and Arachi are invited. The submerged convention center has everything an underwater resort could need but while the scientists are all relaxing around the pool, the facility is attacked by dozens of sharks belonging to an agent of Blue Skull. As all assembled scramble to the submarines before the domed resort is completely flooded a gigantic mechanical sea serpent makes its appearance and begins firing missiles at the seemingly doomed scientists!

The excitement continues as the movie takes us from Korea to the Arctic Sea to the Himalayas. Besides swarms of killer sharks and sea monsters, the heroes also confront yeti, a mermaid and the trained assassins of the Blue Skull before the heroes can take on the mastermind behind all their problems. Much of the movie is quite good and I especially liked how Arachi is treated as an equal to Maruchi. No one ever tells her to stay behind because she is a girl.  In fact, its just the opposite.  She is ordered out of the sub to take care of all the sharks (there are about 30) as her brother battles the sea monster. Her training is also the same as her brother’s both from the old man in the mountain and from Yang.

There are a few bad points as well. As an adult–I hated whenever Doli and his dog appeared.  Doli serves as a child identification figure. He does not advance the plot at all. His dog Jumbaki does more than he does including figuring out how to work the de-aging machine, finding the Blue Skulls lair and stopping a sniper from killing the heroes.  However, his tinny barks are earsplitting and he is never a welcome sight on screen because of them.

Unfortunately, there is not yet a subtitled DVD but those interested in seeing classic Korean animation other than Robot Taekwon V may be interested in watching this anyway as it is a rare look at cartoons of the past.

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A Schoolmistress (1972)

8th October 2009

schoolmistressOriginally posted October 1, 2007–Back in July, I wrote of a horror movie called The Woman With Half A Soul starring the Hong Kong star Li Ching.  At that time, I mentioned that she appeared in several other Korean productions that were made in the early 1970s.  Last night I had the chance to view another of them, her 1972 film A Schoolmistress directed by Lee Hyeong-pyo.  Lee directed more than 80 films between 1961 and 1986.  Depsite the speed at which he was required to make films to meet production quotas, his movies were often enjoyable if not necessarily creative.  His 1975 film A Beauty remains memorable to me because of the dreamworld that the main character lives in comprised of scenes from old Hollywood movies and Farewell 2 which starred singer Patty Kim in the superior musical follow-up (not really a sequel) to Shin Sang-ok’s 1973 film Farewell.

A Schoolmistress is pure melodrama.  Li Ching plays Miss Yang Chae-hwa, who is Chinese-Korean.  She spent the first 12 years of her life in Korea but then moved to Hong Kong with her mother after her parents had separated.  Now, 13 years later, she’s back in Seoul having taken a job at a girl’s school as an English teacher.  On her first day she meets Park Ho-cheol, the art teacher played by Shin Seong-il, with whom she will fall in love, the middle-aged, prudish Miss Oh, the teacher who supervises the girls’ dorm where Yang will be staying, and perky student Eun-ok played with over-the-top abandon by Ahn In-sook.

Eun-sook is determined to become best friends with the new teacher, giving her presents, showing her around Seoul but starts to become jealous when she realizes that her favorite teacher, Park Ho-cheol, has developed feelings for the exotic newcomer.  The situation goes from a light rivalry for Ho-cheol’s attention to all out war when Eun-sook learns that Chae-hwa is actually her half-sister!  You see, after Chae-hwa and her mother left for Hong Kong Eun-ok’s father remarried.  This proabably would not be a problem except he never divorced Chae-hwa’s mother who is now on her way to Seoul to meet her husband.

Fearing that her family is about to be torn apart, Eun-ok decides to take revenge on the new teacher and her former crush whom she feels has betrayed her.  During a rage-spawned hysteria where she struggles with Ho-cheol, the sleeve of her blouse is torn and her hair disheveled. Eun-ok makes her way to Miss Oh’s room where she spins a tale about Ho-cheol saying that the teacher attacked and tried to rape her.

What happens to Ho-cheol, Chae-hwa, Eun-ok and her family? Well, you’ll have to watch it to find out.  But a warning…this one is hard to get through.  Not because of the story which is quite an effective melodrama (I admit to sheading a tear by the end).’s difficult to watch because of Ahn In-sook’s performance. Even when she is not causing trouble, the character of Eun-ok is annoying because of her overactions.  Everything is done in excess by her whether its happiness, rage or saddness it I found her to be completely unsympathetic even before her lies that threaten to destroy several lives.

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Shim Cheong (1972)

8th October 2009

shim cheongOriginally posted September 24, 2007—There are three or four Korean legends that are regularly adapted into films.  The story of Chunhyang probably has the been made into movies the most number of times. Janghwa, Hongryeon follows closely behind that and the next would by the legend of Shim Cheong.

Shim Cheong is the story of a young woman devoted to her blind father.  Her one wish is that she can find a way to cure him of his blindness.  She learns from a man from China that she has there is a ritual that she can perform, but it will be at the cost of her own life.  Nevertheless, the brave Shim Cheong eagerly volunteers to become a part of that rite which the Chinese sailor will be performing to appease the gods of the sea.  Bidding her father goodbye, Shim Cheong is then taken to sea and in the midst of a tempest, thrown overboard.  The woman sinks directly to the bottem and discovers, to her surprise, that she does not need to breathe as she embarks on an adventure across the ocean floor.

The underwater fantasy requires good special effects and a director who knows what he’s doing and in these areas, the movie succeeds brilliantly. The director of Shim Cheong is none other that Shin Sang-ok who is able to propel the film from a simple fable of devotion to one’s parents to an outright fantasy epic.  Especially enchanting are the underwater scenes.  The set was meticulously constructed with enormous corals, seaweeds and seashells.  The floor of the set is a mixture of flowing silks and actual puddles of water, both of which ripple from the action of a powerful fan.  The fan is also useful for causing the garments and hair of Cheong and the people she meets on the ocean floor to wave around them as if they really are underwater as them move around with exaggerated slowness.  Fish are added in distance shots by shooting through an aquarium. Unfortunately they used a freshwater aquarium and the presence of familar tropical fish of home aquaria (tiger bars, kissing gouramis, platies and mollies) destroy the illusion a little.  But all in all it is quite a convincing effect.

This is certainly my favorite version of the Legend of Shim Cheong and frankly, after watching it again, I am very surprised that it was not included in the recent boxed set of Shin Sang-ok films.  Be sure to watch it if it ever is released on dvd though…it is yet another example of Shin Sang-ok’s exceptional talent.

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