Seen in Jeonju

Archive for the '1960s' Category

Plateau (1969)

10th October 2009

Originally posted January 21, 2008  –plateauLee Seong-gu is a very competent director whose work needs a wider audience.  I think I mentioned that before when I reviewed his film The General’s Mustache. Although the material he had to work with was not always top-notch, he often managed to film it in a way that gave it some appeal.  Plateau from 1969 is a case in point.  The story is nothing new, but the movie is able to hold the viewers interest.  Plateau is the tale of an artist named Oh Hyeon living in the house of his good friend Hyeon-woo just before the Korean War. Also in the house are Hyeon-woo’s wife and his younger cousin, Yeong-ju.  Hyeon-woo is not the same man that Oh had known when they were younger.  He is drinking far too much and is very short when talking to his wife–even going so far as to accuse her, half-jokingly, of having an affair with Oh. This makes his wife quite uncomfortable because, in fact, she would like to be having just such an affair and has been coming on quite strong to the young artist. Unfortunately for her she is married to Oh’s best friend and Oh has been gradually developing an interest in Yeong-ju.

The tension in the house is momentarily forgotten when the Korean War breaks out. Hyeon-woo is called away and does not return. His wife goes out to look for him and while she is gone, the city is bombed. Oh and Yeong-ju take refuge under the covers in the bed tucked away in the basement and there the two commit to their love. Hyeon-woo’s wife comes home and realizes what the two have been up to and decides then and there that she has to outwit her young rival.  Oh goes out to talk some sense into Hyeon-woo who has joined the Northern Army. While he is out, Hyeon-woo’s wife, (if she was given a name, I didn’t hear it), tells Yeong-ju that Oh has been drafted against his will. Yeong-ju flees the house to follow the men who are being led away by soldiers futilely looking for her lover. When Oh returns home, Hyeon-woo’s wife, henceforth HWW because I’m tired of typing, informs him that Yeong-ju has fled the city.

The pair also leave, heading south. At first, Oh has no intention of travelling with HWW and tries to leave her behind…only to have her come running after him.  Once she tells him that he should go off and leave her and when he does she is chasing after him at top speed two minutes later. Eventually though they are able to get on a boat heading the Jeju Island where Oh has a friend who owns a large tangerine grove. The pair start working there and living together as husband and wife after the war is over.

However, as fate would have it, Oh is called away to Seoul to visit a friend in the hospital. The very idea of him leaving sends HWW into fits of worry and she begs him to be back the next day. Perhaps she had a right to be worried as Oh is reunited with Yeong-ju at the hospital.  Yeong-ju had completed her education and is now an obstetrician. 

The movie follows a basic melodrama story from there with Oh trapped between two women–one whom he loves and one whom he is having a baby with.  It is interesting that the film does not villainize HWW.  It would not seem totally out of the realm of possibility–after all, she tricked the lovers to separate them and she is still married even if she can’t meet her husband in North Korea.  Instead, the film treats her, and all of the cast, like a victim.  And it is a role HWW enjoys. Even before the war, she was a victim trapped in a marriage on the verge of failing and making a rival of Yeong-ju when there was really no need. Kim Ji-mi plays HWW and portrays her in such a whiney, clingy way that it is impossible to like her even as we feel pity for her. Mind you, I didn’t feel pity for her self-made problems…I felt pity for her weekness and her inability to cope on her own.

While it is not a movie I would tell everyone to run out and buy (if it were on dvd), it is one that is quite interesting if one likes melodramas. And there is the strangest gizmo that HWW uses in her room at the orchard–it looks like a mini-loom but I had never seen anything like it before–the movie was worth it just to see Kim Ji-mi struggling unsuccessfully to use it and it offers a glimpse of day to day life in Korea after the war.

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Ggotne (1969)

8th October 2009

ggotneOriginally posted September 17, 2007 –Ggotne was broadcast last night over EBS’s weekly Korean Movie Special that gives people the opportunity to watch movies made between 1950 and 1990. I love the show, butI hate the time it airs. It used to run twice on the weekend, once on Saturday afternoon and then again late Sunday night, but only the Sunday night time remains. It begins at 11 pm and most movies wraps up about 1:00. I used to stay up watching the movies and then get up to teach an early class but this semester I wised up and arranged my class schedule so that I do not have any morning class on Mondays. I feel foolish admitting that I adjust my life around a tv program, but it really is the only way to see many of these classic movies.
The film Ggotne is set sometime in the 1920s. It is the story of a young, mute woman from an affluent family. ‘Young’ may be a relative term because the woman, Ggotne, is already over 20 and her family is worried that they will never be able to find her a husband. Not being able to find a husband from among her social peers because of Ggotne’s handicap, her parents arrange a marriage for her a few steps lower on the social scale. The family they choose for her are respectable farmers, not the poorest of the poor, but they must work hard for what they have. They are eager for the wedding as their son has a problem of his own–he is quite simple. At the beginning of the movie, the husband’s foolishness is overplayed by actor Lee Nak-hoon who vigorously and frequently picks his nose and stumbles over his robes while walking, but he tones down his performance by the mid-point of the film.
Ggotne wins everyone over with her sweetness and everyone’s life is enriched when she gives birth to a perfectly healthy son named Dolyi. However, as the years pass Man-bok, her husband, becomes more lazy and irritable. One night, he leaves his house in a huff after both of his parents scold him for sleeping for taking a nap and he winds up a the local bar. There he meets the sultry, gold-digging barmaid who convinces him to run off with her to the city. Before going, Man-bok asks his wife for her jewelry which she trustingly hands over to him. Then he and the barmaid run off into the night.
Although she is crushed by his betrayal and injured from his abuse when she tries to prevent him from leaving, Ggotne carries on in the house taking care of the fields, her son and her inlaws. The entire village sympathizes with the Ggotne and one of the village women points out a place on the top of a high hill where a wife can pray and her husband will return home to her. Ggotne immediately goes to the site and prays to the divine but it is then that she learns you must be careful what you wish for. Her husband does indeed come back…but he is not alone.
Ggotne is not a bad film, but it is not necessarily one that I would say you ‘Must see.’ I takes patience to get through, with long scenes where somebody–or sometimes everybody–sobs their hearts out. Kim Ji-mi as the lead overacts as she often does. Unlike Jang Mi-hee who also played a mute character in Neumi, Kim Ji-mi cannot seem to convey what she is thinking with her eyes. Instead she gestures wildly and makes half-formed words. The film was directed by Ko Yeong-nam and like many of his films, it is competent but not really memorable. That is the reason I am writing about it now. I thought that if I waited until later in the week I would have forgotten the movie completely. Well–not quite completely–This movie did teach me what to do if a script calls for a tiger but the budget does not allow for even a tiger costume

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