Seen in Jeonju

Archive for the '1960s' Category

Trailers of Revenge- Final

13th July 2013

black design scarf
This will be the final entry that I have for REVENGE WEEK and I wanted to save the best for last. Yesterday’s theme of having a hitherto unknown family member exacting revenge on a victim touches a little on today’s theme of a stranger in the house.

Home and hearth hold a special place in our hearts. A home is supposed to be a refuge from the work, stress, confusion and peril of the outside world. However, that does not mean that one can stay in isolation within the house. Friends, family and possibly repairmen come and go and domestic staff may need to be hired to handle excessive work around larger homes. These maids or butlers move among and around the family members, always present but outside. Korean films, especially from the sixties and seventies, often contain a maid, a cook or a driver. A week could be spent on the housemaids themselves because they come in such a variety of styles—the comic country bumpkin, the saucy loving type and the sultry seductress. There are also the innocents who fall in love with the family’s eldest son, those mortally in fear of losing their jobs because they are supporting their entire families, and the vengeance-filled lunatics.

Of course, for Revenge Week, I will be looking at one in that final category from the 1960s. She appears in a Kim Ki-duk (I) film from 1966 called The Black Design Scarf. When her child is killed in a hit and run accident, this woman played by Kim Ji-mi, does a little research and finds the owner of the car. She learns that this wealthy driver is having an affair that she does not wish her husband to know about, hence the reason for speeding. The grieving mother steels her nerves and hides her raw emotions beneath an increasingly cold exterior and manages to get herself hired as a housemaid in the rich woman’s home. The goal she has set for herself is nothing less than killing the murderer’s child.

For a long time she watches and waits for the perfect opportunity but after several missed chances, she realizes that she does not wish to become a killer herself. Breaking down, she confesses everything to her employer and forgives her. The wealthy woman surprisingly does not fire her on the spot but guilt-ridden over her own crime, she kills herself, leaving her child to be raised by the housemaid.
Unfortunately, this movie is lost, existing only as scenarios, advertisements and images so I cannot provide more details…

Wait a minute.. forgiveness? Redemption? Those are not part of a revenge film, are they? Well, yes they are. At any point, in any revenge film, these elements are an option but depending on the genre, we don’t often expect to see them. In the case of Black Design Scarf, the film is a melodrama—and starring Kim Ji-mi, so we could expect a lot of crying. Other films containing revenge-crazed housemaids may be horror or thrillers and thus we can expect a different end.

For housemaid madness, you can’t beat the original. Here is a recently-made trailer for the 1960 classic The Housemaid. C’mon Myoung-ja, you crazy nicotine fiend, show us how revenge is done right!

Finally, I would like to thank Modern Korean Cinema for opening up Revenge Week and for Pierce Conran for inviting me to take part. I look forward to any other events MKC may consider hosting!

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Five Marines (1961)

23rd June 2013

Five Marines– Director Kim Ki-duk (1)– starring: Shin Yeong-gyun, Choi Moo-ryong, Hwang Hae, Kwak Gyu-seok and Park No-shik. Running Time: 118 minutes.
five marines 1961 Last night I had the chance to watch this classic war movie and I could not pass it up. How could I? The cast list above reads like a Who’s Who of actors from late 50s/early 60s in Korean cinema and it also included such powerhouses as Kim Seung-ho, Hwang Jeong-soon and Dok Go-seong. It was also the debut film of one of the most prolific directors of the 1960s, Kim Ki-duk. No, not the Kim Ki-duk who is directing films such as Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter..and Spring and Pieta. This is the original Kim Ki-duk who made 66 films in the course of his 16 year career.. and 49 of them were in a 9 year period! Of course, just because he could wrap of shooting and move on to the next project quickly does not make him a great director. In fact, most of his films are just passable with a few standout movies. His best films include Barefoot Youth (1964) and South and North (1965) while his most memorable film is probably Yonggari, Monster From the Deep (1967). However, if I were to put together a list of five or so directors who best represented Korean filmmaking in the 60s, Kim Ki-duk would certainly make that list. As I said, his films may not have been the best or most creative, but they were all relatively mainstream for the time and closely followed the trends that audiences were following or the ideals the government demanded.

The Five Marines is an example of that. It follows the feeling and structure of many World War II movies made in the west just after that war. In fact, while I was watching this film, I jotted in my notes that John Wayne would have been in it if it had been made in the west– especially in some of the more unrealistic battle scenese. Now, that note might have been a little bit unfair. I do not care for John Wayne films at all and the Five Marines is better than the majority of his films as the machismo is kept to a minimum.

Of course, there is a lot of macho posturing in this film– it is almost inevitable in this type of movie where male egos compete or chaff against being a subordinate to a higher ranking officer. But it is moderated as the film attempts to humanize each of the priniciple characters with flashbacks to their home and civilian lives. We spend the most time learning about Oh Deok-soo played by Shin Yeong-gyun. He is in the unenviable position of serving on the front lines with his father as the commanding officer–a father he feels has let him down through the years prior to the war. Deok-soo is devoted to the memory of his mother. He feels his father is not doing enough to remember her. Worse, his elder brother seems to be self-destructing by taking to drink heavily and disrespecting their deceased parent by bringing home a young woman of ill-repute on the eve of the anniversary of their mother’s death. Of course, the dynamics in the Oh family household are meant to represent the situation in Korea building up to the war with Deok-soo representing the south, his brother representing the north and their mother representing the lost Joseon Empire which ended when the Japanese took control of the pennisula in 1910 and which was the last time that Korea was a whole, independent nation.

While Shin was an excellent actor, I feel this area of the film could have been improved by using a younger man to play the role of Deok-soo. At the time of filming, Shin was 33– which of course is not old at all. However, his character Oh Deok-soo is supposed to be hurt and bitter about how his father, by his inaction in punishing his older brother, seems to favor one over the other. This level of petulance, while never pretty, is at least understandable when a person is in their teens. It is far less sympathetic when a person is in their 30s and unfortunately, I just wanted to shake him and say, “Get over it!” rather than feel any empathy with him.

Each of the characters get a home seen as well and these are possibly easier for audience member to connect to as they say goodbye to their mothers, wives and/or girlfriends prior to leaving for the war. These little snippets into their personal lives are all touching in their own ways and do well to add a little bit of depth to these characters who otherwise would just be stereotypes of different age groups of parts of society. While the seen where Kim Hong-goo (Hwang Hae) leaves his elderly mother is supposed to be the most heart-wrenching, I was most interested in the goodbye-scene given to Ha Yong-gyu (Nam Yang-il). Yong-gyu, the nicest guy on the front, states at one point that he is an orphan and has no idea where he was born. When he says goodbye to the girl he loves, their are hardly any words spoken. He calls to her outside her window on the ground floor. When she goes to the window open window, the couple just hold hands, seperated by her house. I felt it was clear that the pair were not supposed to be meeting– that possibly her parents did not approve of their daughter meeting with an orphan (not an uncommon trope in Korean films from this era) and their love was in secret. It was a successful scene because I wanted to know more.

In this type of film, where a small group of soldiers volunteer for a dangerous mission for the greater good of the rest of their fellow military men, you have to expect that some, most or all will not make it back to base. This question kept me watching until the end of the movie which went rather later into the early morning than I would have liked. But it is to the movies credit that it kept me awake and curious until the end. I would give this film a 5 our of 10 stars. It is certainly a good film and representative for its time, but keep in mind that modern audiences.. who seem to have no patience for black and white films, understated special effects and slower pacing.. will probably not appreciate this movie.

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Drifting Islands (1960)

19th March 2012

drifting islandsIt was with high expectations that I started watching Drifting Islands this past Sunday.  After all, it is part of the excellent Landscape After the War DVD collection which included The Widow, Flower in Hell and Money. Each of the films in this set looks at the struggle to survive in a country freshly out of a devastating war and in the throes of confusing and often painful changes. However, I was a little disappointed with this movie. It may have been the running time, at 124 minutes, may have been too long and the film could have been trimmed or it may have been the changes made to the movie from its source material. You see, Drifting Islands was based on a novel by Park Kyeong-ri… but the director wanted to make the movie more melodramatic and to create a love story based on the ideal of love rather than the realism of the novel and of Korean society at the end of the 50s when it was written. The movie focuses on Kang Hyeon-hee and her struggles for survival, not just for herself but for her elderly mother and young daughter as well. In doing so, she opens a coffee shop which instantly lowers her social status. This may be a point that would seem strange to people who have never been to Korea, or those who have only been in Korea for the past few years. Before Starbucks, Angel In Us, Tom and Tom, Cafe Benne and dozens of other coffee shop chains colonized Korea, the expression “coffee shop” was interchangable with “dabang.”  These days, in Korean movies and dramas, you will often see “dabang girls” delivering coffee on the back of scooters to customers who call them and they have a reputation for being friendly for a little extra money. This is not the case with all dabangs, but just how “friendly” depends on the place for which they work .  In the movie, the establisment of  Ms Kang..or Madame Kang as she is called by her customers… is above reproach, although one or two of her employees do not help the reputation of coffee shops at that time. Kang’s former classmates even ask her cattily, after being invited to visit the shop, if it is the type of place a lady can visit.  Women of breeding simply did not go to coffee shops without risking their reputation.

But Kang Hyeon-hee has another fact working against her that lowers her social status even further. She is a single mother. At the time, it was not uncommon for women to be raising children alone…the war had claimed the lives of many fathers. However, her daughter was born out of wedlock. Both she and her boyfriend were struggling university students who started to live together to save money.  Their baby was an accident and there was not time to get married when the war broke out.  Hyeon-hee’s mother does not condemn her daughter for her choices and loves her grand-daughter, perhaps more than Hyeon-hee does. When advising one of her employees on an unwanted pregnancy, Hyeon-hee tells her to “get rid of it and live your own life.”  Not quite the words one would expect to hear from a doting mother nor one who named her coffee shop ‘Madonna’ which brings to mind images of a loving, self-sacrificing mother.

Then again, Hyeon-hee says a lot of things that may have  been surprising at the time and were perhaps leftovers from the source novel. For example, when discussing chastity with one of her employees, Hyeon-hee states bluntly “Chastity isn’t important” and even her addition of “but [sex] should be together with love” does not mitigate just how far removed her stance is from the ideal of ‘one love” that is often seen in films from around the world.  Later, a male character states the “Chastity is the most important thing to a woman” showing clearly the 1950s ideal of romantic love from a male perspective. 

According to the information supplied by KOFA with the DVD, the novel was popular for the very reason that it was based on reality. In the novel, Hyeon-hee gives up all notions of romantic love with a married man and settles for stability with a different man before giving up on him as well and choosing simply to live for herself.  In the movie, the undying love between Hyeon-hee and the married Sang-hyeon is the most important aspect of the film. Sang-hyeon takes some drastic, life-changing steps to ensure that their love will have a chance.  The second man who holds a prominent part in the novel, is reduced to a kindly, family friend whom I was not aware was meant to be in love with Hyeon-hee. 

While the story was watered down to cater to what audiences of 1950/60s melodramas expected–idealized love– there were some great performances in this film. Outshining both lead actors was Uhm Aeng-ran in the supporting role of Gwang-hee. Her character was hopelessly in love with a selfish, drunken poet of limited prospects. Her story even gains precedence over the main plot at one point in the film as Gwang-hee’s life becomes a “what if…” version of Hyeon-hee’s.  What if Hyeon-hee had had an abortion? What if Hyeon-hee had taken that extra step with the coffee shop and become a “fallen woman” –her words– as she threatens to do on more than one occassion.  Through Gwang-hee’s tragedy, we can see what would have happened, as well as the dangers the filmmaker (or novelist) felt inherent in  straying too far from what was socially acceptable.

I am not sure who is the actress, but Miss Yoo in the coffee shop is made into an interesting bit character through talent of the woman playing her. She does not have many lines, but her glances, expressions and body language elevate her and give her more of a personality than some people who have much more screen time.

This is not a bad film, but one I think I would have enjoyed more if I were actually familar with the novel and were able to compare and contrast the two while watching.

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Mist (1967)

25th February 2012

mistBefore I begin this review, I want to say that I am using the title, Mist, with the greatest reluctance.  While making the index plates I have been posting, I have found that a fair number of Korean films of the 60s and 70s had English names at the time of their release. Often these names appear on the advertisements and posters but when KOFA built its website, it did not have access to most of these (many posters were donated sometime around 2005 by a collector) so the Film Archives simply provided literal translations of the titles.  In this case, 안개 became Mist.  However, there was no need to do this.  I do not know if they had the poster on hand when they added the this movie to the website, but they certainly had the film.  As we can see on the image above, the movie was to be called Foggy Town in English and this title is also written on the title card during the opening credits of the film.  But as this DVD of this film is sold as Mist in English, that is what I must call it. But Wwy the change?  I can understand if the title is awkward or grammatically incorrect..and I have even seen some that were spelled wrong in English… but there is nothing wrong with Foggy Town and it is certainly descriptive of the film’s location, Mujin.  

Mujin appears to be a fictional city. Judging from how long it takes to get there from Seoul, the fact that it is on the coast, and the fact that it has salt marshes and no crashing waves, it must be meant to be located on the south or southwest shore. One person on the bus mentions that it has a fairly large population but we learn that most people in the town looks down on his or her neighbor as, at best, mediocre examples of humanity. It seems to be many of the citizens’ dream to escape the boredom and loneliness of Mujin and go to Seoul or risk losing their minds.

Yoon Gi-joon was one of the lucky few that managed to escape and better his life. Not through his own work though, because he met a rich widow and married her, putting himself in a position to become heir apparent of his father-in-law’s successful pharmaceutical company. In order to ensure this occurs, his wife has arranged a board meeting and is pulling her father’s strings but Gi-joon’s actual ability stand in the way so, to be certain of success, she sent him to visit Mujin, his hometown until she sends for him.

Gi-joon’s relationship with his wife is interesting. It certainly does not seem to be based on love. In his case, he was attracted to her money, the lifestyle it brought, and probably the fact that marriage to her came with a guaranteed job.  Why would she marry Gi-joon? He was sickly in his younger days and became a draft-dodger– an important issue in Korea even in these days, but even more so in past decades. Men who evaded their mandatory military duties had a very difficult time securing jobs and interacting successfully with other men in society. Certainly his looks helped in landing Gi-joon his wife, he is after all being played by Shin Seong-il, but I think it was more than that. His wife wanted someone that she could control. She wants to run the company and, although she is already very involved in management, there was a glass ceiling that would have prevented her from easily achieving her goals. She knows that Gi-joon is at heart weak. She states bluntly to her father that Gi-joon is nothing without them and reminds her husband he would not even be in Seoul if it were not for her. Perhaps that is why it was so easy for him to get involved with the pretty new school teacher in Mujin, In-sook.

In-sook was the top of the music department at the university she attended in Seoul, and when she was offered a job immediately after graduating, she jumped at the chance to take it… at least that is what we were told.  Supposedly, In-sook studied Korean classical music but the only songs she ever sings are Korean popsongs.  She could be lying, or Mr. Park exaggerating her credentials as he is silently in love with her. It is known by some that her family background was not good at all and the only reason she stays in Mujin is because her hometown is worse. She wants more than anything to return to Seoul and she is willing to do anything to get there even when warned that “No city will give you back your college days.”

Gi-joon does not particuarly want to go back to his past, he tried too hard to escape it to want that. He sees a lot of himself in In-sook (sometimes quite literally– when talking to her we sometimes see Gi-joon of the past in her place) and promises to take her to Seoul. She for her part makes a promise. “When I am in Seoul, I will have an affair with you.”  It turns out he didn’t have to wait that long for the affair to start.  Oddly, soon after it begins, In-sook changes her position and decides that she doesn’t want to go to Seoul anymore, prompting Gi-joon to reply that they have to promise to stop lying to each other.  Because she is so much like his former self, Gi-joon realizes that the promise extends to himself and that he has been lying to himself the entire time. We see things in a new light with that realization, and he is then back on the train to Seoul alone.

This movie is interesting for many reasons.  The setting of Mujin is one of them. I think it is important that Mujin is not a real city. Most Korean films of this period use existing cities when setting their films. The fog the nighly covers the city is also important.  The narration states that it isolates Mujin from the rest of the world and Gi-joon’s journey there seems more like a journey into his subconscious than an actual place.. with a little more strangeness thrown in, it could seem like an old Twilight Zone episode.  It is stated the Mujin has no special food, grows no special crop and even though it is a coastal city, there is no port or trade.  In fact, it seems like there is little reason for people to be there, yet we are told it is well populated.  Why?  Could it be that everyone there is a lost Seoul searching for some evasive piece of him or her self? 

My only complaint with this film is that some of the flashbacks are not clearly delineated as such. With most, it becomes easy enough for the viewer to realize that we are now in the past, there was one that left me confused as it showed Gi-joon standing by a bus watching an insane prostitute being harrassed by street urchins.  Gi-joon’s clothes in that scene are quite good and I thought it was happening in the present but in fact what we saw must have occured as he left Mujin the first time as the scene switches to him still on the bus. It is a confusing moment.

However, don’t let that one point deter you from watching the film when you get the chance. It is part of the Kim Soo-yong Box Set and, while pricey, is well-worth seeking out. 

Below, you can hear the title song of this movie, Mist, sung by Jeong Hoon-hee is 1967. Even if you can’t understand it, it has a beautiful, haunting melody and is very relaxing.

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Countdown to Halloween D-4: Flower of Evil

28th October 2011

Take a look at the following trailers from The Ruins (2008), From Hell It Came (1957) and The Maneater of Hydra (1967)– Three Western films that feature man (and woman) eating plants. If you were to watch these films, you would notice that they have something in common, namely that you have to be pretty slow, pretty stupid or a combination of both to get yourself devoured by a plant. Even the lumbering tree monster which is not rooted to the spot once it matured moves at a glacial pace. Let’s face it, plants are not scary and the fact that they can barely move is the primary reason. Alien plants are a little different and make a better impression on the horror enthuiast. The original version of The Thing, Little Shop of Horrors, The Body Snatchers and The Day of the Triffids all feature alien plants that are far more memorable than any of the posies listed earlier in the paragraph.

flower of evilAt first glance the title flora in The Flower of Evil, directed by Lee Yong-min back in 1961, might be suffering from the same problem. It is confined to a flower pot. Even though descriptions state that it can move at night, I don’t think it would get very far with its roots firmly trapped in soil on a pot on an end table. This is especially problamtic as this sinister flower requires a healthy dose of blood to survive. Its stature may be deceptively small, but the amount of blood required to keep this plant alive is surprising. How can it possibly get what it needs?  The answer is simple and follows in the vein of the original Little Shop of Horrors (1960)– the plant simply tells its owner what it wants.  But there is no thin little whisper of “Feed Me” nor the more musical demands as made in the remake of Little Shop of Horrors. No, this plant has an entirely different method. At night, it transforms into a ghost and makes its needs known.

flower of evil's soul“Now wait just a minute,” you might be thinking, “How can a plant transform into a ghost?” Well, if it were just a plant, I would share your disbelief. After all, a couple of days ago, the One-Eyed Ghost explained that the dying with han in one’s soul was what caused a person to come back as a phantom.  I think most people would agree that a plant does not have a soul and, even if you could convince me that it did, I would never believe that its spirit could carry a grudge that would drive it to revenge. But the ability to transform into a ghost– as well as its lust for human blood — was bestowed on the cursed orchid when the spirit of Baek Ryeong (pictured right) fused with the plant. Baek was a woman deeply in love with Prof. Lee Gwang-soo but he did not return her feelings. She died in an unspecified manner (I suspect suicide) and her spirit joined with a flower creating a new species of plant that Prof. Lee, as a botonist, found irresistable. He now had something unique in the plant world. The fact that it required blood was problematic, but nothing that Lee found too intimidating. He started draining blood from various victims to feed his favorite flower, but he drains too much from one woman and she dies, making him a murderer.

flower of evil posterYou might think that would be as bad as things could get, but it becomes worse. His frequent nightly expeditions to procur more blood have a startling effect on Dr. Lee.  He is slowly transformed into a vampire himself!  He then proceeds to attack his devoted and loving wife. Will his wife survive or will Baek Ryeong have her revenge and spend eternity as a monster with the vampire she loves? I can’t tell you that, but I can tell you that this movie had everything– a blood guzzling vine, a virgin ghost and now a homicidal vampire!  Ah– but ‘had’ is the operative word. This movie is lost. There are no extant copies known. Given the number of stills that exist, I suspect the final copy deteriorated to the point that it was unsalvagable and the remains were photographed as a way to preserve what remained. That is why the image of the actual star of the film, the Flower of Evil, is not clear.  I did not have a lot of options to choose from. But there are not only stills; the scenario and a poster are still around and serve as evidence of this movie’s existence.

Tomorrow— Snakes!


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Countdown to Halloween d-6: The One-Eyed Ghost

26th October 2011

Not all monsters, ghosts and things that go bump in the night are from horror films. Today’s entry onto the list of Obscure Monsters comes from the children’s fairytale, The Brothers Heungbu and Nolbu directed by Kang Tae-woong in 1967. 

Before introducing our feature guest today, I should probably talk a little about the movie.  The Brothers Heungbu and Nolbu was the first feature length film made in Korea to be performed entirely by claymation and dolls not unlike classic holiday favorites such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Clause is Coming to Town. This Korean movie was also made for a holiday, May 5th.  No, not Cinco de Mayo– Children’s Day!  In the movie, Heunbu’s hoarde of children sing a happy-ish song while animals and birds play together with them–I think this is right before a huge snake appears and attempts to devour the baby birds still in the nest.  The happy-ish song is a nice change for the kids. Most time when they are onscreen, they are sobbing about how hungry they are and how sorry they are for their parents.  While much time is spent on the kids, the story is really about the kind Heungbu who, along with his wife and children, savagely beat the snake to death. During the battle, one of the birds suffers from a broken leg. Heungbu and family take care of it  and are rewarded by the birds with a magic seed. In the film, when the seed grows, it produces three enormous gourds that Heungbu and his wife saw open. In one gourd are jewels, silks and luxurious clothes. In another gourd are piles of gold and coins. The final gourd transforms the family’s hovel into a palace-like home. And then comes the good part…

one eyed ghostHeungbu’s brother is the scene stealing Nolbu and his evil wife.  Whenever these two are on screen, the movie is more interesting. These two are very wealthy and care nothing for Heungbu and his prodigious family. When Heungbu goes to them to beg for food for his starving family, Nolbu’s wife slaps him upside the head with a spoon full of rice and tells him he can keep whatever stuck to his face.  However, seeing that his younger brother is much wealthier than he, Nolbu becomes jealous and learns how his brother came upon such good fortune. Finding a swallow, he first ‘accidently’ breaks the birds leg and then goes about taking care of it to ensure he too will receive a magic seed.  However, his gourds are cursed. From the first gourd emerges a talking tiger that chases the couple through their home and warns them to stop their greedy ways. Not heeding the warning, the couple goes to open the second gourd.  A huge dragon appears in a puff of smoke. Although terrifying it wanders away without harming them. But in the final gourd, our star appears– the One-Eyed Ghost! With her entrance, all hell breaks loose. The cyclopsean spirit of vengence chases Nolbu’s wife around, eventually biting her in the neck with her fangs while Nolbu is chased by the tiger and the dragon returns to crush and burn their home to the ground. The movie has a happy ending with Nolbu and his wife going to live with Heungbu and his family. And here to say a few words about her role in the movie is the One-Eyed Ghost herself!

Won-ai:  Hiya folks!

Me: So what can you tell me about your part in the Brothers Heungbu and Nolbu?

Won-ai: Well, first let me tell you that I hated the ending. It was very different from the original story!

Me: What do you mean? I have seen a lot of children’s books with this story in it. They are all pretty much the same.

Won-ai: Those are the modern versions. They are way too soft on Nolbu. They have thieves or goblins or winds coming out of the gourd to deprive him of his wealth. In the original versions he got a good beating and covered with excrement! Nolbu’s wife isn’t in the original stories either. He was unmarried and carried with him a bag of perversity.

Me: Bag of perversity? Do they have those at E-Mart?

Won-ai: You don’t want one. The bag made him do evil and disgusting things like pee in the well or stuff dung into the mouths of crying babies or use other men’s wives if they owed him money. He was a terrible person and derserved what he got!

Me: You seem to be getting angry just talking about him. We can change the subject…

Won-ai: Sorry. I’ve been holding onto my han for so long that it sometimes gets the better of me.

Me: Your han?

Won-ai:  Sure. How do you think I became a ghost? or anyone else becomes a ghost for that matter?

Me: Umm… you died?

Won-ai:  Yes, I died. But I died with a great han. Han is a Korean concept deeply rooted in traditional thought. There is no single word to describe it in English ‘though it is often translated as ‘grudge’ or ‘resentment’ or ‘regret.’  It is the feeling from putting up with oppression in silence or being helpless to help someone you love. It is having to forgive when you really don’t want to and the sorrow of never being able to express how you really feel.

Me: Really? So anyone can feel han?

Won-ai: Well, nine times out of ten it is applied to women. I read an article in the LA Times this past January where they talked about a man shopowner in LA carrying han, but I found it very odd. Ask any Korean around you and they will tell you that han is generally used to refer to something a woman feels–her supressed emotions that she is not allowed to express. Some researchers also say that it is part of the national psyche because of the long history of invaders in Korea through the centuries. In horror movies, it is almost always the thing that motivates the vengence of a female ghost. Korean horror movies through the years have had titles like Resentment of a Daughter-in-Law, My Sister’s Regret, Wol-nyeo-s Grudge… I could go on and on.

Me: I see. Now I know why you are a ghost. But what about the one eye? Is that natural?

Won-ai: Nah, this is my scary face. In the movie you might notice that I sometimes have two eyes. Ghosts can change. In the movie Public Cemetary of Wol-nyeo the ghost appears as a beautiful mother, a floating light and a toothy demon. I can be quite pretty when I want to be.

Me:  I noticed you are carrying something. A DVD of the Japanese movie Ring? Why do you have that?

Won-ai: I just took this along to show you that my scary, one-eyed look is not unique in film. Not only Ring, but if you look behind me in the picture above, you will see an image from the Japanese movie Ju-on and the Korean film Face on the wall behind me. Modern horror also makes use of the baleful, giant eye.

Me: Yeah, I see it. Come to think of it, you do look a lot like the ghost from Ring…

Won-ai:  What!  I’m from 1967!  Ring was made in 1998!  If anything she looks like me!  But y’know, I can’t claim to be the first long-haired ghost wearing white either. Horror movies from the 60s and possibly earlier are filled with us. Sadako was NOT the first contrary to what many Western articles and bloggers have to say. She was just the next in a long line of ghosts.  She wasn’t even the first one to come popping out of a well!  The ghost in Shin Sang-ok’s Ghost Story of the Joseon Dynasty lived in a well and that was made in 1970. I’ll give Sadako the climbing through the tv bit though…that was pretty good… Then again, I came out of a gourd fresh off the vine. I’d like to see her try that!

Me: Well, that is all the time I have today. I want to thank our guest for the day, One-Eyed Ghost, and congratulate her on being the featured Obscure Monster on our Countdown to Halloween. See you tomorrow!

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Love (1968)

23rd March 2011

68-017~3It has been very hard for me to sit down and watch movies the past couple of weeks let alone write anything. I think I won’t be giving any more homework for a little while. I need time to catch up. I did, however, get a chance to see KTV’s offering of classic Korean cinema last week, director Kang Dae-jin’s Love starring Moon Hee, Shin Yeong-gyun, Kim Ji-mi and Lee Soon-jae. Any one of these great actors could carry a film–and Moon Hee was one of my favorite actresses. The plot, according to the Korean Film Archives, goes something like this: Love is permanent. An-min is in agony by the knowledge that his wife has an incurable disease. Nurse Sun-ok, who feels sympathy toward him, falls deeply in love. But An-min does not accept her love. At the end, his wife dies, and he only thinks of her. Accordingly, Sun-ok leaves the hospital for the sake of An-min with tears in her eyes.  Wait… what was that first line? Love is permanent? Ummm.. I don’t mean to sound cynical–and its not often that I do– but even I have a hard time swallowing that line.  Then again, within the context of this film, love does seem to continue without change for all the characters. That above synopsis also claims ‘At the end’ the doctors wife dies and the nurse leaves in tears.  What? Didn’t the person who wrote that watch the whole movie? That sad event happens at about the halfway point in the film. Here is what really happens…

The first part is right, Nurse Seo Soon-ok (her name is better written with double ‘o’s rather than a ‘u’ to get the right pronunciation) does indeed love Dr. Ahn. He in turn loves his slowly dying wife (played by Kim Ji-mi), the mother of his two children. And it is true that Ahn rejects Soon-ok’s love even though his feelings run deep for her. However, she does not leave him in tears. Instead, she sacrifices her feelings and volunteers to care for his ailing wife and act as a governess for his children (while maintaining her job at the hospital and studying to be a doctor)   But when his wife coughs her last cough and Dr. Ahn Min mercilessly fails to rebound into Soon-ok’s arms, the nurse finally has to give up. As she is rapidly approaching her mid-twenties, remaining single is not an option of course, and poor Nurse Seo is quickly married to a man whom she does not love.  He loves her with all his heart, but he has an even greater love. Alcohol.

Soon-ok’s wedding night consisted of getting scolded by a mother-in-law her hates her and forbids her to study medicine and waiting for her husband to show up. When he finally does finally stagger home, he is so drunk he passes out without his husbandly duties. In fact, it is strongly suggested that they never sleep together. But that does not stop Soon-ok from becoming a mother–which might seem difficult given the prior sentence. But it was relatively easy. While visiting the hospital she used to work at and talking with Dr. Ahn, a woman comes in with a sick boy. Soon-ok helps in the emergency and the woman thanks her and explains that she is a single mother, the boys father having disappeared long ago. But when the mother learns Soon-ok’s name, she realizes that this was the woman her old lover had been obsessing about for years and that she is now married to him. The mother slips away, leaving a note for Soon-ok to raise the boy with her husband/the boy’s father. One would think there would be a lot of implications and issues to be addressed here, but the movie does not touch on them. Instead, in the very next scene, Soon-ok’s entire family–drunk husband, hardened mother-in-law and stepson–are packing up and rushing to Manchuria as her husband is fleeing from some unsavory characters he had crossed.

Life is hard in Manchuria  as Soon-ok becomes the sole bread-winner in the family. I have to assume that some time has passed as she opens her own hospital and people are now addressing her as ‘doctor.’  She gains the respect of the entire albeit small community she lives in and has a loving relationship with her son, but her home life is still miserable.  While I thought that Soon-ok’s suddenly becoming a mother was handled too quickly by the script, the next part made my head spin. In short order, her husband is murdered and her mother-in-law winds up dead. These two major events happen within three minutes of each other and it is impossible to meassure how much time has actually passed for the characters.  Soon-ok seems on the verge of giving up the ghost herself and winds up very ill in the hospital. Her spirits are lifted however, when her brother shows up to take her home and her will to live becomes even stronger when told that Dr. Ahn is dangerously ill with pneumonia.

And so, Soon-ok is reunited with Dr. Ahn and his children. The movie ends with Ahn Min, looking much older,  shuffling back into the house leaning heavily on Soon-ok who promises to nurse him back to health and never leave again while the three children play in the yard.

The movie had a skewed idea of what love should be and the ideal woman. Soon-ok was certainly depicted as the ideal– she was a virgin and a mother, nurse and governess, caring and nuturing.  Her own thoughts and needs took third place behind those of her true love and the duty to her family. The movie whitewashes the fact that she was silently lusting after another woman’s husband in the first half of the film by having Ahn’s wife wholely approve of Soon-ok–even inviting her on what she knows will be the last trip with her husband (who nixes the plan and does not allow Soon-ok to go).   What passes for love in this movie seems almost like obsession. Not merely Soon-ok’s feelings for Ahn Min– who keeps giving her false hopes as with the note he attached to a wedding gift he gave her which read ‘Think of me when you look at this.’ Is that what you really want to tell a woman on her wedding day? and one you have already told that you don’t want to be with?  Soon-ok’s husband also suffers from obsession for his wife. He would follow her around before they were married begging her to consider him and, despite all his faults, he genuinely did love her even though she could never return his feelings. Even in the end, the love Soon-ok feels for Ahn seems more platonic than the love a couple should feel–almost as if Ahn now has a mother-figure to look after him and care for him while he is ill.

This movie is far too heavy on the melodrama and the pacing is way off. The two-thirds of the movie crawl by as Soon-ok suffers in silence and then, in the last part, things go by so quickly we have no idea how much time is passing.  Time in general was an issue. The issue with the medical license I assumed Soon-ok earned and the fact that Dr. Ahn is very grey by the end of the movie implies that years have passed. But Ahn’s children do not age at all which makes it feel that mere months have passed and was very confusing. As much as I like Moon Hee, I think I will give this movie a pass if I ever have the opportunity to see it again…

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The Beautiful Maid (1964)

1st March 2011

P2280005Last week, KTV aired the movie The Beautiful Maid starring Shin Seong-il and Uhm Aeng-ran. Like a high percentage of other movies from the sixties, this film was a melodrama. It  focused on the title character Lee Poon-yi who leaves her comfortable farm and loving family in the beautiful North Jeolla Province (where I happen to live) and goes to Seoul. She makes this great sacrifice because she wants to make extra money to ensure her younger brother has enough money for his school tuition. Lacking education and refinement limits her job choices, but she is fortunate to gain employment in the home of kindly Professor Kim as a maid.  Besides enabling her to earn money and allowing her a place to eat and sleep, this job enables her to come in contact with the handsome only son of the good professor and his wife, Jeong-hak.  Jeong-hak is a headstrong, modern university student who does not care about the economic gap that separates him from the shy, pretty maid who cleans his room and delivers his meals. He falls head-over-heels for her charming innocence and caring ways. Of course, modest Poon-yi tries to resist, but it proves to be impossible and she too shyly returns his love. However, the good professor’s evil daughter is horrified at the developing relationship and gets her point across by doing horrible things to poor Poon-yi such as plunging the maid’s hand into a pan of scalding water. But, every cloud has a silver lining and a parboiled hand means a trip to the hospital with Jeong-hak which turns into an all day date.

But nothing is every entirely perfect. When Jeong-hak’s parents find out about the relationship, they are less than happy. However, their potential wrath and resentment are soon deflated thanks to the hard work and kindness of Miss Lee who doubles her efforts around the house and endears herself to her employers. But when she spends the night in a cabin with Jeong-hak and becomes pregnant with his child, Poon-yi knows she has crossed a line that makes it impossible for her to remain as a maid. After seeing Jeong-hak off at the station as he leaves to complete his military duty, Poon-yi quits her job and returns home. Although her younger brother is happy to see her, Poon-yi’s mother is shocked at her daughter’s condition. When she finally comes around and accepts the idea, her elder brother returns home after hearing the local gossip and is enraged at the shame Poon-yi has brought on the house. Poon-yi flees the house but returns in the dead of night to give birth in the barn. Her cries of pain are heard by her mother who comes to her aid and Poon-yi’s son is born healthy and well.  Writing to Jeong-hak (who had taught her to write while she lived with him), Poon-yi tells him the good news. Hurrying to her side, Jeong-hak quickly wins over the family with humility and manners and they allow Poon-yi to return to Seoul as Jeong-hak’s wife.  The end.

Yes, that’s right. It is a melodrama with a happy ending. Not common now in Korean cinema and even less so in the sixties. No one is dies of any of a number of terrible diseases; no one is hit by a car. No one even loses a parent!  Aside from some relatively mild bumps in their love story, this is one happy movie which is nicely illustrated on the poster. At first I wondered why the poster gave away the last scene of the movie. I also wondered as to why it looks so different from the usual movie posters of the time which were more often than not extremely cluttered with scense from the film. But I think that can be explained by the fact that it was 1964.  That was the year Korea’s top stars, the leading actors of The Beautiful Maid, were married and although the movie was released several months before the actual nuptials, it was an expected event that was on the tongues of every star watcher in Korea. It would be more than 45 years later that another celebrity wedding would even come close to matching the excitement Shin and Uhm’s wedding generated and that of course is the wedding of Jang Dong-geun and Ko So-yeong last May.

This movie, directed by Kang Dae-jin, is not available on DVD and I doubt anyone is considering it as a possible candidate for release anytime soon. It is a nice movie, but in a Rock Hudson/Doris Day kind of way and there are other, more important films that should be given the DVD treatment first… like March of Fools, Early Rain, The General’s Mustache, The Evil Stairs… 

Oh– and just a quick note to those of you who might try to search for this film on the website of the Korean Film Archives ( The Korean title is currently misspelled there. The title, clearly displayed on the poster as well as in newspaper ads I found and film registration records, is ??? but the KOFA database has it written as ??? which makes it impossible to search for by title.  Hopefully, that will be fixed soon.

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Love and Hate (1969)

8th February 2011

love and hateThis past weekend, EBS aired director Ko Yeong-nam’s Love and Hate from 1969. Before watching it, I took a glance at the website for the Korean Film Archives to see what they had to say about it. I also looked at the English version of the page and this is what it gave for a plot synopsis:  —  The two brothers are poor, but happy. But their relationship starts to fall apart as they learn that they love the same woman, Young-a. The younger brother pours anger on his brother, but the older brother decides to give up her love. The younger brother looks back his past, trying to ask his brother’s forgiveness. But on his way to see his brother, the older brother dies of a car crash. Young-a encourages her old lover.  — Grammar aside, there are several problems with that synopsis. Namely, only the first two sentences actually happen as described.  It’s a good thing that the Korean version of the KOFA website is much more accurate. It is also a good thing that I watched the whole movie and can describe it here in full. I am not going to worry about spoilers in the following review.. this movie is unlikely to see a subtitled DVD release in my lifetime…

The movie opens with wealthy Yeong-ah (played by Yoon Jeong-hee) walking home from college one dark night when she is harassed by a motorcycle gain. They threatenly approach her but she is rescued from danger by a mysterious stranger who arrives in a nick of time. The stranger and his chauffer make short work of the ne’er-do-wells leaving Yeong-ah grateful and suitably impressed. When they next meet, Yeong-(Never-Wears-the-Same-Coat-Twice)-ah agrees to accompany him on a date and proceeds to fall head-over-heels in love with him. She learns his name is Yoon Tae-yeong (actor Baek Yeong-min)…but that is the only truthful thing she learns from him. Everything else he tells her about his past, his family and his wealth is a lie. His car, his clothes and even his shoes are all borrowed from various friends. Yeong-ah was presented proof of this from one of her friends who was suspicious of Tae-yeong from the start and had him checked out. She leads Yeong-ah to Tae-yeong’s hovel in a small shanty town just behind the glistening new buildings of Seoul. On their next date, Yeong-ah mercilessly and very publically berates Tae-yeong and proceeds to dump him, telling him to make something of himself.

What the haughty Yeong-ah does not know is that Tae-yeong shares his hovel with his older brother played by Kim Jin-gyu. The older brother is not given a name. At work, he is called Mr. Yoon so I will simply refer to him as Yoon.  By amazing coincidence, Yoon happens to work in a company owned by Yeong-ah’s father. When she sees him for the first time, she is immediately attracted to him and his character. She soon finds herself meeting him whenever she has the chance, even to go so far as to follow him out of the city and surprising him with a sweater as a gift while he is doing a safety in one of her father’s plants. Rather than call her a stalker and take out a restraining order, Yoon, who up to now has been resisting her advances, finally comes to accept her love.

But Yeong-ah is not the only one who knows how to stalk in this story. Tae-yeong soon finds out that his girlfriend-for-a-day is now seeing his brother, flies into a rage and leaves his hovel without telling anyone where he is going. Yoon, feeling guilty, tries to stop seeing Yeong-ah. However, the young woman is persistant and convinces Yoon to let her into his house so they can talk–and that is naturally the day that Tae-yeong had decided to come home. Angry again, the brothers part.

Yoon quits his job and starts working construction, but his inexperience is evident. He has difficulty working in high places and takes a tumble from the staging of a building landing him in the hospital. Tae-yeong’s friend informs him of what happened to his older brother and Tae-yeong, without thinking, rushes to be at his brother’s side…only to rush headlong into the path of an oncoming car. He dies in the hospital with Yoon and Yeong-ah wordlessly looking on. Then Yeong-ah simply leaves and one gets the feeling that the pair’s relationship is over for good.

This is a fairly typical ’60s melodrama with all the hysterics and waterworks that are expected to be in dramas of that time. It is features another thing often found in films from the late 60s and even more often in the early 70s–proud shots of industrialization. Korea was rapidly recovering from war earning Seoul the nickname of ‘The Miracle on the Han.’  Some of the romantic scenes in this film are set against backdrops that we would not really find so enchanting in this day and age such as when Yoon and Yeong-ah are talking on a hill overlooking billowing smoke stacks of a factory.

Again, this film is not likely to be one that most people will be able to see as it is unlikely to be released on DVD or in any subtitled format. However, I appreciate the effort EBS and other channels put broadcasting films that would be difficult for me to see otherwise. Next week, they plan to air the Shim Woo-seob comedy Wrong Target from 1968. If I get a chance to see it, I will write about it here,


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Father and Sons (1969)

21st November 2010

father and sonsThese past few weeks have been quite busy forobuja me.  School is winding down–just one month left and that last month always goes by too quickly!  I have a lot to do before it finishes. I have been watching movies, but I haven’t had time to write much about them. I don’t actually have time now as I write this. I can think of several other things that take priority. But I don’t expect it will take too long to write this review of Father and Sons.  There are no deep hidden meanings to explore and I don’t have to choose my words carefully to avoid spoilers. The film is not on DVD and is probably not on anyone’s list of classic films that should be DVD. It is a comedy which relies heavily on slapstick and is a remake of director Kwon Yeong-soon’s 1958 film of the same name (???). The poster of the orignal movie is pictured above right while the remake, and the topic of today’s post, is on the left. 

The two films share more than a title in common. They share the talents of actor Kim Hee-gab. In the original work, Kim is one of the sons (seated on the far right of the poster with a guitar). In the remake, he plays the father, Mr. Park. The story outlines of these two movies are exactly the same. In brief, it is the story of a family with four sons who are well past the age of marriage but seem unable or unwilling to stop acting likc adolescents and settle down. It is not as if they could not support themselves. The eldest son, Yeong (Hyeon Yang) is a barber. Woong (Seo Yeong-choon) is a taxi driver. Ho (Twist Kim) owns a record shop and Geol (Nam Bo-won) is the leader of a band in a nightclub. They make pretty good money which they turn over to their father in order to be allowed to stay. The father in turn, reluctantly gives the money to his wife (Hwang Jeong-soon) to save for their son’s future.

Park tells his sons the story of his courtship with their mother –which involved him threatening to commit suicide in front of his future father-in-law until the latter allowed him to marry his daughter– in the hopes that this will prod his lazy sons into finding wives. Most of the 84 minutes of running time that comprise this film is made up of the sons meeting various women and figuring out the correct way to win them over. For example, Ho keeps serenading his love interest outside her window but is thwarted from making headway by her protective father..until he learns that singing Italian opera may be the key to success. Woong faces down a gangster with a knife while protecting the virtue of a female customer in his cab and earns her respect. Eventually all the sons are paired off and the film can have a happy ending.

Besides just being a comedy, Father and Sons is also a musical. Characters are often singing jaunty tunes that were popular at that time. But herein lies one of the movie’s biggest flaws. Anyone who has watched films from that period knows that the movies were dubbed after filming. If there was an adequate budget, the dubbing might be fair. But most films made at this time were under heavy budget constraints. This lack is very obvious in this movie. The characters ’sing’ in voices that are clearly not theirs accompanied by instruments that are not present. When there are instruments on set, it is painful to watch as the actors mimic playing them with know knowledge of how to use them. Twist Kim was a bit of a disappointment in this film as well. I like him in other, more serious movies where his comic relief  and brief cuts of him dancing are welcome. But here, the welcome is overstayed.

Father and Sons (1969) was directed by Kwon Cheol-hwi, a man who graduated with a major in Law but who spent most of his adult life directing and writing movies. You may know him from his horror film, A Public Cemetary of Wolha, which is available on DVD with English subtitles. I had just rewatched that movie last week as well. I just don’t have time right now to write about it… I will just have to see it again at a later date.

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