Seen in Jeonju

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Miracle in Cell No. 7 <2013>

5th February 2013

Miracle In Cell No. 7 <2013>– Directed by Lee Hwan-kyeong. Starring Ryu Seung-ryong as Yong-gu, Park Shin-hye as adult Ye-seung, Kal So-won as young Ye-seung and Oh Dal-soo as ‘the gangster’

1그룹_~4 This past weekend, I took a rare trip up to Seoul to visit a friend. While there, we decided to see a movie and, since neither of us had seen The Berlin File, that is what we opted for. However, going to the theater in Seoul is far different than going to see a movie in Jeonju. Here, you usually do not need to make a reservation. If a movie is sold out, you simply walk across the street to another theater..and each theater has enough screens so that popular films will be on more than one screen in each multiplex and staggered so you don’t have to wait long. In Seoul, you must make a reservation and, since we had decided this course of action on the spur of the moment, there was no way we were going to be able to see Berlin File. We were in Myeongdong at the time where my friend will be opening a health club and the CGV there has quite a limited number of screens. Berlin File was sold out for the next two screenings so, instead of going to some other place, we chose to watch Miracle in Cell No. 7. I was unsure about this decision, but I had been hearing some good things about movie so I thought I would give it a chance.

One of the things I had heard was that it was like the film I Am Sam but not having seen that film, that didn’t mean much to me until I looked it up on the internet. After reading about I Am Sam, I have to disagree with the assessment that the two films are similar. In the Miracle in Cell No. 7, the father and daughter are separated by the fact that he is in prison, not because anyone is challenging his parenting skills based on his mental capacity. Instead, this new movie reminded by of the Korean film Harmony with one major difference. I spent most of my time sobbing while watching Harmony while the Miracle in Cell No. 7 divides its time between comedy and drama and leans more heavily to the comedic side.

The story is about the love Yong-gu and his daughter Ye-seung. When Yong-gu is arrested and charged with murdering a child for her bag that he wanted to give to his daughter, the pair of devastated. An elaborate plan is hatched by Yong-gu’s cellmates to find a way to reunite the two. It’s a story where it is necessary to suspend disbelief and accept some coincidencs.

I loved the opening scene of the adult Ye-seung leaving the prison in the snow and the yellow balloon floating above the grounds, symbols of new purity and memories respectively. And I became engrossed in the story as it unfolded, so much so that I failed to realize that two hours had already passed by the time it was finished. One of the interstesing things about the story is the big question, Did Yong-gu kill the little girl?

Well, I am not going to tell you here. I may write spoilers on twenty or thirty year old movies but I am not going to do it for a film that is still in theaters, and doing very well thank you. So, if you get the chance, head out to the movies during this coming long weekend and give it a chance. It is very good and a movie that I would not mind watching again. Maybe I will if Berlin File is sold out again…

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

Another’s Nest <1982>

25th January 2013

ANOTHER’S NEST <1982&gt;– directed by Lee Gi-hwan. Starring Kim Mi-sook as Soo-hee , Ha Myeong-joong as Byeong-no and Ahn Seong-ki as Min-wook. Running Time: originally 105 minutes–see below. Originally released on November 20, 1982>

anothers nest Soo-hee wants a baby more than anything in the world. She is not feeling fulfilled as a housewife and has filled her side of the bedroom with baby dolls..the larger of which she knits clothes and booties for. Her husband, Byeong-ho has filled his side of the room with cacti, a symbol of the fact that he is unable to father a child. This unfortunate condition constantly preys on his mind and he searches desperately for a cure through both ordinary channels and the extreme, like drinking fresh snake’s blood. He clearly loves his wife and sympathizes with her desire for a family. He tries to distract her by providing her with anything she clothes, a beautiful, modern apartment.. to no avail. Whenever Soo-hee sees children at play, her mind wanders away and she becomes sullen and distant. This distance is growing into an insurmountable gulf with her husband and Soo-hee is soon seeking attention from men outside of the home…and with one man in particular..Min-wook. The two meet with growing frequency and both start to become careless in keeping their relationship a secret from Byeong-no. One especially close call sends Min-wook out of the window on a tiny ledge some 10 or 12 stories above the ground.

This narrow escape does nothing to diminish Min-wook’s desire to be with Soo-hee and he all but confesses to Byeong-no that he has been sleeping with his wife. Soo-hee, for her part, becomes cold and suspicious towards her husband, creating scenarios in her head in which her jealous husband murders both herself and Min-wook. Then one day, Soo-hee’s prayers are answered when a visit to her doctor confirms that she is pregnant, but when she tells her husband it does not have the desired result. First of all, she is no longer in love with Byeong-no and the thought of raising a child with him no longer interests her. Secondly, it makes Byeong-no very suspicious of his wife’s behavior. Despite all the treatements and tonics he has been trying, Byeong-no knows that he will never be able to father a child and he starts paying closer attention to what his wife is up to. Her late night disappearing act from the home is no longer going unnoticed and Byeong-no eventually learns the truth about his best friend and his wife. Rather than confront the pair, he starts playing mindgames with them like frightening his wife with a box of snakes. His torment of Min-wook is a little more serious when he nearly has him crushed under a hydraulic press they are working on.

Although Soo-hee never learns of her lover’s near-death experience, she begins to fear for both of their lives and makes a plan to run away with Min-wook. In spite of some snags along the way, the pair are able to escape and wind up at a seaside villa. There they passionately confirm their love, blissfully unaware that Byeong-no has located them and is on his way for a final confrontation.

It is hard to stay interested in the film when you begin to really hate the main character. Her treatment of Byeong-no was terrible. I am not saying that it was necessary for her to stay with him especially when it is clear that she no longer loves him, but she had no basis for creating scenarios in her head in which Byeong-no is a vicious killer. Also, her motive for cheating was rather shallow. She is bored. She knits baby clothes for a child whom she doesn’t have and stares out the window at the children playing outside her apartment complex. It is also strongly suggested that sex with Byeong-no is not very satisfying as the rather stubby, malformed cactus he is nursing when we are introduced to him not-so-subtly indicates. So she seeks sexual satisfaction outside of the house. Although she is meeting Min-wook from the very beginning of the film, there is no indication that she knows who he is or his connection with her husband. Their secret meetings are done entirely in pitch blackness from the moment she walks in the door of Min-wook’s home. The only way Min-wook learns more about her is by following her out.

anothers nest still imageOnce the two realize that they are connected through Byeong-no, Min-wook seems to take this as a new and exciting challenge. He flirts with danger by strongly dropping hints to Byeong-no about his relationship with his wife. Prior to that, he often filled in his friend and co-worker on his sexual escapades with a mysterious girl. Later, he convinces himself that Soo-hee needs rescuing from her husband whom we have seen up to that point showing nothing but kindness to Soo-hee. In his mind, Soo-hee moves from being a fantasy sexual adventure to a real-life adventure where he must save the damsel in distress. Does he really love her? Despite what he may say to Soo-hee, I think that he does not. Once she becomes available, the adventure will be over. I think it was telling how distant he was during the final, anti-climatic confrontation in which all of Soo-hee assumptions and fears about her husband and what he is capable of prove to be false. By the end, she is free to go with Min-wook and have their child together, but I wonder how long their relationship will last now that it is not forbidden and dangerous anymore. And that is not just because of Min-wook.. even Soo-hee continues with her coy ‘turn off the lights’ game prior to sex, re-creating the atmosphere of forbidden love when it is no longer necessary.

After watching the film, I read what was written about it on the KMDb. To my surprise, there was an extra sentence that implied Byeong-no kills himself, however this does not happen in the movie. I then did some checking and found that a scene had been removed from the original script in which Byeong-no does indeed kill himself after admitting to himself that Soo-hee and Min-wook are in love and that he has lost his wife forever. The version I saw was apparently from the VHS release which was a full 15 minutes shorter than the theatrical release. I, for one, am glad that was left on the cutting room floor when the video version was made. It makes Byeong-no more sympathetic and courageous and less in need of our pity.

Another’s Nest is not available on DVD. I was able to view this film via HanaTV.

Posted in 1980s, Review | Comments Off

A Country Affair <1984>

17th January 2013

A Country Affair <1984>– Directed by Kim Eung-cheon. Starring Jo Yong-won , Choi Yoon-seok and Hwang Joon-wook . Running time: 95 minutes. Originally released May 26, 1984.

country affairDue to her mother’s battle with cancer and the need to be near a specialist in that disease, young Shin-ae is uprooted from Seoul and sent far down the peninsula to the island of Eulpo off the coast of Yeosu.  If this move distresses her, one would never know because Shin-ae always shows herself publically to be a bright, positive and confident young lady who seems not to have a care in the world.  Money is certainly not an issue for her or her mother and Shin-ae is always dressed in the best clothes and even has her own autobike that she plans to ride around the island and to her new school. However, she does not start out by making the best impression on her new neighbors, classmates or school adminstrators.  For example, on the boat to Eulpo, she is approached by a man in his thirties who appears to flirt with her. She lies and claims to be a college student and able to smoke or drink if she wishes, only to discover that man is Mr. Han, one of her high school teachers. Another teacher, Ms Kang, takes what seems like a personal dislike of this priviledged young woman. Ms Kang is in charge of morality and life ethics of the students and she finds Shin-ae’s expensive clothes and long hair offensive as well as her frank way of speaking.  And then there is Hoon, the son of Dr. Kim whom Shin-ae and her mother are boarding with for the foreseeable future.  He is about the same age as Shin-ae but finds her casual way of speaking to him offensive and he resents how Shin-ae and her mother get along so well with his father, appearing like a ready-made family while he still misses his deceased mother. 

The problem with Hoon is rather easily solved as he soon finds himself falling in love with Shin-ae.  His father points out that he barely knows the girl and recommends he cool his heels for a while, but the two naturally begin to grow closer and spend some time together.  Shin-ae’s initial lie to Mr. Han is also easily forgiven although her second lie to him is a little more difficult to let slide.  In order to get out of cutting her hair, Shin-ae lies to Ms Kang saying that Mr. Han had allowed her a month’s grace period and that she could get away with having long hair for the time being.  Mr. Han covers for Shin-ae, preventing her lie from being exposed, but that causes resentment to build up in the crowded classroom.  The other girls are regularly inspected by Ms Kang for make-up, hair length, clothes styles and even perfume. The fact that Shin-ae appears to be getting preferentional treatment does not go over well with most of the other students but she does manage to make one close friend.

Shin-ae complicates the issue by growing a little too close to Mr Han.  To apologize for lying, Shin-ae goes to Mr. Han’s room and spends several hours cleaning it while he is out. She brings him flowers, invites him for ice cream and takes long walks on the beach with him.  Inadvertantly, she develops a full-blown crush on her teacher and his responses to her seem to give her hope that her feelings are reciprocated. She believes the only thing keeping them separated is the fact that he is the teacher and she is a student, but that is something that will not be an issue forever.

Meanwhile, the girls in Shin-ae’s class have had quite enough of this teacher’s pet and decide to teach her a lesson. While on a field trip in the hills, one clique of girls attack and overpower Shin-ae who had wandered off on her own after submiting her essay. Armed with a pair of scissors, the bitter girls make short work of Shin-ae’s luxurious locks.  When the teacher finally arrives on the scene, Shin-ae is sobbing alone, her hair butchered and much of it scattered around the forest floor. This is made even more poignant as Shin-ae’s essay is read over the images where she explains there was a reason she was insisting on long hair.. and it was here that I was pleasantly surprised. The movie does give a valid reason–which I will reveal shortly because, let’s face it, this movie will never be released on DVD with English subtitles– and it is one I should have seen coming but never considered. Like her jealous classmates, I had assumed that Shin-ae was hanging on to her long hair out of a combination of vanity and a sense of superiority. I believed that she thought that since she was from Seoul, a far more progressive city than the town of Eulpo, and she was trying to teach the country-folk the new, better ways of living.  Boy, was I wrong about her. The reason that she wanted long hair– and wanted to grow it out for just one more month– is that her mother will be starting chemotherapy soon and she wanted to make a wig for her mother in case she lost her hair in the treatments! 

I was very impressed by that revelation. In short order, her classmates apologize, Mr. Han and Ms Kang convinced not to resign because of this incident and the end of the school term comes. I thought the movie was ending here but was surprised to see that I was only a third of the way through. The script then made it clear that they were going to spend the rest of the movie dealing with the very uncomfortable-to-watch relationship between Shin-ae and Mr. Han.  In reality, it is not so bad. We the viewers know that Mr. Han is in a relationship with Miss Kwon, another teacher at the school, but this fact is unknown to the students. However, what we are shown are Shin-ae’s fantasies about her and Mr. Han. While I know that it may not be uncommon for a young student to have a crush on a teacher, it seems completely wrong to be privilege to these intensely personal feelings for a man that is completely inappropriate for her. And these daydreams are made worse because the older man takes on the role of pursuer of the teenager. 

When Shin-ae finally realizes that Mr. Han has no real interest in her and wil soon marry Miss Kwon, she has an emotional breakdown and collapses unconsious in the wet sand on the shore. How long she lay there is unknown, but we next see her, still unconscious, hooked up to an IV in the hospital fighting for her life against a high fever, with the all-but-forgotton Hoon loyally and hopefully remaining by her bedside, his love for her still strong despite her attraction to someone else. Will she recover? Will Hoon’s unrequited love be rewarded?  Or will she sink from coma into death and leave everyone to mourn the loss of her bright presence?  After the events of the horrible haircut, this whole situation seems tacked on as an afterthought and, in fact, is very anti-climatic. The last thirty minutes of this film manages to lower the overall quality of the script which was relatively well-paced and well thought out in its first hour. Because of that, the movie moves, in my estimation, from being good and easy to watch to rather forgettable and a little dull in its finale.

Posted in 1980s, Review | Comments Off

True Love For Wife <1975>

16th December 2012

True Love For Wife <1975>– directed by Kim Eung-cheon. Starring Bae Sam-ryong <as Heo Mu-tae>, Park Nam-ok <as Mu-tae’s wife>, Lee Yeong-soo <as Yong-gi> and Yeo Soo-jin <as Yong-gi’s teacher.  Running Time: 108 minutes. Release Date: March 31,  1975

75-020~3Mu-tae works as a photographer for a cosmetics company and is responsible for taking pictures of the models and products. Because of his keen artistic eye, he often acts as creative director as well, writing dialogue for the commercials. This earns him the praise of his bosses and a hefty bonus. It is an understatement to say that Mu-tae needs the money. His wife is seriously ill and needs a pacemaker on top of her heart medication and his usual salary of 39,500 KRW a month does not buy very much. He also has his son, Yong-gi, to think about and provide for.  Naturally, his son’s needs go beyond the monetary. As his wife is unable to exert herself, Mu-tae has taken over the cooking and the housework. He also attempts to attend his son’s school events and this gets him in trouble at work.  However, attending a mother/child picnic at an amusement park with the school introduces him to Yong-gi’s teacher who takes an interest in the family after this meeting and becomes like a second mother to Yong-gi.  She is the one who initiates a special dinner for father and son– and herself– and an evening at a pinball arcade. She even pretends to be Mu-tae’s wife for an important company event.. and seems quite comfortable in the role. 

Although her actions may seem suspect on the surface, there is no ulterior motives to her her interactions with Mu-tae despite how close the two seem to have become. She knows that the photographer loves his wife deeply and there is no room for another woman in his heart. In fact, he had told his wife beforehand about the fact that the teacher would be masquerading as his wife and there are no hard feelings. His wife appreciates all the help and attention that the teacher is giving her family. She is gradually growing weaker and is in dire need of surgery. However, money is tight. Forget the pickpocket that relieves Mu-tae of some of his earnings, his salary is barely enough to cover the monthly expenses.. 5,000 for charcoal bricks to heat the house, another 5000 for Yong-gi’s education expenses, and then there is food and medicine on top of that. Mu-tae finds himself forced to take several other jobs on the side. He gets up in the pre-dawn hours to sell fried eggs and coffee to people exercising in the cold morning air at the park. After work, he moonlights as a waiter and bartender. And whenever he as free time, he attempts to make a little extra cash by taking pictures. But the cost of the pacemaker is said to be 1500 US dollars and his aforementioned salary would be about 35 dollars a month with today’s exchange rate, in 1975 it was a fraction of that! He has to work hard for a long time to get enough money to buy it, even once his salary is raised to 55,ooo KRW a month but, as it turns out, his wife’s condition has deteriorated too rapidly. There is nothing to be done as she finally breathes her last…

When I saw this film was available on Hana TV, I was surprised how low a viewer’s score it received.. just one star out of five. Even the worst films usually are given two stars..  But I am glad I watched it. Not only was I pleasantly surprised with the story which could have veered off into ridiculous levels of maudlin,but it also showed some very negative aspects of business in the mid-70s– something film directors usually steered away from doing or risk severe penalties. The ’70s were hailed as a huge success for businesses as Korea pulled itself back up after a devestating war. The ‘miracle on the Han’ occured with a great sacrifice of human rights. At the very start of this film, we are treated to the inside of a real cosmetics factory where we see hundreds of women dressed in uniforms laboring at crowded tables, packing boxes with the make-up and lotions as the role off the conveyor belt. It looked a little like a scene from the film A Single Spark, which was made to criticize business practices and memoralize Jeon Tae-il who fought for workers’ rights.  Usually in the 70’s, this kind of scene is shown with an air of pride as the government was pushing for the success of industry and wanted to portray it in the best light both at home and abroad. In this film, I feel the director was offering a critique veiled in a melodrama of a dying woman–and that may be how he avoided the censors. The bosses in the company are greedy idiots. The owner of the company, who at first praised Mu-tae for his creativity, later seems to unthinkingly mock him. He knows what kind of salary Mu-Tae makes yet he takes him to an expensive hostess bar where he proceeds to embarrass him by asking the girls he paid for how much they make a month. They respond that they make 100,000– twice that with tips! Mu-tae is shocked when he realizes they make three to 6 times more than he does.  Later, the bosses are painted in an even worse light when they fire Mu-tae for moonlighting.  By working extra, he has tarnished the image of the company. The employeess, the state, are the face of the company and by working as a waiter, he gives the impression to people that the company is not taking care of its workers. Image is everything.

Now, I said above that the film does not fall into overly maudlin however I will be honest and say that the script does try to do just that.  Any scene with Mu-tae’s wife ends up with her crying or collapsing, close to death. And strangely, the movie gives her not one, but two death scenes–one real and one imaginary, after the fact where she dies at her son’s school picnic that she never attended. It was a strange moment as is the end where both Mu-Tae and Yong-gi speak each morning to a gigantic billboard with the face of their lost loved one on it.  I don’t mean speak to as “I miss you” or “I love you, Mommy”.. they have actual conversations with it as the painting tells them to ‘Straighten their ties.’ Presumably this is in their heads and no one else can hear it, but they answer out loud which is more than a little odd–especially on a busy street. 

I was also confused at the end as to whether the teacher had taken on the role of step-mother to Yong-gi. The movie was certainly leading up to that. Their uncomfortably romantic walk by the river after leaving Mu-tae’s wife at home and the way Mu-tae stairs at the teacher’s lips during the company party certainly implied that there was something beginning between the two. It seems unlikely, especially since she knows how much he adores his wife– she is the first to see the huge mural he painted of her for the billboard and, while romantic from one perspective, it also is a little creepy.  However, at the end, the teacher is walking Yong-gi to school with Mu-tae just ahead of them. Did they all leave the house together?  The way the teacher refers to Yong-gi’s deceased mother makes me think that they are all living together. However, it is to the movie’s credit that they leave this point vague and I was grateful that there was no scene in which the dying woman gives her blessing for the husband to find a new love after she passes. Those scenes never work…

True Love For Wife is not on DVD and I suspect will never be. However, it is not a bad film. On one level it is a solid, if standard for the period, melodrama. On the other hand, it offers a view of business in the ’70s that I have rarely seen in a film made at that time. It may not be for everyone, but I found it to be very watchable and have no major complaints.

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Ever So Good <1976>

13th December 2012

Ever So Much Good– directed by Lee Hyeong-pyo. Starring Im Ye-jin <as Kim Seon-hee> , Jeon Yeong-rok <as Jae-yong> and Hwang Hae <as Jae-yong’s father> . Running TIme:96 minutes. Released in theaters: July 3, 1976

76-080~1Kim Seon-hee has graduated first in her class and now dreams of going to a high school in Seoul. Her reasons are twofold. The first is that there is a general perception–no doubt correct in ‘76 but unfortunately persisting to this day– that the schools in Seoul are the best. The second reason is that her hometown sweetheart has also gone to Seoul to study.  In order to accomplish her goals, Seon-hee has secured herself a position as a housemaid with a moderately wealthy family. She is met at the train station by the eldest son of the household, Jae-yong and the two bond quickly. On the way home, they stop in at a dining place called Small Boy next to Jae-yong’s house that gives Seon-hee a chance to meet and charm her new neighbors.

Everyone loves Seon-hee at first sight. And what’s not to love? She is cheerful, bright and unfraid to speak her mind. She has a kind word for everyone and has probably never had a negative thought in her life. The title of the film, Ever So Good, sums up her character in every aspect. Unlike many similar films, this new housemaid from the country is not instantly scolded and chided by the mistress of the house. Instead, Jae-yong’s mother treats her like one of the family and tries to get Seon-hee to call her ‘mother,’ and honor the young girl refuses on the basis that the title of mother is very important and that she has a mother already. It is revealed shortly thereafter that the mother <played by Tae Hyeon-shil> lost a daughter in a traffic accident and Seon-hee bears more than a passing resemblence to her. Even the youngest child, Jae-ho, treats the new maid as a sister and a playmate and it helps that Seon-hee is very athletic and has a passion for soccer and climbing trees.

The only person who does not instantly love Seon-hee is Jae-yong’s girlfriend, Yeo-joo. The reason is because Seon-hee’s rather flipant and casual telephone manners cause a misunderstanding. However, even Yeo-joo is won over once she meets Seon-hee face to face and realizes that she is not a romantic rival for Jae-yong.  In fact, everywhere she goes and everything she does seems to have a successful.. and even joyful… resolution.  So where is the drama in the story?

Well, frankly there is not very much drama.  There is a rapidly solved problem between the waitress at the diner and the cook, but Seon-hee quickly points out that the tension between them is because the cook is in love and the waitress has been to self-absorbed to notice.  One date later and the problems has vanished.  There is also the time that Seon-hee gets carbon monoxide poisoning from the charcoal bricks used for heating the home and the unconscious girl  is rushed to the hospital but this scene takes place entirely off screen–no doubt to avoid distressing the viewers with a scene of a suffocating Seon-hee– and we are introduced to this scenario with Seon-hee waking up and getting told what happened along with the audience. She does have a headache from the experience, but her near-death experience serves a purpose. It forms a fast friendship between the grocery delivery man and the charcoal delivery man who, after duking it out, visit the hospital together. Really, that is about as dramatic as this story gets. We watch Seon-hee go on dates to an amusement park, we worry as Jae-ho forgets his homework and we fret as Jae-yong tries to decide on his future.. but there is no suspense.

The lack of a clear problem to overcome, however, is not a detriment to the film. I actually enjoy watching this kind of movie– the very definition of a ‘high-teen’ drama which were all the rage in Korean cinema of the mid/late ’70s.  And there is no doubt that a large part of the reason I like these films is because they often star Im Ye-jin.  In fact, in the year that this film was made, Ms Im also made two of the ‘Really, Really…’ series of films; I’m Really Really Sorry and and Really, Really Don’t Forget. Singer Jeon Yeong-rok as Jae-yong..aka Small Boy.. is always fun to watch in films even when he does not get a chance to sing like in this movie but what was interesting was seeing him sharing the screen with his real-life father Hwang Hae, here playing his character’s father. Their natural connection works well here and elevates the acting to a whole new level.. and when you add Im Ye-jin into the mix who is always a joy to watch, and experienced Tae Hyeon-shil  then the movie rises far above what its limited script and story.

While the acting throughout the film is excellent by most of the actors, one problem I had with the film was the portrayal of people from the country. Although the movie manages to avoid extreme country accents–something even modern comedies rely on overmuch– Seon-hee arrives in Seoul carrying three dried gourd bowls. That seems a little much, doesn’t it?  I live in the small, country village of Samrye outside of Jeonju, but I do not carry gourds with me when I travel. Yes, my neighbors grow gogourdsurds on their roof, but that doesn’t mean we carry them everywhere!  …  The gourds were played for a visual gag and do not make another showing in the film, but there is another thing that Seon-hee does brings a smile to the faces of the sophisticated Seoulites. In the diner, the server brings a first course of soup, followed by steak, to Jae-yong and Seon-hee. Seon-hee requests some rice along with her dinner and then proceeds to dump it into the soup in order to eat it. Unlike the visual gag with the gourd, this scene is more of a character-defining moment. Rice is often held up as being ‘pure Korean’ and their are often PSA on television that spout the benefits of eating rice at each meal rather than bread and milk. By asking for rice and incorporating into her Western-style food, Seon-hee’s purity of heart would have been immediately recognized by viewers and even the other characters smiling at her actions are not laughing at her, but instead smiling warmly at her innocence which they find refreshing.  However, it does play into the stereotype that country folks are innocent and pure as opposed to the jaded, westernized denizens of Seoul, but that depiction is more of a personal pet peeve than an actual complaint.

The story is based on a novel called Small Boy by Park Soon-nyeo.  I am not sure why the English title was not made that as well since the title of Park’s novel was already English, but it was selected as Ever So Good <or as the KMDb calls it Ever So Much Good– far too ungrammatical for me to write>.  Ever So Good was a loose translation of the Korean title the producers chose over Small Boy and the Korean title, by repeating the word Neomu <which means ‘very’> in the title, connects it at least in the minds of the paying audience with the Really, Really.. films which were extremely successful.   Ever So Good is not available on DVD, but it is a movie that should be. True, nothing much happens plotwise, but the film is saved by some decidely excellent performances.

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Soomokjang (2012)

3rd December 2012

Soomokjang– directed by Park Gwang-choon. Starring Lee Yeong-ah (Cheong-ah), On Ju-wan (Jeong-hoon), Park Soo-jin (Ji-hyo) and Yeon Je-wook (Han-ki). Running Time: 100 minutes. Release Date: November 15, 2012 (theater)/ August 17, 2012 (TV)

posterThe last few weeks for Cheong-ah have seemed like a beautiful dream as she has been preparing for her upcoming wedding with her high school sweetheart, Jeong-hoon.  She is also a tree doctor and researcher which allows her to be outside and working with nature and plants. It is the perfect job her and her love for plants is mentioned on more than one occasion. One particular day however, all that begins to change. Cheong-ah is sent out into the field to investigate a strange blight infecting which may be killing them. Something seems to call out to her from the tree’s trunk and compels her to lay her hand on it. Doing so gives Cheong-ah a vision of a girl, clearly a ghost, in the heart of the tree. This vision unnerves her, but not overly so until that night when her sleep is haunted by terrifying dreams of the dead girl.. and several others as well. Her dreams become even more bizarre as she is apparently attacked and entrapped in her sleep by tree roots. She wakes with a start to find her mother sitting by her bedside persistently asking what she was dreaming. Her mother closes the conversation with Cheong-ah with a query that she always asks, “Did you take your medicine?”

While all this is going on, a second drama begins to unfold. A young man pretends to hang himself in a mental institution in order to undertake an escape.  It is successful after he slays a guard and a truck driver who has been stealing trees from a mountainside burial ground.  The first thing young man named Han-ki does after escaping is to arrange to ‘accidently’ bump into Cheong-ah whom he also knows for high school. He knows her, her fiance, and her best friend Ji-hyo well as they were all classmates together, however Cheong-ah does not recognize him until he sends her a package containing their old yearbook with his photo circled in red. This terrifies Cheong-ah who starts having flashes of surpressed memories including a key one where the shy Han-ki attempts to confess his love for Cheong-ah and give her a present, but is cruelly interrupted and humilated by the rest of their classmates causing Cheong-ah to run away from him. What does this unstable killer have in store for Cheong-ah? Or will the spirits in the trees get her before he does?

I watched Soomokjang last night.  I was supposed to be watching R2B: Return to Base for a magazine article I have to write, but I was procrastinating because I know that film is not very good and yet I have to give it a positive review. Oh, I knew that Soomokjang was not going to be an award-winning film either, but I have far more tolerance for a film that is not good and cost thousands to make as opposed to a film that is not good that cost millions. And anyway, Soomokjang is not terrible.. it just gets derailed a little.

The biggest problem with Soomokjang is that it forgets it started as a horror film. The film itself warns us this is going to happen through the character of the old man in the mountains and insists the story of the ghosts is more about sadness than terror… but I would have preferred terror. The scary and suspensful scenes the movie does have are done simply but well…the sudden flopping over  of a menacing figure, the quickly moving ghost in the forest–always just out of flashlight range, and the revelation of the old man himself.. not to mention the unpredictability of Han-ki. All of these were memorable and effective. However, the film detours into the realm of standard drama with a love triangle or two and attempts at tear-jerking moments.

3The made-for-TV nature of the film is evident as well, especially in the acting. Lee Yeong-ah is passable as Cheong-ah but Park Soo-jin as Ji-hyo is not particularly good. Yeon Je-wook overacts his part as the psychotic Han-ki, throwing in occasional spasm and twitches and the actress playing Cheong-ah’s mother is especially bland. Actor On Ju-wan is several classes above the other actors, but even he sometimes has problems with what the script gives him, with one scene at the end coming across as unfortunately laughable when it was clearly meant to be tear-inducing. The failure of that sceene is due entirely to the writing, not the actors .  All of the characters suffer under the script and they often seem like stereotypes that can be found in almost any K-drama.  Soomokjang’s small-screen origin is evident in another place as well. When mad Han-ki breaks the fourth wall and stares directly at the camera with a long, pregnant silence, I thought to myself, “Ah, commercial break.’  Commercials don’t come as often on Korean tv as they do in many other countries. However, they do occur between programs or at the end of an hour and this was obviously the place to insert an ad. It was evident enough to completely jolt me from the narrative.

However, despite my complaints and criticisms, I am going to say that Soomokjang is entirely watchable–and there are even a few good scenes as mentioned earlier.. especially the old man on the mountain. While the story seems like it was written by two different people and then shuffled together, it was an easy way to spend an hour and a half.  And I got through it.  I can’t say the same for R2B.. and I’m getting paid to write about that…

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

The Goblin’s Club (1986)

26th November 2012

The Goblin’s Club– directed by Park Seung-cheol, Voiced by Ki Eung-do.  Running Time:  60 minutes.  Date of Release: July 20, 1986.

p1In the dead of night, sinister ghost-like figures dance in the darkness on the outskirts of a sleepy village. One by one, the residents of the town extinguish their lights to retire for the night and, as the last light goes out, the waiting spirits make their move. Flowing like water, merging together and dividing again, the spectoral visitors attack each house, frightening the peasants from their slumber. In some cases, the spirits take on a solid form revealing themselves to be purple-skinned monstrosities with horns like a devil and armed to the teeth. In the morning, the villagers find some of the men of the village have gone missing, taken away to wherever these mysterious beings dwell. Night after night this scene plays outself out, leaving the remaining villagers helpless and terrified for their lives.

Cha-dol knows nothing of this. He is far more at home in the woods than in any village. He and his best friend, a talking bear, live free to spar when they want and go where they please. They know nothing of the terrors faced each night by the villagers until a chance encounter with Ibbeun. After rescuing her from some roving bandits, Cha-dol and Bear learn that her father was among the men who disappeared in the middle of the night. Also hearing that the stories of the nocturnal visitations are being attributed to goblins is the Goblin King. He is furious knowing that his subjects would never violate the peace that exists between humankind and his underground race. He sends a party out with a magic, golden club to seek revenge on those perpetrating the reign of terror. Leading the small band of goblins is the Goblin Prince, little more than a boy himself. His inexperience proves to be his undoing as he gets into a fight with Bear. The massive and clumsy animal crushes the Prince who loses the club. While the other goblins are dealing with bear who escapes back to Cha-dol, a watching peasant makes off with the prince’s club.

The peasant makes his way home and is attacked by the purple-skinned goblins upon his arrival. Even without knowing how to control the goblin’s weapon, it is powerful enough to send them running. In their efforts to escape, one of the attackers drops something which had come loose in the fight. It turns out to be a mask and their is a human face underneath. The peasant is not clever enough to make the connection, but Cha-dol and his band have been joined by an emissary from the King and the goblin prince. They confront the peasant and he returns the goblin’s property and explains what happens. As he does this, the entire party is attacked once again. The phoney goblins have returned, this time with a powerful witch who is able to transform them into the spirits we saw at the beginning of the film as well as hurl powerful blasts from her hands.  In the ensuing chaos, she steals the magic club, but not before the prince is able to deactivate it so it cannot be used.  She returns it to her master who is kidnapping the villagers to work in an enormous underground cavern containing veins of gold.  The small band of heroes make their way to the hideout and prepare for a life-and-death showdown between the fake goblins, their master, the witch and her equally powerful brother. 

Korean goblins are an interesting lot that have not received very good treatment on the big or small screen. Few movies deal with them and those that do are often very childish. They are often seen in tv shows designed for very young children, often taking the roles of genies and granting wishes for kids while teaching reading or counting. I would like to see a more serious movie about them, especially if it were in the vein of the horror genre. They certainly could fit the bill of a horror movie monster based on appearence with the horns, warts and animal skin clothes. They often carried a large, spiked club which was the source of their power and I believe had the ability to transform themselves into brooms so they would not be detected by humans. While not technically evil, they would take revenge for perceived wrongs and would enact punishment on the wicked. I could definitely see them being used in a horror film set in modern times. Someone needs to get to work on a screenplay right away.

I first learned about Korean goblins through a folk tale. In it, an old man with a hideous goiter was walking through the woods singing when he encountered a goblin. The goblin demanded that the old man give him the secret of such an excellent singing voice. Knowing that goblins are powerful, but not very bright, the old man quickly claimed that the goiter was the source of his vocal prowess.  In an instant, the goblin removed the goiter from the old man and magically attached it to his own neck. The creature then ran away, cackling madly as it thought he had tricked the old man into giving up his prized possession. The old man returned home where his neighbor saw he had been cured. The neighbor also possessed a goiter of large size and wanted to know what had happened. After hearing the story, the second old man ran off into the woods and found the goblins lair. He hid there until the goblins had gathered and then made himself known. He claimed he had another goiter for them that would make them sing beautifully but before any of the goblins could move, the first goblin cried out that they were being deceived as his goiter ‘no longer worked.’ The irrate goblin pulled it from his neck and attached it to the old man. The man was forced to return home, with two goiters instead of one. 

goblins clubThe goblins in The Goblin’s Club are not frightening. The atmospheric beginning is quickly made less frightening when the glowing spirit forms begin dancing and marching like something out of a Betty Boop cartoon. Despite some violence, the movie quickly establishes itself to be for younger viewers. Most Korean animation up to this point in time were made with the target audience of children in mind, so it is not surprising, but the watchability depends on a high degree of tolerance for repetitive scenes and actions and the ability to turn a blind eye to obvious plot holes. By repetitive actions, I do not mean that animation is reused for different scenes– most animations were guilty of that– I am talking about the actions as when Cha-dol gets his hands on a cap of invisiblity made from tiger whiskers and proceeds to stab people in the but with an icepick.  The first time it happens, it is fine albeit a dangerous idea to put in the heads of kids.  However, by the fifth or sixth time it happens.. or the tenth and eleventh.. I was pretty annoyed and wished he would do something a little more creative while invisible.

I was actually surprised to see Cha-dol and Ibbeun.  The two seem to be the same characters as had appeared in Hopi and Chadol Bawi (1967), one of the two sequels to Korea’s first animation Hong Gil-dong.  At least, the names, ages, personalities and time period are the same. However, no other connection to Hong Gil-dong is present in terms of credit to past creators so it could be coincidental. More likely, the writers and artists of Goblin’s Club were using the names with knowledge of the implied connection. Cha-dol and Ibbeun were popular characters in comics and in early animation and both Hong Gil-dong and Hopi and Chadol Bawi film received re-releases during winter and summer vacations throughout the 70s, so audiences would still have been familiar with the characters despite two decades having passed since the height of their popularity.

The Goblin’s Club is available on unsubtitled DVD.  If one is interested in the history of Korean animation, then I recommend it as an alternative to the plethora of giant robots and sci-fi based stories that had taken over the animated scene since the late ’60s.

Posted in 1980s, Review | Comments Off

Elysium <2003>

17th November 2012

Elysium– Directed by Kwon Jae-woong. Voiced by Kim Jang , Kim Jeong-ah , and Lee Jae-yeong — Running Time: 75 minutes, Released in theaters: August 15, 2003>

77185The Earth in the year 2113 is a very different place than now. The world has a space fleet and meets with ambassadors from other planets. Sentient robots are commonplace and anti-gravity cars and motorcycles are available to everyone.  Some things, however, remain the same. Pizza deliveries still occur <in under thirty minutes or less> and sporting events remain popular.  The sporting event of the day is Turbo Pinball Racing where contestants on custom designed hover bikes speed through an trecherous course that looks for all the world like a cross between a roller-coaster and a titanic pinball machine. To win this race is young Van’s dream. He works in a pizzeria as a delivery boy and prides himself on his speed and ability to handle his bike in traffic. He is also in love with the beautiful Lydia, a dancer, who is fully supportive of boyfriend’s ambition.

At the same time that Van is preparing for his big day, two seemingly unrelated events take place.  The first is the mysterious circumstances involving the death and disappearance of research team at the South Pole who were sent to investigate reports of a living fossil in a chamber beneath the ice. The other event is the destruction of a spaceship carrying Amabassador Yaspe of the planet Elysium on a peaceful mission to meet with Earth officials. His ship was destroyed by the very space station he was attempting to dock with. The Elysium are quick to respond and completely destroy the station and declare war on the Earth without ever learning that some outside force had taken control of the station and caused the weapon systems to fire on the ambassador. 

The attack occurs just as Van is about to win the Turbo Pinball race. Fiery death rains down from the sky as the Elysium call for the end of the human race for the violent ways.  Millions die in the initial attack and even more fall as the aliens send swarms of spider robots and elite warriors wearing giant robot suits of armor to elimate the survivors.  The humans that were not killed in the initial strikes are forced to live in underground shelters while the Earth Defense fights a losing battle against the attackers. Van and Lydia take shelter in one such place, but as time passes, Lydia starts to pine for the sun prompting the pair to risk a trip to a grassy hillside where they used to date.  Unfortunately, their timing was bad and they are caught in the crossfire between the armies of Earth and Elysium. Kronos, wearing the armor of a giant warrior, takes aim and kills the fleeing young woman leading to a change in gentle Van. In mourning and bearing a deep hatred for the Elysium, especially Kronos, he joins the resisting forces. However, in what seems to be his first mission, his entire squad is wiped out except for Van who is saved at last minute by first Nix, a platinum-haired beauty from Elysium and then the mysterious Son-ra who teleports Van to her base beneath the sands of a wasteland. There, Van joins Paul and Christopher as part of Son-ra’s last line of defense to keep the powerful Triad Weapon out of the hands of General Necros of the Elysium.

I have no doubt at all in my mind that the creators of this film were hoping for it to evolve into a television series. One of the reasons I say this is, despite the resolution of the main conflict, a purpose is set up for the Four Knights of the Triad to remain together. But the other reason I believe they hoped it continued was the fact that so little time was spent on some pretty major characters, Christopher and Son-ra in particular. We know virtually nothing about Christopher except that he was an officer in Earth’s spacefleet before the attack by the powerful aliens ever occured. We know even less about Son-ra. It would seem that she is of the Elysium which would explain her advanced technology, knowledge of Nekros– the leader of the Elysium forces– and her apparently long life beneath the sands.  But we have no idea when she came to our world or under what circumstances. It looks as if she could have been there for thousands of years.

Paul gets a little more attention, primarily because he is the identification figure for the target audience.  He is very young, just on the borderline of becoming a teenager. And he is extremely headstrong and aggressive for his age. No reason is given for his desire to constantly fight but it seems far more than simple rage. His companion, the robot Oz, keeps a tally of his win loss records and we learn that before the Earth was ever under attack, Paul had been in nearly 2000 fights and won the vast majority of them. Since Son-ra speaks of her knights as being ‘Chosen’ –beings who possess the necessary DNA to unlock their own giant robot armors– I have to assume the fighting is something built into his genes that speaks of genetic manipulation by the ‘good’ branch of the Elysium. Oh, speaking of Oz, he is the mandatory annoying and/or cowardly sidekick that animated heroes often seemed to have. Robot Taekwon V had Tin Can Robot, He-Man had that little magician, the Thundercats had Snarf, and many versions of the Power Rangers have some kind of goofy robot that makes comments only a three-year old would find funny.  Oz was formerly a robotic vaccuum cleaner, but Paul’s mother upgraded it to house and advanced super-computer. She should have done a better job with the programming though.

14990Robots in the future can lie directly when asked a question, even one posed to them by their owner. Oz’s ability to lie to perceived enemies is not surprising especially if Paul’s mother had designed Oz to protect her son. However, Oz also lies to Paul’s mother and hides the fact that Paul is going to the Turbo Races — an activity that his mother had deemed to dangerous for her son to attend. Oz also frequently has self-doubt and appears to be more than able to act autonomously, as do all the robots in the movie.  I found myself questioning just who was in charge of the world–humans or robots?  In the pizza parlor, the robots do all the cooking under the supervision of a human manager, however a human does the dangerous work of delivering the pizzas. The Pinball Races are manned by humans and the fiery, explosive crashes imply fatalities. However the announcers at the sporting event are robots, excitedly cheering on the violence.

It seems like the world is a very violent place.  But what of the Elysium?  These aliens, in the name of peace, announce a genocide. They do not want the planet to surrender or to give up its violent ways. They opt to kill every man, woman and child alive to make the galaxy a safer place. Of course, they are being tricked by the evil General Nekros but the fact remains that is a rather extreme retaliation for the death of their ambassador. Nix and Kronos, are given some depth of character as they begin questioning orders, but both are guilty of killing unarmed innocents before their change of heart starts to take root.  I also appreciated that not everything worked out in a predictable fashion in the conflict. For example, Van desires vengeance on Kronos for killing Lydia, however fate has other plans for Kronos that denies Van the chance he seeks.

As far as production values go, Elysium is a mixed bag. In places, the animation is excellent, especially in scenes where Nekros becomes active. In other places, like the general motions of the humanoid characters, it seems stiff and unrealistic. Of course, I am looking at it ten years after its release and computer animation has made unbelievable leaps in that time, so I am not going to be too critical of that. I am a little critical of the English subtitles, however. Spellings were inconsistent.. I really have no idea if the machine was actually called a  Triad or a Triod.  Also, some major characters like Son-ra and Lykros go unnamed until the credits. We are told the name of characters who have one line before dying or disappearing from the story like Kudos and Stacy, but we have no idea what the of the woman who founded the Four Knights was called until the end credits roll.

Elysium is a movie that would have benefited from a little more time tacked on to its short running time to give us more information on the background of the characters and the world they live in. As it was, it was impossible to become emotionally invested. On the other hand, the length of the film does manage to keep the plot moving and the film is never dull despite some childish moments. I may be in a minority complaining about these as the DVD box proudly proclaims that this film opened in ten European countries and won an ‘Audience Favorite’ award in Russia. According to Daum, Elysium is now being remade as a live-action film in the USA directed by Neill Blomkamp <District Nine> and starring Matt Damon and Jodi Foster to be released in 2013.

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The Sun Rises At Night <1974>

9th November 2012

The Sun Rises at Night– Directed by Lee Gyu-woong.  Starring Yang Jeong-hwa <as Yeong-rim>, Kim Jin <as Woo-yeong> and Nam Goong-won <as Hyeong-jae>. Running Time: 93 minutes.  Originally released on August 9, 1974.

leegyuwoong sunrisesatnightFull of confidence and courage, a recent highschool graduate arrives in Seoul from the countryside with nothing more than her transcripts and a letter of acceptance to a prestigious university.  Having nowhere to go does not bother her as she approaches an art professor and places herself in his hands.  While she does take the first step in asking him to buy her dinner, which she wolves down greedily, the teacher, Hyeong-jae, makes arrangements to set her up with her own apartment. Of course, there is a catch. Yeong-rim is asked to model for him twice a week.  Yeong-rim sees no danger in this and thinks nothing of the fact that the much older man lets himself into her apartment anytime he wants. She is so trusting and comfortable with him that she has no problem with walking around in front of him wrapped in nothing more than a towel and, judging from the portraits we see on display, she has posed in the nude for him. It is clear from her words, actions and body language, she views Hyeong-jae as a daughter views a father. Hyeong-jae’s motives and feelings, however, are extremely questionable…

Aside for her apartment arrangement, Yeong-rim has a very normal life as university student. She has become close to her classmate and excels in her studies. She frequents coffee shops and does volunteer work on the side. In the course of these events, she even has time for her friends to set her up on a date with Woo-yeong. After a rough start, the two eventually hit it off and become an official couple.  The realization that his project has a boyfriend closer to Yeong-rim’s age– otherwise known as half Hyeong-jae’s age– does not sit well with him. He does his best to sabotage the budding relationship by forcing Yeong-rim to miss her first all-day date with Woo-yeong, but at the first opportunity, she makes it up to him.

Witnessing the young couple walking down the street arm-in-arm drives Hyeong-jae to drink and brood.  As his mood becomes darker and more self-absorbed, he convinces himself that he has fallen in love with Yeong-rim. He once again lets himself into her apartment, this time startling her because of the his hardened demeanor and the lateness of the hour. She has good reason to fear him as he proceeds to attack her while confessing his ‘love.’  Despite her struggles, Yeong-rim is no match for the heavy-set Hyeong-jae and she is soon overpowered and raped. It is a crushing blow to the formerly carefree young woman and she wanders around for hours in the dead of a rainy night. She is filled with self-destructive thoughts and feels that she has become ‘filled with darkness’ and is now a ‘fallen’ woman. 

Collapsing on the street, Yeong-rim is taken in by a kindly prostitute. Even though she does not tell her rescuer what has recently transpired, the other woman guesses and gives some sage advice which gives Yeong-rim the hope she needs to go on with her life and to dismiss the other thoughts she had on punishing herself, either by suicide or by turning to prositution as she is ‘runined’ for a decent marriage. She attempts to go through her daily routines are difficult however, as she has told no one what has happened. Her former light-heartedness is gone and her friends are finding her hard to be around. Her boyfriend too is very confused. Yeong-rim clearly needs him and she does her best to reach out to him in a limited fashion, but she quickly pulls away from him when he tries to become closer and shudders or jumps whenever there he touches her.  His solution is to introduce her to his family and propose marriage.

Yeong-rim goes along with his plans with reservations. She still feels she is no longer worthy of the love of such an innocent and sincere young man. Also, making matters worse, the art teacher is looking for her and asks her friends to arrange a meeting between himself and Yeong-rim.  Is there anyway to make that situation more uncomfortable for the poor girl? Yes! The rapist brings along his wife who wants to confront Yeong-rim about what seems to be an affair between the two. Oddly, Hyeong-jae leaves the two women to talk alone he sits at a different table and smugly smokes. He strongly dislikes his wife and, even though they live together, he snidely mentions that he has had nothing to do with her for the past ten years. He seems to believe that his wife will leave him after talking with Yeong-rim and he is just smug enough where he may believe that the young college student will become his now that, traditionally, she has limited options and if his wife is out of the way.  He may even feel that Yeong-rim will not relate the actual events out of shame. However, he is mistaken. Yeong-rim opens up to Hyeong-jae’s wife and relates events exactly as they happened and the older woman is sympathetic. The two women actually wind up meeting again when Yeong-rim and Woo-yeong meet Woo-yeong’s mother at a coffee shop and we see that the mother and Hyeong-jae’s wife are close friends. However, out of pity and respect for Yeong-rim, her secret is kept.

The strain of keeping such a painful secret gnaws at Yeong-rim until she decides to reveal to her boyfriend what happened. Taking him to a hotel room, she tells him her situation and why she has changed so much in recent weeks. Woo-yeong’s reaction is despicable, yet not unexpected if one has watched many old Korean movies. The young man who seconds ago was smitten with Yeong-rim, now finds her disgusting and strikes her across the face, knocking her to the floor before storming out of the hotel.  To her credit, Yeong-rim does not immediately collapse in grief over losing him. Instead, she summons her strength and trudges back to her apartment….

…Only to find Hyeong-jae waiting in the dark for her!  He now claims her as his property and proceeds to attack her again.  Yeong-rim cries out this time and struggles more vigourously than before, but it is to no avail…or is it?  Their struggles have brought them to the living room. Yeong-rim is thrown onto the sofa but, just out of reach, there is a large kitchen knife she was using to peal apples. Things happen fast and the next thing Yeong-rim knows, Hyeong-jae is lying dead with the knife plunged deep into his back.

Yeong-rim is carted off to prison and a trial and even she cannot say for sure whether she murdered her rapist in self-defense.  There are other suspects after all including the possibility that Woo-yeong had a change of heart and followed her back home and witness what happened. Or was there someone else who decided to help Yeong-rim and who may reveal him/herself in time to save her from a life of imprisonment?

The Sun Rises At Night is interesting as it challenges the notion frequently seen in older Korean movies where a woman who has lost her innocence is no longer fit for marriage. I can’t tell you how many movies I have seen where someone is raped and then is either forced to live with her attacker as husband and wife or else falls in love with the man who raped her. And it is not confined to older movies as the otherwise excellent Oasis pulled out that same old trope.  Here, Yeong-rim makes a conscious choice not to follow the paths of her cinematic predecesors and she elects instead to go on with her life.  Her confession to Woo-yeong is not an admission of guilt, but rather a way to both unburden herself of the tragedy she experienced and as an explanation as to why she does not want him to touch her even though she claims to love him. Her resignation to his immediate and violent reaction is a sign that she was not expecting him to understand her problems and lend his support in her recovery.  Although drained at that point, we know from her behaviour previously that Yeong-rim will not give up even though the man professing to love her seems to have abandoned her without a second thought.

The story telling technique, while not uncommon, was handled well. The story starts in the present, switches into an extended flashback that comprises most of the movie, and then returns to the present. The start of the film is actually when Yeong-rim and Hyeong-jae’s wife meet and former tells the entire story which we get to watch unfold.  This explains the confusion I felt at the opening five or ten minutes where characters just come in and out without introduction. It felt as if I had walked in on the middle of the film and, because there are no intros, I think that is exactly what happened. The movie feels as if it were filmed with time flowing in the standard, lateral motion but then the director decided to cut the story and insert the beginning portion in the middle for the flashback. The feeling of not knowing what is going on or who the characters are quickly passes as Yeong-rim relates the events up to that point and I appreciated the director trying something a little more creative like that.

The print of the movie I watched on Hana TV was in rather poor condition.  The lighting especially was a problem and even viewing the bright, outdoor scenes is like watching a movie wearing sunglasses. There is also a problem with how the reels of the film flow together. At three or four times during the film, the reels changed and we are treated to watching upside-down numbers count backwards from four. And at one point in the movie, visuals cut out altogether and we are left with looking at a white screen while various characters recite their lines. Fortunately, the effect does not last long.

Just a quick note– the video box image depicted at the top of this review manages to get the name of the film wrong in Korean.  It is written 밤에 뜨는 태양.  However, the name of the title of the film is actually 밤에도 뜨는 태양. Oh well, no one is perfect…

Posted in 1970s, Review | Comments Off

Daughter of Fire <1983>

28th October 2012

Daughter of Fire <1983>– Director: Im Kwon-taek. Starring Park Geun-hyeong <as Hae-joon>, Bang Hee <Yong-nyeo>, and Kim Hee-ra <as Hwa-ryong>.  Running Time: 108 minutes. Release Date: November 5, 1983>

daughter of fireHae-joon’s life seems to be crumbling around him. The pressures he feels from day-to-day life are compounded because his daughter is seriously ill and in some sort of unresponsive trance. His wife and mother-in-law are extremely religious and are attempting to heal the girl via prayer and they resent that Hae-joon is not joining in on their efforts. And then there are the nightmares. Hae-joon is unable to sleep as he is haunted by images of his mother and the sounds he associates most with her– the sound of the drums and chanting that goes along with traditional exorcisms. It seems Hae-joon’s mother was a shaman and was happiest when performing the rites used to appease spirits. Talking about this situation with a psychologist, Hae-joon is barely able to discuss his mother without his stomach churning and nearly vomiting. This leads to the him to understand that he has to return to his roots in South Jeolla Province to find the source of these feelings. He begins his search with Hwa-ryong, the one-eyed woodcutter who, despite his abuses to the young Hae-joon and Yong-nyeo, was the closest thing the young man had to a father. The old man begins his story from the point he knew it and tells of how he became infuriated when Yong-nyeo was performing a ceremony to put at rest those souls lost at sea. Despite being raped by him, Yong-nyeo appears to forgive Hwa-ryong and stays with him however, she had apparently lost part of her sanity and kept a violent rage bottled up inside. Eventually she had killed herself by walking into a fire. Hwa-ryong, and several other men that Hae-joon interviews, including one that is most likely his father, justify there horrendous treatment of Yong-nyeo as the only method they could think of to save her from herself. She needed saving because in the ’60s, shamanism had been made illegal by the government. To practice it was to risk arrest.

Watching a shamanistic ceremony heralding the annual parting of the sea at Jindo, Hae-joon has an insight regarding his nightmares when he views a group of Christians competing for attention and praising God for the miracle of the tides. Hae-joon realizes that he has always been happiest when watching the ancient Muist practices and feeling the freedom of their dance. He realizes he has been lost since abandoning his own belief system in favor of what was foisted upon him. Returning home, he snatches his daughter away from a particularly intense ‘healing’ prayer service that involved the laying of hands -much to his wife’s embarrassment and dismay. When he confesses to his prim wife that his mother had been a practicing shaman, his candor is met with a slap across the face. Leaving his home, Hae-joon finds his way to a local shrine where a woman calling him ‘my son’ welcomes him with open arms back into the fold.

Shamanism, or Muism, is the earliest form of religion in Korea. It continued when Buddhism and Confusionsim were introduced into the country.  Christian missionaries succeeded in surpressing it, but were never able to do away with it completely and many  Christian families continue to perform rites to their ancestors upon the anniversary of their deaths or by their tombs at major holidays. In the late 1890’s, the mayor of Seoul, a confirmed Progressive, made shamanism illegal and began having the police round up the practioners, arrest them and destroy their shrines and the images of the gods and spirits. The shamans fought back by hanging pictures of old kings with their gods and, as it was illegal to desecrate the image of a king, policemen also found themselves facing arrest for following orders. The Muists were not so successful in fighting back when Christianity gained a much stronger foothold in the ’60s and certain ceremonies were made illegal. The government wanted to hide many traditional ’superstitions’ from the eyes of foreigners and there were many movies made at this time where the village shaman is depicted as an vestige of the past preventing development and growth such as Kim Ki-young’s excellent film Goryeojang in 1963.  By the ’70s however, shamanistic practices made a comeback and today there are several hundred recognized shrines in Seoul.  Here in the country there are even more..I live within a stone’s throw of two or three mudang’s homes–recognizable by red flags held high on bamboo posts.  There is a television show on cable TV called The Exorcist where a mudang visits people to rid them of evil spirits in their home.. <I do not watch that show after a couple of viewings.. just like shows I’ve seen in the USA like Ghost Labs or Ghost Hunters, they are clearly faked>

However, Hae-joon is not the son of a mudang — a shaman who is possessed by a god to perform healings, exorcisms or make predictions. Instead, his mother was a Seseummu, and given the region and the music with the ceremonies, probably a dangol.  s5When characteristic of a seseummu is that it is an inherited position. Seseummu were not generally possessed by gods and ghosts in the ceremonies. Instead they summoned the gods through song and dance and their assistant would become possessed so the spirit could communicate with the masses.  We see this difference in the first ceremony we witness in the movie– the first woman is a mudang trying to make the spirit possess her. Yong-nyeo then steps in to assist by performing her dance for the spirit. However, this is not just trivia. It explains Hae-joon’s disturbing visions which is a symptom of the illness that often precedes becoming a full-fledged shaman. Normally, shamans are women but men can also become shamans.  It also explains clearly Hae-joon’s daughter illness.  She is undergoing ‘Shinbyeong’ in which her body is prepared by the gods or spirits.  It is a condition that can last a decade or more. From the premise and stance of the movie, we can guess that all the laying of hands and faith healers Hae-joon’s wife can summon will have absolutely no effect on the afflicted child until she can embrace her destiny.

The movie is quite clear in its position of calling for a return, or at least acceptance, of the traditional practices. This is obvious by the detail and care in filming the beauty of the traditional ceremonies and costumes. And the bright colors and joy of those costumes and songs are contrasted sharply the somber clothes, faces and hymns of the Christians. Hae-joon’s wife and inlaws are joyless, narrow-minded and unforgiving. The Christian protestors are drab and dull in comparison to the events around them. And the laying of hands during the faith healing is strongly equated with fakery and showmanship and Hae-joon’s comes to believe it is a false religion, unsuitable for the mental health of Korea. It is no accident that he at first consults a psychologist when he is undergoing his visions.  It was predicted by Christians and intellectual writers in the early ’80s that psychology would come to explain much of the phenomenon formerly attributed to ghosts and spirits.

The movie itself takes work to get through. There is a lot of talking and very little action. Even the discussed self-immolation of Yong-nyeo is not depicted. But it does present an interesting arguement that would have been new at the time this film was made and flew in the face of decades of teaching and conditioning.  Unfortunately, this movie is not available on DVD. I was able to see it on Hana TV. With the interest in Im Kwon-taek, however, it does have a better possibility than many older films of being released on DVD.

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