Seen in Jeonju

Archive for the '1960s' Category

A Certain Love Affair (1965)

23rd August 2010

65-029~3 Last Sunday night, EBS showed director Park Jang-ho’s 1965 film A Certain Love Affair. Now, director Park had made just over forty movies between his debut in 1959, 3 O’Clock on a Rainy Afternoon and his final project in 1988, Lady in the Wall. The ~~ in the Wall series, which includes the Woman in the Wall (1969), Woman in the Wall 2 (1970), Man in the Wall (1972) and the aforementioned Lady, are why I am familiar with Park as I have seen some of them previously. All were about unhappy marriages where a long suffering, often neglected wife, falls in love with another man but is encouraged by the end of the film to return to her marriage on the husband’s promise that things will be different when she returns. Despite nearly a half decade or more and no less than 16 other project separating these films from A Certain Love Affair, Park manages to keep the same theme. If I had to sum up the first hour of the movie, I would have called it decidedly average with some clear budget problems that kept my mind occupied (more on that later). However, the last part of the movie took the film from average and slightly dull to terrible and made me quite angry with its message.

Yoon-hee (played by Kim Hye-jeong) has married Ho-jin (Nam Goong-won) without knowing all there is to know about him. Namely, that a car accident has left him unable to perform in the bedroom. On their honeymoon, he fails to tell her this and she assumes that his lack of physical intimacy is due to the fact that he is thinking of another woman. Later, she finds lipstick on his handkerchief and, following him, discovers him slobbering all over a young woman in a seedy bar. When she confronts her husband, he informs her of his physical problem and assures her that he will never see that girl again. They attempt to have sex, but it is a useless effort that leaves them both unsatisfied.

However, between seeing her husband pawing the bar girl and confronting him about it back home, Yoon-hee runs into her friend, ‘Miss Cho.’ It would have been hard to miss her in the attire she is in. Cho is wearing a skin tight leopard spot pair of pants and a French beret. This is not merely to show that she has bad taste in clothes. It is to show that she has been westernized in the worst possible way. Cho takes the opportunity to introduce Yoon-hee to Nam-soo (Nam Seok-hoon) who indicates that he is instantly attracted to the married woman. However, being married is not the only problem. Nam-soo is an employee of her husband’s company. Being morally corrupt, Nam-soo does not care that Yoon-hee is the wife of his boss and Yoon-hee is quickly warming to his advances. In fact, where her husband introduces Nam-soo to his wife at a club, Nam-soo asks to dance with her. The two, pretending it’s the first time they have met, dance while nuzzling each other right in plain view of Ho-jin.

You would think that this would make Ho-jin jealous…and you would be correct. However, he reacts to stress and anger in a surprising way. It puts him in an amorous mood. After arguing with Yoon-hee or after watching her dancing crushed up against Nam-soo, Ho-jin attempts to please his wife in bed (I am dreading the spam this sentence is going to generate) but, as usual, the two end up more frustrated and annoyed with each other than before. However, that changes in the final scene of the movie which I am going to reveal as I don’t think this film will ever see the light of day again and this may be your only chance to learn of it.

Yoon-hee has fallen in love with Nam-soo and the continuing arguments with her husband culminate in her deciding to leave home. She decides to meet Nam-soo and give in to his seduction. Unfortunately, she has to call him where he works so her husband has the means to overhear their plans. He races to Nam-soo’s house and arrives just as Yoon-hee has eased herself down on the bed and is ready to consummate their love. Ho-jin flies into a rage and severely beats Nam-soo. He would have killed him with a bottle if Yoon-hee had not thrown herself in between. Saved by his lover, Nam-soo departs (apparently not fired from his job) leaving Yoon-hee to deal with her enraged husband.  Ho-jin cannot calm down and turns his fury on his wife, slapping her across the face and throwing her down on the bed. These days, what follows next would be described as rape. Apparently, in this movie, in constitutes a happy ending. His anger and jealousy cures the psychological block and he is a man again—shown symbolically through water rushing faucet while the sound of a train chugs along in the background. Thoroughly satisfied sexually, the couple vows never to cheat on each other again.

Blah. The idea of the end justifying the means has never appealed to me in any context. The idea of violence and rape leading to a couple’s happiness is ridiculous. The message this movie seems to have is that spousal violence can lead to happiness and that is something I cannot ever agree with. But..there was something about this film that kept me entertained until I was shocked by the unrealistic ending. This movie seems to have had no budget. The set director was apparently given one room to work with that had to represent three different rooms. However, he had a limited number of décor and knickknacks. There were two sets of curtains, the ones with the palm trees and the ones with the pineapples. The palm trees appear in the couple’s bedroom and in a frequently used hotel room. The pineapple curtains are used in the couple’s living room and in Nam-soo’s studio apartment. Various dolls, stuffed animals and other odds and ends are used in more than one scene and frequently move around–doll on piano in one room, same doll on bed in could’s house, same doll now on the shelf near the sofa. It was like playing ‘Where’s Waldo’ at times.

But the games I were playing and the mental notes I were taking to keep myself entertained during the movie were ultimately not enough. This film is not very good and just barely held my interest and in the end it is insulting to the intelligence and degrading to women. Bad as it is though, I do not regret seeing it. I like that EBS is showing these older films no matter how bad some of them are. They used to repeat the same classics like Aimless Bullet, The Coachman or The Housemaid every year or two. These are great movies but I want to see things I haven’t seen before and there were literally thousands of other films made in Korea in the 60s. Seeing them gives a more balanced view of the kinds of movies being made at that time. Ideally, I hope to be able to see every early film that is available and write something about them as there is so little information on them available in English. Whether I ultimately like it or not is unimportant in the long run.

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DMZ (1965)

26th June 2010

dmz posterI recently purchased the lasted KOFA release, DMZ, and after watching it I am happy to say that I was happily surprised. I had read a little bit about the story prior  to watching it and I was expecting a fairly standard 60s melodrama.  And if I had watched the original 90-minute theatrical release, that is exactly what I would have seen. I did not count on was the editing skills of director Park Sang-ho.  Recognizing that the drama part of his ’semi-documentary’ was lacking and the happy ending detracted from the power of the film, Park cut close to 30 minutes out of the movie–all scenes involving famous actors and actress were removed. All that remains are the children and one or two other characters who are briefly on screen.  It was this version that won several ‘Best Documentary’ prizes between 1965 and 1967.  (This is confused in the English part of the booklet that came with the DVD–I was very confused after reading it and it said that the theatrical version survived even though the film I watched clearly was just an hour long.  However, after comparing that chapter with the Korean version also in the booklet, I realized it was mistranslated.)

The acting of the children in the movie is quite good and the ending is very powerful.  What is even more interesting is the story of the making of the film. Park decided to make a story about the DMZ after talking with some foreign tourists in Japan who wanted to visit it.  It saddened him that this scar across the nation had become a tourist attraction (It still is today…).  Citizens are not allowed in the demiltarized zone which stretches for two kilometers on each side of the 38th Parallel. However, Park received special permission to film within the southern section of that area and was accompanied by armed guards and mine detector units.  Landmines were a real problem and Park Sang-ho admits to being terrified for the children who kept running around between shots.  Landmines also play a significant role in the film on more than one occassion.

Naturally, because of the time it was made, Park got in trouble with censors and the government. In the sixties, to talk about reunification could have you labeled as a communist and subject to criminal investigation. Park was questioned about the scene where the children on the 38th Parallel–which is just marked by tape–barbed wire fences only exist at the 2km marks to the north and south.  The children’s actions while ‘marking their territory’ (literally in the boy’s case who is playing the south) and then sitting with their backs to each other refusing to speak spoke volumes of Park’s opinion of the situation.  Fortunately, the making of the film had received a lot of press and people wanted to see it, so with some editing for the theatrical version, it was allowed to screen.  One of the things he had to cut from the film was the signs marking the DMZ, but these appear in the documentary version as does the above-mentioned scene with the children.

The original film had subtitles burned into it for the film festival, and these remain, however KOFA has added new, better subtitles to the DVD.  I recommend this movie–but not as a movie. It was filmed on location and Park mentions that many of the things they shot around–the abandoned train, the destroyed tank, the ruined village–were all there. It is an intersting slice of history that I found surprising good even 45 years after the film was made.

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A Dangerous Man (1966)

2nd February 2010

dangerous manI watched a couple of movies this weekend from the sixties that I had not seen before. The first was Shin Sang-ok’s 1963 Romance Gray (or as the KMDB calls it ‘Love Affair’–but since the title is already in English, I am not sure why the created another name for it)   With the exception of one camara technique he employed where the characters made their pleas and arguements by speaking directly into the camera, I found the movie to be rather disappointing. I was mostly disappointed with this movie because of the plot which portrayed the wives as horrible people because they left their husbands who were having affairs with more sympathetic mistresses.

However, I the next movie I watched I found to be much better in every regard. That movie was A Dangerous Man directed by Jeong Chang-hwa.  Director Jeong has about 50 movies to his name and even more that he produced. His directing career lasted from 1953 to 1977 but in the late 60s his movies were, at first co-productions with the Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest productions companies out of Hong Kong. Throughout most of the 70s he worked almost exclusively for those Hong Kong studios and seems to have relocated there as records indicate that he won third place in the 1975 Hong Kong Yacht Race and was honored by the Hong Kong Film Archives.  But in 1966, when A Dangerous Man was made and released, Jeong was working soley for Korean studios. Glancing through a list of his films, none of them jump out at me as being particularly famous however, if A Dangerous Man is any indication of the quality of his work then I want to see more.

The basic plot revolves around Deok-tae (Shin Seong-il) who lives with his older sister Ok-joo (Moon Jeong-sook).  Ok-joo has supported and raised her brother after the death of their parents and plays the role of mother and sister to him and, for his part, Deok-tae is very protective of her. Ok-joo falls in love with a gangster named Mr. Min (Heo Jang-kang) and the two date several times before he tells her that he was only seeing her for fun and dumps her when she starts talking marriage.  Pregnant, Ok-joo sees no option but to have an abortion. Naturally upset, she tells her brother what has happened to her and he, already something of a lowlife, hatches an absolutely evil plan for revenge which involves Min’s younger sister Yeong-ah played by Moon Hee.

I cannot stress enough just how evil Deok-tae’s plan is and yet, somehow, even as he is looking somewhat maniacal while plotting and carrying out his plan, I found myself both loathing and rooting for him. I don’t know exactly how that happened but the writing and Shin’s acting combine to make a complex character out of Deok-tae.  Although Shin Seong-il was certainly overworked, when he likes his role and is in his element, his acting is excellent. We learn early on that he is crude when, at a concert, he throws popcorn at the piano soloist (although I have to admit, I found that to be pretty funny). However, he later proves himself to be much worse than just ill-mannered and commits a crime that should have landed him in jail…if Yeong-ah could have been convinced to tell anyone. But Yeong-ah genuinely loves him and is willing to ignore all his faults—including finding him in bed with the loose cabaret girl (played brilliantly by Choi Ji-hee–I wish her character had more of a role because she steals the scenes whenever she appears).

If I had one complaint about it it would be that I was often comparing it to Early Rain and Barefoot Youth where Shin Seong-il plays similar characters. It was also similar to Early Rain, also from 1966,  in that much of the rest of the cast from that movie were playing similar characters here as well–Moon Hee in love with a man that is no good for her, Twist Kim as his comic buddy. But as I like both Early Rain and Barefoot Youth–that is not much of a complaint.

I have just mentioned about the basic plot of the movie, there is much more to it that I do not wish to spoil. Although it is not on DVD, it ought to be.   I would buy this film in a hearbeat if it ever became available.

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The Evergreen Tree (1961)

10th January 2010

evergreen treeOriginally posted April 18, 2009–There is no denying that the late Shin Sang-ok was one of the best and most important directors during Korean cinema’s  ’Golden Age’. His works such as The Red Muffler, Mother and the Houseguest and The Thousand Year Old Fox. At a time when the Korean film industry became mired in cookie-cutter melodramas due to government control, Shin was able to continue to create excellent works that would draw international attention. The Evergreen Tree screened as part of a retrospective at the 53rd Cannes International Film Festival and, at the time of its release, won numerous awards. It was also released in the late 80s on video as part of the Shin Sang-ok collection which included the movies listed above. However, the Evergreen Tree was not included in the recently released DVD set of Shin’s works. After re-watching the film last night, I can understand why it was passed up–at least for now.

The film is set in the 1920s when Korea was under the colonial rule of Japan. Yeong-shin (played by the Choi Eun-hee–Shin Sang-ok’s wife) and Dong-hyeok (Shin Yeong-gyun) graduate from college with a cause. They plan to bring education and modernization to farmers living in the rural area of their birth. When they arrive, the pair immediately gets to work, Dong-hyeok builds a village hall and starts aiding the farmers while Yeong-shin tries to gather the children to form a school. However, the villagers at first resent and resist the pair. It is not until one child, Ok-bun, takes the inititive and and learns to read under Yeong-shin’s care that the villages trust the pair and allow their children to be taken from the fields and taught reading, writing and math.

As their success grows, the pair comes under scrutiny by the Japanese officials and their supporters in the area. Dong-hyeok is arrested and Yeong-shin is forbiddent to have more than 30 students in the village hall she has been using for teaching.  Truthfully, the hall she has been using is too small and the officials were not entirely in the wrong in limiting her class size.  Yeong-shin begins construction of a school building on her own and soon has the entire community pitching in. They complete the school in time for Dong-hyeok’s return. However, exhausted from the work and the stress, Yeong-shin collapses and dies leaving Dong-hyeok to carry on her work alone.

This is definitely NOT my favorite work of Shin. The story strikes me far too much of being like the ‘New Village’ propaganda even this film was made just before that policy officially began. However, the film was popular enough to spawn a remake directed by Im Kwon-taek in 1978 and the film, Viva the Island Frogs (1972) borrows heavily from this movie as well although no credit is given to the writers of Evergreen Tree. For me, the saving grace of this film is the acting. Choi Eun-hee delivers the performance of her life as the impassioned Yeong-shin and she fairly glows while she is delivering her lines. The ever-present Heo Jang-kang and Do Geum-bong appear and it was nice seeing them in roles where they were not the villains of the piece. Shin Seong-il also appears in this film and is many scenes, but usually in the background. It was still early in his career and he did not yet have the star power that he would later acquire so most of his scenes in this film are non-speaking parts.

If this film were to be released on DVD, I would not pass it up. However there are many more movies I would select before this one.

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Short Reviews of 4 Films from the 60s

9th January 2010

old potterOriginally posted June 20, 2009–Just because I have been busy with the end of the semester for the past couple of weeks does not meet that I haven’t been watching movies. I just haven’t had time to write about them.  Recently I watched four older films from the 60s. Keep Quiet When Leaving and The Apron (not pictured), both from 1964, How’s Your Wife (1966) and The Old Potter (1969).   All of these are VERY melodramatic but I enjoyed most of them–the exception being How Is Your Wife for reasons I will get to.

The Old Potter was directed by Choi Ha-won. Previously I was not a fan of Choi having only seen his 1981 film The Invited Ones. That movie, about the persecution of Christian missionaries and converts in 18th Century Korea was far too heavy-handed in its Christian imagery and seems to have been made with the idea of converting viewers.  However, I found The Old Potter to be very enjoyable. The title character is played by the talented Hwang Hae whose film career stretched from 1959 to 1990.  Much of the pain the character goes through is conveyed through the eyes and Hwang’s experience in acting is put to good use  in many close ups of his face. There are no surprises in this film–you can guess how the movie will end as soon as the enormous, crumbling, clay kiln makes its appearance–but it was completely enjoyable.

The Apron was directed by Lee Bong-rae and featured some of the top actors of the time, most notably Kim Seung-ho and Jo Mi-ryeong. The appeared in many films together such as 1960s The Coachman where they had roles similar to what they play here–an older couple with possible romantic interest unsure whether they should actually persue their feelings or live how society expects them to live. Kim plays a retired widower named Kang who lives with his three children and housemaid. The eldest daughter, Myeong-hee (played by Uhm Aeng-ran), senses a relationship developing between her father and the maid but she is very oppposed to this and worries what people would think if their feelings became public. However, what Myeong-hee does not realize is that she is adopted and the housemaid whom she treats like dirt is actually her mother. Good acting all around and fun appearances by Twist Kim and a very young Ahn Sung-ki.

Keep Quiet While Leaving is pure melodrama and could have easily been a Rock Hudson/Doris Day film from the 1950s.  This movie also starred Uhm Aeng-ran along with the man who would become her real-life husband, Shin Seong-il.  In the film, they play Mi-yeong and Myeong-su.  Mi-yeong is the only daughter of a wealthy man (Kim Seung-ho) who falls in love with a student working his way through university. Mi-yeong’s parents are horrified by her taste in men especially when she has the chance to marry her long time friend and social equal. In defiance of her parents, Mi-yeong leaves home to live with Myeong-su and soon becomes pregnant. As they do not have enough money and another mouth to feed, Mi-yeong starts a business making baby clothes with the help of her friend. But Myeong-su is jealous of their relationship and feels he has failed as a man. He takes out his frustrations on his wife, locking both she and their infant baby out of the house on a rainy night. Mi-yeong makes her way to her parents house but, althought the infant survives the experience, Mi-yeong succombs to illness and dies begging her parents to forgive Myeong-su as ‘he is not a bad man.’  Her parents do not agree and raise their granddaughter for the next three or four years until Myeong-su shows up, now with a job in foreign affairs, wanting to take the child with him to the USA. It is an odd ending with the grandparents making a decision I found hard to believe but otherwise it was a good movie–no deep meaning but interesting to watch.  This movie was directed by Kim Ki-deok.

How’s Your Wife was my least favorite of the foursome I watched. It was the story of Jeong-sook (Kim Ji-mi) who for the past thirteen years has been a dutiful wife to her unnamed husband played by Kim Jin-gyu. But when day her friend introduces her to a dance hall targeting a slightly older clientelle.  She soon becomes a regular there in part because of gigalo Jae-seok (Shin Seong-il).  Jae-seok falls in love with her even though he was originally operating a blackmail scheme with his friend (played by Kim Soon-cheol). The plan was to take pictures of Jeong-sook in a compromising position and then force her to pay money to prevent her husband from finding out. Even though Jeong-sook was prepared to sleep with Jae-seok, she has a change of heart and feels guilty about her actions. However, Jae-seok’s friend still manages to get a shot of the pair together that would certainly spell the end of her marriage. The story continues and director Lee Seong-gu spares no effort in punishing Jeong-sook for her emotional, if not physical, affair and the film ends with her in a mental hospital after a suicide attempt with her children crying for their mother outside. That, however, is not the problem I had with the film. The complaint I have involves an unfortunate bit of ‘comedy’ involving a minor character played by Choi Nam-hyeon (NOT known for his comedic films).  In it, he plays a man who goes to the dance hall and shyly tries to ask women to dance–until he runs into his wife dancing to a jive tune with another man. He then drags her to a back room and “comically’ beats her. It is a disturbing double-standard that ruined the entire movie for me.

Hmmm..I thought I didn’t have enought to say about these films to give them each their own posts, but I guess I could have..this post ran longer than I thought it would…

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Pure Love (1968)

28th November 2009

pure loveA far better title for this film would have been ‘Pure Melodrama’.  Even in 1968, the plot of this film must have felt old but watching it in 2009 it was absolutely ancient and 100 percent predictable.  I did get a kind of perverse enjoyment watching the characters onscreen getting themselves into a totally preventable mess. However, that is not the reason I watched the film to its conclusion.  It was because the acting was rather good and director Nam Sang-jin managed to add some interesting scenes.  Although these scenes falied to inspire any deep emotions in me, some of them were quite nice to look at.

The story revolved around the apparently irrestible Prof. Jang.  Happily married, Jang would never, ever consider cheating on his wife.  Even when the poor woman is taken mysteriously ill, Jang’s devotion is unwavering and he vows to write to her everyday that she is in the hospital.  However, Jang’s charm is so great that he has forever ruined young Soo-jeong’s hope of ever meeting his equal.  She is infatuated with him after just one meeting and will not look at another man–not even smile—until she can be in his arms.

Soo-jeong’s friend, a cabaret owner and an aquaintence of  Jang’s conspires to have Soo-jeong meet Jang again and take advantage of the fact that Jang is lonely while his wife is away. After being lured to the cabaret on an exceptionally slow night, Jang and Soo-jeong are soon dancing close together.  In a clever bit, we are given a view of each of their private thoughts.  The radient Soo-jeong is thinking of flowers, spring and Jang while Jang is imagining that he is dancing with his wife.

Realizing how dangerously close he is to succumbing to Soo-jeong, Jang beats a hasty retreat and flees into the rainy night–only to realize he forgot his umbrella.  Soo-jeong comes to his rescue with an umbrella built for two and he has no choice but to walk home with her and share her bed. One night of illicit passion leads to several more and Jang realizes that he has fallen in love with Soo-jeong.  So, when his wife is released from the hospital, he does managed to spare a thought for Soo-jeong.  Of course, it doesn’t mean that he will call her again.  He just stops showing up at her house.

The movie might have ended there it Soo-jeong did not turn out to be pregnant.  Jang meets her one more time and gives her a wad of money hoping that will be the end of the situation.  Soo-jeong eventually gives birth to Jae-man and is perfectly content to raise him alone, but her friend, the cabaret owner, is furious that Jang is escaping parental duties.  She introduces Jang to his infant son and, as she planned, Jang is overjoyed.  He starts to split his nights between his own house and Soo-jeong’s house–until his wife finds out.

You might think a catfight would break out between Jang’s two families, but then you weren’t paying attention to the title.  Both women love Jang purely.  After first his wife demands he come home—but as soon as she sees the helpless baby wailing for his father, she relents and offers to freely give up Jang for the sake of his son.  When Soo-jeong sees the sacrifice Jang’s wife is about to make, she does one better.  Realizing she was at fault all along, Soo-jeong abandons her infant on the doorstep of Jang’s house and staggers away into the night–forever to live alone.

As you can see–there is nothing particularly special about this film.  The final scene–with Soo-jeong walking slowly away dressed in mourning white is well done.  But for the most part it is hard to identify with ANY of the characters—except perhaps the cabaret owner.  Veteran actors  take all the major roles in the film.  Prof. Jang is played by Shin Yeong-gyun while Choi Yoon-hee plays Soon-jeong and Ko Eun-ah plays his wife. Between them they led the casts of literally hundreds of films throughout the sixties and seventies.

I doubt this film will ever make its way to DVD which is why I revealed the end.  The far superior I Hate You But Once Again series is a much better example of Korean melodramas of the late sixties with a similar plot but more believable motivations.

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The General’s Mustache (1968)

5th November 2009

generals mustacheOriginally posted August 27, 2007–Are you looking for a well-paced mystery that mixes brilliantly colored scenes with stark black-and-white noir photography, a Sam Spade-esque detective and a jaunty, but somehow depressing, cartoon?  Look no further–The General’s Mustache is for you!

I was excited to see this classic directed by Lee Seok-goo was airing over EBS last Sunday.  The cinematography alone is enough reason to watch it but the fact that you are getting an interesting story as well guaranteed this film’s success when it was released. In fact the movie earned several awards including two Best Director awards, two Best Cinematography Awards, prizes for music and screenplay and it was given the title of Best Film  at the 7th Grand Bell Awards.  It also went on to screen at the 4th Chicago Film Festival.

The story, based on a novel by Kim Uh-ryeong, revolves around photojournalist/artist Kim Cheol-ho (Shin Seong-il).  At the start of the movie, Kim Cheol-ho is found dead and his death is determined to be suspicious enough to warrent an investigation.  The case is handled by a detective played by Kim Seung-ho who begins to retrace not only the last few hours of Cheol-ho’s life, but the victim’s life in general, to find out what made him tick and where he might have made enemies. 

The investigation enables the police to flesh out the life on Kim and provides an interesting array of suspects and motives.  We learn that Kim Cheol-ho never felt as if he fit in with society.  This is handled masterfully through the animated sequence pictured above.  Kim Cheol-ho had an idea for a screenplay that he unsuccessfully pitched to a producer.  The story took place in a city that was honoring a larger-than-life war hero. This general comes riding down the street leading a large unit of soldiers. Besides his size and the enormous number of medals decorating his chest, the most remarkable thing about the general is his beard and mustache. A small, balding reporter dashes forward for an interview and shyly asks the general if he can grow a mustache like his to which the general responds, “Do as you wish.”  It is not long before every man in the city is sporting a mustache. Those who cannot grow a full beard wear a false set.  Everyone that is except one man.  This sad young man, clearly meant to be Cheol-ho, has no wish to conform and this results in him being fired from his job. 

This short animation is very telling about the character of Cheol-ho but it is also extremely well done.  The images are drawn in a way very similar to Disney animation of that period and do not look much like the Korean animated films of that time.

Director Lee and cinematographer Jang Seok-joon knew how to use various techniques to their best advantage.  In one scene, the detectives are theorizing about a possible event in which they discuss the possiblity of Cheol-ho’s strict and unforgiving father having been attacked by his son. The events in their discussion are shown to the viewer in stark black and white photography with a well-designed, atmospheric set. However, their talk also demonstrates that the detectives do not know much about Kim yet as Shin Seong-il plays him with very different body language and facial expressions in that scene-looking more like a hardened killer than a tortured artist.

One of the best parts in the movie reminded me of the recent comedy, Unstoppable Marriage.  The character played by Kim Soo-mi in that film mangles both the English and Korean languages as she tries to show off her fluency.  The same situation occurs in The General’s Mustache when Kim is assigned to photograph an interview with a professor and his wife who spent five years in the US.  The couple liberally and comically mix English into their dialog and pretend not to remember some of the Korean expressions.  Kim Cheol-ho is not the kind of man to let that kind of pretention go unheeded and angers the pair with his rightous indignation.

So who did kill Kim Cheol-ho?  Was it his nosy landlady whom the police question first? Or perhaps it was the slinky seductress he asked to model nude for his art.  Could it have been his ex-girlfriend tired of his bouts of depression and dellusions of artistic grandeur, a family member out for revenge for some unknown crime or one of the many people he offended in the last few months of his life? 

The answer, while not shocking after watching the movie, is a logical conclusion to the life that slowly and carefully unfolds before the viewer.  Definitely worth a look.

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The Door of the Body (1965)

10th October 2009

door to the bodyOriginally posted November 27, 2007— When I heard saw that EBS was going to be showing a movie by Lee Bong-rae on Sunday night, I wasn’t sure that I was going to stay up to see it.  After all, I had seen a couple of his films already and, while they are not bad, they did not really interest me. Both Lee’s A Salaryman  and A Petty Middle Manager focused on troubled businessmen, the first about an honest man unjustly fired by a corrupt supervisor who sees the man as an obstacle to his potentially embezzling money and the latter about the dangers of office gossip.  The Door of the Body also features employment quite heavily especially how society views different jobs.    However, unlike the previously mentioned films, I found it to be genuinely entertaining. The action is entirely character driven and Jeon Ok as the elderly madame and Bang Seong-ja as the younger sister add a great deal of interest to the film with their performances.

The movie stars Kim Hye-jeong as Eun-sook who goes to Seoul from an unidentified country town to find employment.  Easily identified at the train station as a country bumpkin by her dress and the way she is ogling the city, she is approached by a middle-aged woman. Despite her respectable dress and appearance, we viewers are immediately put on guard against her because of her shifty actions–the way she watches others and the determined glint in her eyes that shows she has something up her sleaves. To the lost country girl, she is all sweetness–offering a place to stay for the night and a high-paying job that she can start right away.  Unfortunately, the kindly older woman is actually a madame out collecting new prostitutes–kidnapping unsuspecting innocents from the train station and depriving them of a way to get home until it is too late.

The opening scene is quite short and the next time we see Eun-sook, her pigtails and hanbuk are gone and an older, more experienced woman, stands before us.  She is no longer a prostitute, but works as a massuese in a bath house. She and the other workers scrub and massage the clients and look after each other making sure that their clients don’t become too friendly. Although she appears to be making s decent living, she wants to get out of that job where she is continually mistaken for a prostitute to open a beauty salon. For that she needs one million won which she does not have.

One of the reasons that she does not have the money is because she is frequently blackmailed by her former madame. The older woman, now toothless, shabby and vulgar–all pretext of sophistication having rotted away–threatens to expose Eun-sook’s past to her neighbors and get her kicked out of her modest apartment if she doesn’t pay her regularly.  She does seem to have the chance for a loan however in the form of Choi Man-seok whom she finds herself falling in love with.

Then Eun-sook’s younger sister shows up on her doorstep with a suitcase in hand saying that she has also left home and wants to work in the big city. At first Eun-sook is against it and makes plans to send the girl back home on the first train, but then takes pity on her and lets her stay in the house doing light housework for a small allowance. However, when Eun-sook goes to work, her sister is visited by the old madame who immediately sees a chance to make some money with this innocent looking young lady.  She pimps the girl out for the night but the girl proves to be far less innocent and helpless than everyone assumed. Not only does she willingly sleep with the man she was set up with, for a fee, but she also robs him before he wakes up and sets up some more clients for herself. But she takes things a step to far when she successfully seduces Man-seok in Eun-sook’s home and her older sister walks in on them.

I have to say again how good Jeon Ok as the old woman and Bang Seong-ja as the sister are.  Even though they go a little over the top with their acting at times, it is both believable and enjoyable–you can’t wait for them to get screen time against when their scenes are finished.  And their is another interesting scene when the massage palor girls take an outing to a ‘Women Only’ spa and get facials and massages. They engage a little in ‘turnabout is fairplay’ tactics–teasing and groping at the male workers pampering them.

This is another film that you should be on the lookout for–not yet on DVD, but an excellent candidate to be.

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The Reluctant Prince (1963)

10th October 2009

reluctant princeOriginally posted October 20, 2007–Last night I sat down and watched yet another Shin Sang-ok film.  Unlike his other films that I have reviewed here, this one has a strong element of comedy involved–mostly in the form of sight gags.  I now know why Shin did not make many comedies…  The movie itself is not bad but the comic scenes are poorly timed and executed–though much of the fault may lie with the lead actor Shin Yeong-gyun who is also not know as being a comic actor. (The KMDB generously overlooks the fact that the film is at least in part a comedy and opts to list the movie as a historical melodrama).

It is the story of Byeong who, at the beginning of the film, we assume is a country bumpkin living in the mountains of Ganghwa Province.  From the term people use to address him, we know that he is from nobility, but there is clearly nothing left of the fortune his ancestors might have had as Byeong lives in a clay and straw hovel with barely enough to eat.  He gets by though with his knowledge of what plants and roots are edible in the hillsides where he gathers straw and assisted by a man he addresses as brother.

However, when the king of the nation falls ill, life changes dramatically for Byeong. It turns out that he is closely related to the ruling house and he is thought out by the Queen Mother to be groomed as the heir. For a man raised in the mountains where he could wander freely, living in the confines of the palace surrounded by servants and attendants is equal to living in prison. He is not used to the rich food, palace etiquette nor sitting still and he longs to run free. He also longs for his friend, Bok-nyeo, a girl that he grew up with and whom he had always treated as an equal.

He misses her so much that the Queen Mother agrees to fetch her and allow her to live at the palace as one of the attendants. Their happy reunion is short-lived however as not long afterwards, Byeong is married to a woman of royal blood.  On his wedding night, the new prince escapes from his bride and joins Bok-nyeo on a secret visit into town where they meet with Bok-nyeo’s mother who has opened a shop their selling food and drink. Enjoying the country-style food, the prince has soon forgotten all protocol and is litterally frolicking with people of all classes. 

But princes do not frolic. The Queen Mother soon discovers what is going on and puts an immediate stop to it.  And while Byeong is bemoaning his fate and the fact that he is not allowed to do anything fun, Bok-nyeo is taken before the Queen to face punishment for being a bad influence on the future monarch. 

The plot synopsis does sound like a melodrama the way I have described it, and it gets to be even moreso from the point after the Queen finishes with Bok-nyeo, but it is the comedy that stands out most clearly in my mind.  The first bit is handled very well. Byeong has fallen while in the mountains and his clothes are severly torn in the most unlikely way.  He goes to Bok-nyeo who sneaks away to sew it for him. She manages to mend his shirt easily without him having to take it off but she faces a problem with the pants because the right leg has torn all the way up to the crotch. The pair come up with a solution where Byeong can take off his pants behind a bush. Because Bok-nyeo is wearing pantaloons under her hanbok, she allows Byeong to wear her skirt so he will not be bare.  Of course, the pair is discovered and a comic chase with the two looking like they are in drag occurs.  What makes this scene work is not so much the situation, it is how the characters relate to each other.  It shows that they are very comfortable in their treatment of one another very much like equals or true friends.

Later comedy does not work quite so well. Some parts of the princes education like how to walk without letting the tassles on the crown swing are fine, but others like the diarrhea scene or the antics on the grass when first reunited with Bok-nyeo just go on forever.  A liberal use of scissors in the editing room was required.

Had Shin decided to cut out the comedy in the film, I would be more than happy to recommend it. The story and acting are good. But the poor execution of the comedy makes me reluctant to do so. There are much better examples of Shin’s work out there.

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The Male Beautician (1968)

10th October 2009

male beauticianOriginally posted February 12, 2008—When I saw that EBS would be showing this film on Sunday night, I was looking forward to it since it is rare that they show a comedy and this was one that I hadn’t seen before. However, I also steeled myself and prepared to be at least mildly offended for male hairdressers everywhere. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. This was not so much a running joke about men who enter traditional female roles. It was instead more of a spoof of one person’s life–and the spoof was done rather respectfully at that.

It is the story of Ku Hyeong-gu played by popular comedian Ku Bong-seo. Hyeong-gu was the name of a charater Bong-seo played in an earlier film by director Shim Woo-seob called The Male Housemaid (1968) and, although there is a sequel to that film called The Male Housemaid 2 made in 1970, The Male Beautician seems like the true sequel and a continuation of Hyeong-gu’s story.  It starts off with Hyeong-gu running out of the house in his apron buying tofu from the delivery cart.  He complains about how small his salary is as a kitchen maid and wishes for a way to make more money. That is when he hears about a man who studied hairdressing in France and gets the idea that he can be a beautician as well.

He goes to the shop of Miss Oh (Choi Ji-hee) who is expecting the aforementioned hairdresser. She mistakes Ku for ‘Andre Yoon’ and offers him a contract. The sight of how much money he is being offered–500,000 KRW upfront for signing the contract and then 50,000 per month plus a place to live. This was an enormous amount of money at that time and Ku cannot refuse.  He bumps into the real Andre and quickly sends him on his way, telling him there is no job here–but not before learning a handful of French expressions and taking notes on his style and mannerisms.

Ku then begins working in the shop and his clumsy attempts at hairstyling and beauty treatments are adored by the neighborhood women as they are passed off as being in the style of Paris. This illusion is helped by fellow housemaid, Nan-yi (Nam Jeong-im) who passes herself off as a former exchange student who studied under Andre and gives various foreign-sounding names to his hair creations.

I mentioned earlier that this film seemed like a friendly spoof of a certain individual and the name of the hairdresser should have given that away. I was talking about Andre Kim, the internationally recognized fashion designer.  The mannerisms and speaking style mimic Andre Kim to a tee. At first I wondered if Kim was even around at that time, but a quick search revealed that he had opened his first shop in Seoul in 1962 and had his first international fashion show in Paris in 1966.  (I also learned that he received all of his education in Korea which makes me wonder why he massacres the Korean language whenever he speaks–dropping in English or French words at every opportunity). 

Like many Ku Bong-seo comedies, this is a very light but very watchable movie with lots of sight gags. Enjoy it if you get the chance.

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