Seen in Jeonju

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The Female Boss <1959>

20th October 2012

The Female Boss <1959>– Director: Han Hyeong-mo.  Starring: Jo Mi-ryeong <Joanna Shin>, Lee Soo-ryeon <Kim Yong-ho> and Yoon In-ja <Chief Editor Lim>.  DVD Running Time: 105 minutes.  Released in Theaters: unknown

20121014_195036Last week, when I reviewed the movie If, I made reference to The Female Boss when comparing when comparing what I felt was an archaic theme in the newer of the two movies. However, after watching The Female Boss after several years of not seeing it, my opinion has changed and this romantic comedy from the 1950’s fares much better than I originally thought and it is unfair to compare If with it. Oh, it does have its moments of sexism by both genders, but these are balanced with a casual sexual equality that that permeates the film. 

The movie begins with a brief and hostile encounter between a man and a woman from very different social classes.  The man is clearly from the working class– or he would be except,as we learn a few moments after the encounter, he is currently unemployed.  The woman is obviously wealthy from the way she is dressed and manner of speaking. She has an English name, Joanna, addresses others with English titles of Mr. Kim or Miss Jang, and feeds her dog Fig Newtons.  This surprised me.. I have been in Korea for 18 years now and I have never seen Fig Newtons in the stores around here, but apparently they were available in the late 50s… now I want a fig cookie…

Anyway, the fact that her dog is snacking on such ‘expensive Western cookies that most people can’t afford’–as the angry Yong-ho puts it– she is hogging the public phone with her business calls. The infuriated Yong-ho takes his frustrations out on Mario the dog by kicking him!!  The immediately made me dislike him immensely and, what is worse, he is unrepentant. “Why shouldn’t I kick a puppy?” he asks using the above defense that it is eating better than most people. I am not alone in disliking Yong-ho. Joanna shares the sentiment but, when he comes for a job interview for her magazine Modern Woman, she hires him out of spite in order to take revenge on him. At one point, she yells at him for two-hours straight which he is forced to take because, as Yong-ho states, ‘it is her right as the boss.’ 

As is required in a romantic comedy, two people who hate each other are destined to fall in love. However, Yong-ho is not without rivals for the hand of Joanna as Mr Oh has his sights set on her. Oh is older, foolish, and very wealthy. Joanna has been stringing him along because of the potential help he can be to her magazine. She has successfully published eight issues of Modern Woman, but the latest issue is three months late because she does not have the money to afford the paper she needs to print on.  Mr. Oh offers her a solution, but she carefully and craftily manages to secure the paper from him with a promise of ‘no strings attached.’  It is clear that Oh is besotted with her and hardly minds the fact that she is using him and is disappointed when she announces that she does not need his help in paying for the paper when her uncle comes through on an agreement she made with him.  Her uncle had asked to borrow Yong-ho for a company basketball game– a part of the movie that seemed endless to me as I hate basketball and almost every basketball movie I have seen seems to end with a three-point shot as the clock runs out.

Joanna and Yong-ho have grown closer over time but their happy ending is delayed as Yong-ho wrestles with the problem of her being his boss–not because she is a woman, but because her behaviour of late has been unbecoming of a company chairperson. However, that is a short-lived glitch and the two are happily married. Joanna chooses to retire and stay home while Yong-ho becomes director of the company.  What is interesting here is that retiring from publishing is Joanna’s choice unlike in If where Ha-yeong seems to be bullied into giving into Seon-woo.  This point that Joanna is still equal is underscored by a minor character named Miss Jang. 

KR_Female_Boss,_A_still03While working in the company under Joanna Shin, Miss Jang began secretly dating photographer Mr. Yang. The company at that time had very strict ‘anti-dating’ policies– Mr Kim is even called on the carpet at one point when it was suspected he was dating a woman who had no connection to the company or publishing at all.  Jang becomes pregnant is offers her resignation which Joanna accepts. However, she also orders Yang to resign as well as he broke the n0-dating rule and it would be unfair if Jang bore the full brunt of the punishment on her own when two people were involved. We learn at a later point that Jang and Yang are married. Still later, after Kim Yong-ho has taken over management of Modern Woman, we see that Mrs Jang has been promoted to the number-2 position in the company. Her husband, still a photographer, seems to be taking the lead role in raising their baby when he delivers baby photos to the office. However, it is shown that they are equal partners in their relationship as Yang makes plans to travel down to Masan for a few days with Kim.  The sign hanging over Mr Kim’s desk, ‘Men are Superior to Women’ is hung there merely for comedic effect as it replaces the earlier sign which claimed ‘Women are Superior to Men.’  It does not reflect the facts shown nor the theme of the movie which would be that both sexes are equal.

Was this a reflection of society at the time? From the notes I have read regarding women in Korea in the 1950s, it was. Between the end of the Korean War and the military government of the sixties, women did gain ground in society . In ‘56 and article written by Ma Hae-song was published declaring that the Era of Women’s Liberation was at hand because ‘thanks to the democratic world, women can be liberated from age-old restrictions and be free. Men and women are equal.”  This is a sentiment that would rarely be seen shown seriously in Korean movies of the succeeding decade, although it would become a favorite topic of the movies of the 90s and in throwbacks like If.

Another thing I found interesting in this story was what happened with Interviewee Number 2–a thing that could never have happened if this film was made just two years later.  Interviewee Number 2 is a proud patriot who is made the butt of an extended joke in the film. His extreme nationalism is laughed at by all the workers in the office who hear him–and made to look  intentionally foolish by the camera– as he calls upon all young people to rise up and fight the communists. Although Joanna keeps cutting him off and trying to get the interview back on track, this passionate young man cannot keep quiet about the necessity to battle communism.  Had this movie been made later, the intentionally ridiculous Interviewee Number 2 would have been the hero of the story and no one, neither characters in the film nor the audience watching, would have laughed at him publicly.

I actually found a lot to like about this film and enjoyed it very much. The Female Boss is on DVD with English subtitles as part of the Romantic Comedy Collection of the 1950s box set.

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If <2000>

13th October 2012

If <2000>– Director: Han Deok-jeon, Starring: Lee Hye-yeong <as Ha-young> , Yoo Tae-woong <as Seon-woo> and Kim Ui-seong <as Dr. Park> . DVD Running Time: 92 minutes. Released in Theaters: June 24, 2000.

107490Dr. Lee Ha-young is a leading urologist and a modern woman with ideas that society deems radical. She strongly believes that men are near obsolete and sets out to prove by example that an independent woman can live a fulfilling and happy life without the need of a husband. However, she dreams each night of being a mother and clearly loves children. Wanting a baby of her own desperately, Ha-young is inspired by a trend reported in Japan where a growing number of women are opting to become single mothers through artificial insemination. Coincidently, reporter Shin Seon-woo has been tasked by his editor to turn in an article denouncing artificial insemination as a danger to society and he is ordered to get the opinion of Dr. Park, a respected obstetrician.  The good doctor flatly refuses to assist in writing the article, but recommends Dr. Lee instead for, as he states, “she has far more expertise in this area.” Shin does as instructed, although he makes it clear from the start that he does not respect the doctor and goes so far as to substantially alter the article she submits in order to get it to match his own ideas which are namely that career women avoid marriage and are therefore usable as sex objects for males. Part of his ideas may have been formed by his co-worker Mi-ra, journalist by day- improbably clad leather lover by night- whom Seon-woo has been sleeping with on and off for a while.

In retaliation for Shin having altered Ha-young article, Ha-young and Dr. Park pretend to perform a phoney vasectomy on the reporter in which they give him an injection of viagra instead of a pain-killer.  Rather than either suing or simply letting it go, Shin finds a moment where he thinks he can get revenge on Dr Lee by forcing her onto a roller coaster that she is clearly reluctant to ride when he runs into her by chance at the Daejeon Expo. This proves to be a bad idea due to her pregnancy.  Learning of her condition, Shin is initially scornful and considers Ha-young a hypocrite and worse until he realizes that their is no father. His feelings soften towards her but she now despises him. They seperate for a good six months until Ha-young is nearing the end of her pregnancy. She is beginning to feel that there is something missing in her life and the pair iron out their differences just in time for Ha-young to go into labor. During subsequent events..getting to the hospital, labor, and an emergency blood transfusion– shows Ha-young that she needs someone in her life she can rely on. Man, woman and child then settle into a picture-perfect life in the quiet of the countryside while Christmas snow swirls outside there windows and the happy, albiet disembodied, laughter of a baby is heard.

107486Wow. This morale of this film felt quite archaic to me– like a Korean film right out of the 1950’s. Next time I will review  A Female Boss <1959>, where a handsome, young, new employee teaches a magazine owner her place in society and I think we will find the theme of the two films, although forty years apart, are quite similar. The theme of If is that Woman needs a Man and Motherhood is the ultimate and perfect career for every woman. A woman without these, according to the movie, is empty and the film gives us numerous examples of Ha-young feeling incomplete without a husband by her side– not to mention her constantly pregnant best friend forces the issue just about everytime the pair meets. However, the movie does go a step further than many its 1950’s predecessors do.  It lets us know that the same applies to men.  After realizing his love for Ha-young, and breaking up with his insatiable girlfriend, Shin Seon-woo is at a complete lost. Without being able to express his love and fulfill his destiny as Ha-young’s husband, Shin is a mess and spends most of his nights drinking despondently until he is finally able to confront Ha-young and work things out.  The whole ‘babies make for a perfect life’ motif is evident in other imagery as well such as the halo-like making the doctor seem like a saint performing a miracle during the birth of Ha-young’s son <pictured right> or the smiling, computer graphic  fetus imitating its mother’s actions in utero while Ha-young is swimming in a pool at the hospital.. and there are many, many more.

But while the film may differ slightly from the older movies by stating man needs a woman as much as woman needs a man, it is not so fair minded in how it views sexual freedom Despite all the talk, jokes and images of sex in the film, this screenplay is very conservative. When Shin Seon-woo first learns that Ha-young is pregnant, his normally good looking features turn into a frightful sneer as he grumbles that ‘they are all the same.’  Even though he is allowed to frequently meet women, apparently, in his mind, Ha-young is not. Although she is ‘redeemed’ in his eyes when he learns that no man was involved..except from afar.. in the making of her baby, one has to wonder how he justifies his double-standards. Of course, his girlfriend/co-worker is shown not to be the marrying kind not only from her actions and her attire, but she is seen playing pool with a foreigner. There are other movies earlier than this that I can think of where association with a foreigner led to assumptions about character and sexual activity– for example, in The One Love from 1980, the lead couple break up because of a photo of the woman’s mother standing with a foreigner turns up.  Although this does not always apply today, in 2000 it did–especially in a film like this that seemed to be resisting trends and appeared determined to espouse ‘ideals’ of earlier decades.

There are quite a few graphic and entirely unnecessary aspects in this film such as extreme close ups of an actual circumcision and another of a real child birth. These go along with the unneeded sexual imagery like the animated flowers and sperm scene at the beginning of the movie.  Despite these and the fact that I disagreed with this film on so many levels, It is watchable if you are not expecting much more than a traditional K-drama which totes the line that marriage and family are the be-all and end-all in life.  That is not to say that  I recommend you run out and buy the DVD <as I did>. Save your money for any number of better films.

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Vanishing Twin <2000>

7th October 2012

Vanishing Twin <2000>– Directed by Yoon Tae-yong. Starring Ji Soo-won <as Yoo-jin>, Ku Pil-woo <as Art Lover> and Kim Myeng-s00 <as Jin-ho>.  Running Time: 94 minutes. Release date: September 23, 2000.

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While everyone else is enjoying the Busan Film Festival, I decided to take what little free time I had this weekend and watch a couple of DVDs that I hadn’t gotten to before. The first was Iri from 2006, but I was so disappointed with that film that I decided to put off writing about it. The other film I watched was Vanishing Twin, which was also a bad choice..but not as bad as Iri.. Maybe I will write about that film later on but I have already mercifully forgotten most of it so it will have to wait until I can view it again..and that won’t be for a while. 

Vanishing Twin starts off with an interesting premise. Yoo-jin has been having nightmares recently involving a younger version of herself, the greenhouse their mother kept, a mewing cat and her sister..apparently hanged by an umbilical cord.  When she awakes, Yoo-jin is reminded that her sister, Seung-jin, is coming from the USA for a visit and this triggers memories of their childhood together. The pretty Seung-jin, an artist, and had asked Yoo-jin to pose nude so she could sketch her and Yoo-jin readily agreed. It was hard to say no to her charasmatic sister. However, Yoo-jin’s brother-in-law, Jin-ho, arrives at Yoo-jin’s house alone and announces that Seung-jin is dead. Needless to say, Yoo-jin is shocked and this leads her to look into her sister’s life but, along the way, Yoo-jin learns more about herself and dredges up memories and feelings that she had apparently surpressed over the years.

One set of these memories and feelings revolves around Jin-ho. Through his dreams, we learn that Seung-jin had hung herself. However, although he is in mourning, Jin-ho does not hesitate to express his feelings for Yoo-jin in an awkward moment where Yoo-jin is caught trying on her dead sister’s clothes. Jin-ho nearly forces himself on the startled Yoo-jin who flees the house and returns to her own home. Shortly thereafter, her friend is telling a Native American myth in exactly the same way that her sister used to tell it. She learns that her friend heard it from a man identified by his cyber ID of ‘Art Lover.’  Yoo-jin logs onto the chat room that she is told Art Lover frequents and introduces herself to him arranging a time and place for the two of them to meet so she can learn more about Seung-jin’s life.  Art Lover plays coy with the information but their meeting is made more insteresting when police interrupt and attempt to arrest the mysterious man. The pair escape and hide in an abandoned warehouse in a run down part of town. The close quarters of their hiding place leads Yoo-jin in the following to days to fantasize about what could have happened instead of the reality where they parted ways.

370It is not long before the two meet again and Yoo-jin tries to force the information out of him. There is definitely sexual tension underscoring their relationship, however Yoo-jin fails to get anything more than a glass of wine and a cookie out of the meeting. On her way home, she witnesses her husband arguing with a woman who is revealed in the course of the conversation to be his mistress. When she confronts him with this, he becomes furious and calls her a hypocrite.  Although he is completely unaware of Art Lover, he pulls from the past and mentions how much Jin-ho is in love with her. Denying it at first, Yoo-jin later remembers a time when she and Jin-ho had sex in her mother’s greenhouse. Yes, it was before she was married..but her sister was engaged to Jin-ho at the time and, to make matters worse, Yoo-jin knows that her sister was watching at the time and looks right at her during intercourse. Realizing this about herself frees Yoo-jin of the constraits she had placed upon herself. She sleeps with Art Lover in her store, leaving Jin-ho outside the locked door waiting for the appointment he had with her. She now feels nothing but disdain for her husband and the future of their marriage does not look good, nor does her relationship with her brother-in-law. It also does not seem as if she will be meeting Art Lover again. Instead, Yoo-jin has awakened as an independent, sexual being free to love as she wishes.

Well.. that is as much meaning as I could ascribe to the film. In actuality, the screenplay seems little more than a ninety minute excuse to build up to the sex scene between the two leads..with several minor sex scenes thrown in.  Th title Vanishing Twin, which is from the medical phenomenon where one fetus in a pair of twins disappears in the first trimester of pregnancy–either reabsorbed, miscarried or absorbed by the stronger twin,  is probably the best way to describe what happens to the story of Seung-jin as her sister’s self-discovery gradually, but completely comes to dominate the film. Everyone forgets about Seung-jin…

Vanishing Twin is available on DVD. My copy is from CineLine and does not contain English subtitles..but that is not a big loss. I cannot recommend this movie at all.

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Paradise Villa <2001>

1st October 2012

Paradise Villadirected by Park Jong-won, starring Jo Han-joon <as 20-year old>, Ha Yoo-mi <as Piano Teacher>, Lee Jin-woo <as the Fund Manager>, Running Time: 95 minutes, Release Date: December 7, 2001

4046I have to admmit that I like the poster of this film, probably more than I liked the actual movie.  The darkened apartment building and the menacing eyes superimposed over the stairs create a heavy atmosphere that, unfortunately, the confused screenplay can never hope to match.   The tagline reads, “One visit, Seven Murders, 100 minutes. Killing Start!”  which, all-in-all, is an accurate,albeit brief, description of the movie.  I’ll expand on it a little. 

The movie opens in a noisy PC game room where we meet a young man whom we will be seeing a lot of in the latter part of the film. We never learn his name, but his gamer ID on the video game Lineage is 20 Year Old.  A strange glitch occurs and his character encounters another playing character operating under the name Mr. Viagra. The game identifies Mr. Viagra as a friend and the young man is unable attack him or prevent him from stealing all of his weapons and supplies that he built up over the course of time– often years.  I remember the Lineage craze in Korea.. one of the students living in my house around 2003 had a character that was very high level and, after years of playing, he sold the character for the equivalent of a couple of hundred US dollars.  And that was exactly what the hackers are doing with 20 Year Olds equipment..holding online auctions and selling off his character’s property. Furious at what has happened, 20 Year Old <henceforth 2YO as I don’t want to keep typing his full name as credited>  snaps and, in an unexplained manner, discovers where the perp who stole his virtual equimpent live, goes to that apartment in Paradise Villa to get answers. Eventually, he goes on a killing spree but not at first. In fact, he cannot even be credited with the first murder.

That act belongs to the Piano Teacher and the Fund Manager. The two have been involved in an affair and the Piano Teacher is trying to convince Fund Manager to leave his wife. They were in the middle of an afternoon of passionate sex when the Landlord bursts into the Fund Manager’s apartment screaming at them to stop what they are doing.  The Landlord had been alerted to their amorous activities by his son who left a phone message regarding what was going on in the second floor apartment.  I assume the reason why the Landlord reacts so violently is because he leapt the conclusion that Fund Manager was with Rooftop Girl.  The latter young lady lives in a small room on the roof of the apartment building and has been sleeping with the Landlord. Although an adult, she is childlike, playing hopscotch and the like by herself on the roof, and is overly friendly with most men she meets. The Landlord had seen the Fund Manager on the roof smoking a short while before which is why he flies into a fury.  Mind you, he never says any of this but I assume what Fund Manager does in his own apartment would be his own business and there can be no other reason for the rage.  In any event, the Fund Manager defends and protects the Piano Teacher from the attacking Landlord.  The building owner is shoved backwards and trips, striking his head on a shelf on the way to the floor where he lies, unmoving.  The pair of lovers panic and start making plans on how to dispose of the body. There is a soccer game beteween Japna and Korea on tv and Fund Manager reasons that they can get the body out of the apartment while everyone is watching the match and dump it in the abandoned mines along the eat coast. But while Piano Teacher is gathering her clothes, the injured landlord wakes up and startles her to such a degree that she reaches for a nearby dumbbell and crushes his head with it.  A new level of shock and panic sets in the leaves the pair temporary frozen and unable to act. So while they are stunned, the film turns its attentionot 2YO and what he is up to.

86312YO has traced his hacker to the apartment of the landlord. However, all he has is the online ID of Mr. Viagra to go on. He does not know who he is looking for. As luck would have it, his first encounter is with the people responsible for his misfortune in the computer game, the landlord’s son and his friend. Of course, they deny knowing what the clearly disturbed young man is talking about and the pair are allowed to leave freely. 2YO is not physically strong and taking on two opponents would be beyond his ability. He was also unaware at that time that the landlord’s son lives in the apartment he wants to get into which is probably why the situation does not escalate then and there. Instead, he is let in by the Landlady and kills her with her son unaware of the danger she is in just a room away.  The son then leaves to plant hidden cameras around the tenents’ apartments and to try to film some live porn with his handheld camcorder. But it is not long before one of the tenents, a friend of the landlord credited as Taxi Driver, comes to visit his friend and try to get a peek of the soccer match that his wife won’t let him watch. He is also caught unaware by the fury of 2YO and is killed even though he manages to disarm the younger man first. However, the murderer could not expect that yet another tenent, called Water Purifier Woman, would come wandering into the apartment as well since the door was unlocked. He chasers her up to the roof and kills her there, leaving her body in an ironic location before he returns to the third floor apartment to wait for the landlord’s son.  He does, however, make on detour into a different apartment where he rapes and murders the occupant.  Finally, he encounters the son who blames the theft of the virtual goods on his father before he too is killed. Prior to being killed he dials his father’s number and hands his phone off to the murderer. From the sound of the ringing, 2yO is able to track the location of the landlord, now stuffed in an oversized piece of luggage in Fund Manager’s apartment bringing the killers in contact with each other. As the tagline promises us seven murders, we know that not everyone is getting out of this alive.

While there were quite a few things I did not like about the movie, in particular the confusion surrounding some of the characters and their actions, I did like the surprising twists near the end.  Actually, part of the ending has to be assumed since we never actually see the murder to know conclusively how the story ended, yet with the tagline there should be no doubt about what happened in that final encounter. However, should I have to rely on the tagline on the poster to be able to figure out the end of a film? It seems like far too much work and I assume that the majority of the people who watch this movie are left with a question mark as to whether there were one or two survivors of that night.  While I normally like a film that does NOT explain everything to me and I have to reason out events or conclusions for myself, that is going too far. I did like how the viewers are forced to watch and then connect the dots regarding the death of the woman credited as Na Ju-ri Look-Alike. While I thought it was completely out of character for 2yO to kill her..let alone rape her <entirely distasteful and unnecessary to the story>.. I thought it was interesting how it was revealed. Someone, possibly Rooftop Girl, sees 2YO climbing down an electrical wire outside the apartment buiding after killing Water Purifier Lady and calls the police. We never see the call being made, but the police do show up sending more than one resident of Paradise Villa into a panic.  They visit the apartment of Na Ju-ri Look Alike and are greeted by her roommate who checks on her friend. From her comment about Na Ju-ri sleeping naked, we can later put together that something had happened.  However it only comes together after Landlord’s Son sneaks into the room and retrieves his hidden camera..also not realizing the woman on the bed is dead.  He goes home, puts in the tape to review, and is promptly attacked by 2YO who was back hiding in the Landlord’s apartment. Depending on where you are watching, you will either see the two young men in a life or death struggle or the rape/murder of the young woman on the television screen. If you are watching the latter, you are able to piece together events that were not directly revealed to us.

Unfortunately, I was not able to piece together the events taking place in the first floor apartment where the host and his wife have people over to watch the soccer game. One of the guests has bet against Korea in favor of Japan and  from his remarks throughout the movie, he seems to be the director’s mouthpiece over his dissatisfaction with Korean society. However, his criticisms take no clear form other than ‘Everything is not alright with Korea.’ Frankly, I expected more from director Park who’s previous works included the powerful Guro Arirang and Our Twisted Hero..both with strong messages meant as social critiques.  Incidently, I wonder why those two films are not on DVD.. both are excellent especially Our Twisted Hero…

I seem to recall reading somewhere that this film takes place during the Korea/Japan World Cup event of 2002, but I want to clarify that it does not.  One character does chear “Hurrah World Cup 2002!” it was simply to give himself an alibi and draw attention to himself, not to set the time. The match being watched on the television was a Korea VS Japan match– possibly just a friendly match as the host nations would not need qualifying matches.  Soccer games between these two nations always garner a lot of attention locally and keep most people glued to the televsion screens, epecially these days with anti-Japanese sentiments on the rise again.

It was also interesting, although annoying to type in a review/synopsis of the film, how the characters were not named. In the credits they were either given a moniker based on their jobs, like Piano Teacher, even though we never see them working, or they are called by their room number as in the first floor people, ‘Room 103 Man’.  One person in Room 103 is apparently named Sang-tae <which means either Status Quo or The Current State in Korean>. We learn this when the soccer game is finished and someone says ‘Wake Sang-tae’ –just before the discontented, anti-Korea man also in the apartment, erupts into violence and smashes a bottle over someone..presumably Sang-tae’s.. head.  Clearly, and especially if the name was meant to mean Status Quo, the violent awakening has meaning.  However, this is not something you would ever pick up on if one is forced to rely only on the English subtitles.

While Paradise Villa suffers in comparison to any of director Park Jong-won’s previous films, and was in fact his last film to date, it was not bad. The main problem I had was the lack of clarity in both the story and the veiled or unspecific social criticism.  I think a little more work was needed to tighten the story and sharp the critique, it would have been quite good.  Paradise Villa is available on DVD with English subtitles and might be worth the time tracking down if you are willing to put effort into sorting out the tale as it unfolds and have the patience to sit through a lot of gratutious shots of homemade porn…

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College Festival <1980>

23rd September 2012

80-027~4College Festival aka Run, Balloon– directed by Kim Eung-cheon. starring Jeon Yeong-rok <as Park Doo-cheol>, Kim Bo-yeon <as Ahn Dal-sook>, Yeo Woon-gye <’Queen Mother’>. Runnning Time:  103 minutes.  Release Date November 8, 1980

There is much fanfare at the train station the day that Doo-cheol is seen off by his rural community.  The hard-working young man succeeded in entering the Department of Law at one of Korea’s top universities and most of his village appears to have turned up to see him off.  As the train approaches, his proud mother gives him one last piece of advice, “Be careful of the women in Seoul and concentrate on your studies.”  This is a piece of advice that the nervous Doo-cheol remembers as he finds the person is the seat next to him is a young lady, also on her way to college. Fortunately, she turns out not to be from Seoul, but from the same southern province as Doo-cheol. Her name is Dal-sook  and the pair hit if off instantly but have to separate when they get to Seoul. Doo-cheol turns down numerous rooms because he wants a place where he can concentrate on his studies.  He finds one such place run by the landlady the students know affectionately as the Queen Mother and the other students living there are in the same major as Doo-cheol.  After passing the drinking test his classmates put him through, Doo-cheol is able to dive into his studies. He makes a positive impression on his professors and proves popular at school. When his university’s spring festival starts, Doo-cheol gets in touch with Dal-sook again and invites her as his date to the festival. The pair seem well matched and even perform a comedic scene from Cyrano de Bergerac together with Dal-sook taking the role of Roxanne.  Seeing that she is living in the dorm at a nearby women’s university, Dal-soon has to leave early. The night atmosphere is different from the day and the exciting music leads Doo-cheol to ask someone to dance with him. However, that fact gets back to Dal-sook and this causes the first of bump in their relationship.  It is far from the last.  Between her parents introducing her to eligible young men, money problems, lack of time that they can meet and just plain, old bad luck, it seems unlikely that the young lovers will wind up together. Will this pure love survive all the temptations and problems of life in Seoul?

Jeon Yeong-rok, the man who would eventually become famous as Dolai, plays the role of earnest Doo-cheol.  Still years away from his action-hero, Jeon was already a popular singer and had released three albums by the time this film was released.  Although he is not seen to sing in this film, one of the frequent songs on the OST may be him.  I am not familar enough with Korean songs of this era to say. Judging by the way they are framed onscreen, I am certain that two of the performances we see at university festival were being performed by singers who were well-known at the time. I have liked Jeon in most movies I have seen him in as he brings a strong, instantly likeable, presence to his films..even if not all the movies he was in are particularly good.

College Festival is not one of the better ones.  That is not to say it was bad, but the problem was it was rambling. The film moves along adding lots and lots of padding to fill out its running time but, all-in-all, nothing much really happens.  The story loses its focus about half-way through and the story shifts from away from the budding romance, which is fairly interesting, to a subplot about a classmate who cannot pay his tuition and treating the landlady to a trip to Jeju Island. The subplotsand their characters–particularly anything involving the classmates– are not at all interesting.  My mind wandered away for this part of the film but was brought back when Doo-cheol and Dal-sook’s story continued. The story would have been better served providing less time on subplots and instead could have given an ending.

We do not see how the film ends. Instead we are given a voice-over as the action freezes. The voice of an uncredited narrator, possibly Director Kim, breaks the fourth wall and asks rhetorically whether it is possible for these two lovers to ever meet eye-to-eye.  We are not given a chance to ponder this question as we are provided with a brief answer. And then the movie ends without ever showing us any more of the story unfold onscreen. 

The voice-over spoils  more than jut denying the viewer the ending. It interrupts the song Run, Balloon from which the film takes its Korean title. The words ‘Run Balloon’ have no meaning in side the story, so the meaning must be found within the lyric of the song. Presumably, viewers at the time would have known the song and the title of the film would be obvious to them. I am not so fortunate.  The KMDb lists the English title of this film as Run, Balloon– the direct translation of the Korean title. Daum Movies lists it as College Festival.  I preferred the latter title although I can find no historical evidence for it. The original posters and ads for this film show an English title and while it seems to have been released on VHS in ‘84, I can find no image of the cover to see if an English title was assigned at that time.

Whatever it is called, the movie is interesting not because of the story, but because of how it is able to show multiple live performances of a variety of music styles from various artists of that decade and starred one of the most popular singers of the time.

Posted in 1980s, Review | 1 Comment »

Angry Young Men (1976)

19th September 2012

Anrgy Young Men.  aka Angry Apple.  Director: Park Ho-tae. Starring Lee Deok-hwa <as Cheong>, Im Ye-jin <as Ah-mi> and Jang Dong-hwi <as Mr. Kang>. Release Date: February 18, 1977. Running TIme: 108 minutes.

76-069~3Left alone after his mother’s untimely death, recent high school graduate Cheong goes off in search of his father whom he learned was alive after a lifetime of believing himself to be fatherless. He tracks his father down to the countryside where he owns an expansive apple orchard. Cheekily jumping the gate when the old caretaker proves to be too slow answering his knocks, Cheong introduces himself to his long-lost parent with high hopes of acceptance and making a new life for himself.  However, suddenly appearing in the living room of a person, claiming to be their son from a relationship nearly two decades in the past is probably not the best way to get started. Cheong father, Mr. Kang, reacts with disbelief and shock.. and not a little bit of fear as he worries how his wife and legitimate son, Jin-woo will react. However, he is convinced that Cheong is telling the truth based on a strong resemblence to a woman Kang had loved long ago, so instead of throwing the boy out onto the street he takes him on as a laborer and asks him to help with the harvest. Cheong is understandably not happy with his small shelter among the apple trees and feels as if he has been rejected and abandoned..and resentment starts to build within him from the moment he first spies his step-brother driving up in a new, red convertible with his soon-to-be bride on his arm. Jin-woo does not know he has a brother and takes an instant dislike to the handsome newcomer, especially when his girlfriend, Ah-mi, seems to be interested in getting to know Cheong better.  After the pair take Jin-woo’s car without his permission, the priviledged young man lashes out and soundly pummels Cheong.  This is not the only time Cheong is beaten up in the few days that he is on the orchard. The foreman does not like him either as he is popular with all the female apple-pluckers and seems to have developed a special bond with Seon, the girl the foreman has been unsuccessfully courting. To complicate matters, Seon was the former lover of Jin-woo from when they were both in high school. After he had gone to Seoul, he changed into a more wordly man and abandoned country-bumpkin Seon in favor of the sophisticated Ah-mi. With all of the injustices Cheong sees around him– a wealthy life of ease with a loving family that he should be a part of, his brother’s callous treatment of women, his unfilled yet growing love for Ah-mi– is it any wonder that Cheong eventually snaps with devesating results for the family at which his anger is directed.

In Korean, the title of this film is shared by another, earlier movie directed by Kim Mook in 1963 and starring Shin Seong-il. The two movies also share the same plot and I had hoped I would be watching the 60s version as I am a Shin fan.  However, a little research would have shown me that the Kim Mook’s film is among those lost at the present and I would be watching the 70s remake. Seeing the cast eased my initial disappointment as this movie starred the fantastic duo of Lee Deok-hwa and Im Ye-jin. This pair led the cast of half of the “Really, Really…” films of the mid-70s. The “Really, Really..” series were among the best of the high-teen dramas and had titles like I Really, Really Like You, I’m Really, Really Sorry, Really, Really Don’t Forget and I Really, Really Have a Dream.  But after the beginning of the movie and Cheong is supposed to have bitterness eating at his very being, I realized that Lee Deok-hwa was not pulling off the role. His image was too positive, too wholesome. Shin Seong-il could take his romantic behavior and good looks and turn himself into a believable monster bent of vengence. The role of Cheong was clearly made for him, not for boyish, innocent Lee Deok-hwa. 

Im Ye-jin was not necessarily miscast in this movie. However, she was wasted in the part of Ah-mi. Ah-mi is merely an accessory who has remarkably few lines.  Had she not been at the height of her popularity when this movie was released, I doubt she would have received second billing. Im was at her best when she was allowed to flash her easy smile and many of her previous characters could simply be described as charming and sweet without being saccharine.  Ah-mi does not have enough character to warrent a description. She allows a man she just met to get beat up twice in her presence for her.. not his actions. She is the one who convinced him to take Jin-woo’s car and she sought Cheong out in the orchard causing the foreman to attack the hapless young man. However, she barely raises an ounce of protest. The character was dull and not worthy of Im.

Unfortunately, the same could be said for this film. Some movies are harder to get through than others..and this one was hard. I am used to Korean melodramas from earlier eras and I have a high tolerance for the occasionally bogged down pacing, but I found it impossible to concentrate on this movie.  It may be because that, once  I knew the actors, I was hoping for something lighter like in their high-teen pairings. Rather than just awkwardly remaking the material of a different decade, director Park should have added something of his stars’ specialty into the script to keep up with the times. As it was, Angry Young Men feels dated and stagnant, making it impossible to recommend should it ever become available.

Posted in 1970s, Review | Comments Off

REC (2011)

18th September 2012

REC: Directed by So Joon-moon. Starring Song Sam-dong <as Song Yeong-joon> and Jo Hye-hoon <as Seo Joon-seok>.  Released November 24, 2011. Running Time: 66 minutes.

REC_포~2Two men spend the night in a motel with the intention to film themselves having sex. They are not doing this in order to make a cheap porn film. Instead they are celebrating their fifth anniversary as a couple and they want something personal to commemorate it with. Yeong-joon is the older of the two, now thirty years old, and he is much more excited about making this movie than the younger Joon-seok, but even the latter begins to enjoy himself as he relaxes more and realizes their movie will not wind up on the internet. The two discuss themselves, their hopes and dreams, their fears about their relationship and interact with each other in many cases as if the camera is not there. However, in more candid moments, we can see glimpses of sadness in one or the other’s eyes and it becomes obvious to the viewer that there is something unspoken happening beneath the surface that the two particiapants sense as well.

The above description is really all there is to REC.  The movie has just two actors and the set for 99 percent of the film consists of the confines of the hotel room.  However, by different positioning of the camera, the scenes never feel cramped or dull. Most of the film is supposed to seem as if one or another of the actors is doing the shooting, which makes perfect sense in context as opposed to people running for their lives while shooting footage a la Cloverfield.  The few times that the camera is not being utilized by one of actors, but by the cinematographer, the film becomes black and white. This only happens near the end when one of the characters removes the disc from the camera and we are forced to see things from the perspective of an outsider instead of through the eyes of the participants. 

The underlying cause of the sadness that becomes evident during the movie?  That should be obvious from re-reading the first paragraph where I state one of the characters is 30. That can only mean one thing. If he isn’t already married, he will be soon.  If he is the eldest son in his family, then remaining single is not a viable option. He would receive pressure from his family to marry .. and to a certain degree, from society as well.  Having an unmarried daughter is an embarrassment. Having an unmarried son is a disgrace. It is the son who is responsible for carrying the family name down to the next generation. It is the eldest son and his family who will take over the duties and traditions of ceremonies honoring deceased ancestors, cleaning off the family tombs and maintaining the family lineage. 

This movie reminded me of a friend I had.  I will simply call him K.  As a student, K confided in me that he was gay. It is easier to confide in me as I am a foreigner and, as such, I am assumed to be more open-minded. It may also have to do with the fact that I was in my mid-thirties at the time and was (am) unmarried.  What he wanted was advice and just someone he could talk to without hiding who he was. I knew he had a lover, but I was never introduced to him. He also had a girlfriend whom he met at church and whom everyone involved expected he would married. After graduating and passing the tests necessary to become a policeman, he got a job. His parents ordered him to marry before starting his new work. About one week before the wedding, he came to see me and spoke about his families. His English was week, but from the phrases he used, I knew he had practiced and checked vocabulary before meeting me. Once we were alone, the first words out of his mouth were, “I loath my wife.” I was a little taken aback and thought I might have misheard ‘loath’ and ‘love’ but he continued that he hated touching her and sharing a bed.  I asked him if he couldn’t call off the wedding to which he replied sadly, “No. I must get married. I have no option.”  I have often thought about him over the years, worried about him, but that was the last time I saw K. He never contacted me again after that.

K’s situation is what we are watching in REC.  One of the characters in the movies states how all gay relationships in Korea are doomed from the start because of the requirement that they must marry. He goes on to state that because of that, one year in a gay relationship has to count as ten years. It is the only way to create the illusion of a lifetime of happiness.

It is true that the situation of gays and lesbians has improved in the last few decades. When I first came to Korea in 1995, it was a common practice for listeners to put their fingers in their mouths and simulate gagging whenever someone mentioned the word ‘gay’ ..or at that time ‘homo’ (a term I thankfully no longer hear).  There was another story I heard from a student at the time about her younger brother. ‘J’ told me that when her brother was in high school, he was caught in a compromising position with another male student. His family sent him to a doctor who in turn institutionalized the young man in a mental hospital where he received some sort of therapy. The result was that whenever a man went to reach for him such as to shake hands, he would cringe and scream.

We are a long way from those days, but LGBT individuals in Korea still face an uphill battle to be recognized as equals in Korea.  Movies play a part in helping to mainstream differences and work towards acceptance and/or tolerance. However, because of its rating due to incidental frontal male nudity and the frankness in the discussion of same sex relations, REC can only have a very limited audience.  It is a shame, because the story being told is both beautiful and heartbreaking–one character secretly expressing his true love and gratitude while the other secretly knowing that what they have is over.

Posted in 2010s, Review | 4 Comments »

Zero Woman <1979>

16th September 2012

Zero Woman:  Directed by Byeon Jang-ho.  Starring Ko Eun-ah <as Jeong-hee>, Nam Goong-won <as Dr. Kang>, and Yoo Ji-in <as Na-mi>- released September 1, 1979– Running time: 98 minutes

79-008~2Dr. Kang is a professor and researcher passionate about studying the effects of pollution and intent on contributing to reducing it for the sake of the future of life on the planet. However, while his passion for his work is obvious, he is less adept at showing passion for his wife Jeong-hee.  She is an intense, lonely woman whose loneliness, suspicions and inability to navigate through the pitfalls of life are slowly driving her insane. When we first meet her, she is a danger to herself, walking down the center lane of a six-lane highway. She slowly evolves into a danger to others, shooting at the caged birds the professor keeps scattered around the house and then attacking Na-mi, the beautiful graduate student that Dr. Kang brings into their home to help his wife.  Na-mi becomes the focus of her frustration and madness largely because of justifiable jealousy. Dr Kang spends far too much time with his student in a way that cannot really be interpretted as purely innocent although both would deny their is any attraction, initially at least. It is clear that their is some relationshiop developing that goes beyond mentor and student and in fact does cross the line at the height of a horrific thunderstorm that drive Na-mi into Kang’s arms in fear.  Their night of passion causes both participants to feel a degree a guilt. Na-mi leaves for a short time, uncharacteristically without Dr. Kang, to spend time with a fellow grad student whom she knows likes her.  Kang takes his wife on a trip to the country and they spend time in an isolated villa accessible only by boat.  Unfortuanately, their time there is spoiled by the arrival of Na-mi. She and Kang express their feelings for each other with Jeong-hee overhearing all and this causes the already unstable woman to fall irreversibily into a murderous psychosis with Na-mi and her husband as her targets.

While the theme of this movie, anti-pollution, is driven home at several points in the film including the end when an Anti-Pollution Parade marches by the mental hospital where Jeong-hee is incarcerated–the participants carrying signs like “Pollution is the Enemy of Humanity” or “Protect the Environment for a Bright Future” – I think that director Byeon needs to lay the blame where it truly belongs, at the feet of Dr Kang and Na-mi.  Despite Kang’s rambling lectures and beakers of colored liquid proving his ’science,’ at no point does he convince me that Jeong-hee’s problem stems from the environment. Rather it seems to stem from the fact that she is lonely and feels isolated.  These feelings are exasperated by the amount of time Kang actively avoids his wife and refuses to sleep with her using his research as an excuse.  And while he is too busy to spend more than five minutes in the ame room with his wife, he is more than willing to spend time with Na-mi, playing ping-pong, accompanying her to the grocery store and taking her fishing. I was finding Jeong-hee’s suspicions perfectly justified. However, there is no justifying her subsequent actions. Those were just driven by madness..

Jeong-hee proves herself an excellent shot with a rifle during the second bout of madness we are witness to. Not only does she shoot out the windows in her husband’s study and take pot shots at some of the ever-present caged birds, she threatens the housekeeper with the business end of the gun as well.  Surprisingly, the loyal housekeeper does not quit on the spot. Even more surprising, there are no consequences to this rampage. It simply is business as usual in the house and the incident is not mentioned by any of the characters. Her attacks on Na-mi are more creative, such as filling her bad with lab rats, and more brazen, like when she sliced up Na-mi’s shoulders with her wedding ring during a massage. Despite her tendency to be homicidal, Jeong-hee is actually a very simpathetic character.  Na-mi is less so.

Na-mi starts of her relationship with Kang as a bizarre father-figure fixations that later blossoms into a full-fledged affair. It is more than a little creepy and undoubtedly inappropriate..not only because he is married, but she is also his student. Na-mi chalks Jeong-hee’s crazy antics against her up to the older woman’s mental state and never considers for a minute that she may be contributing to Jeong-hee’s growing insanity.  She could have very well simply walked away after the night of passion in the storm with Dr. Kang that she knew was wrong, but she comes running back to him in a very short period of time –going so far as to track down where Kang and his wife went for vacation– and confessing how much she missed him. The neediness of Na-mi and the reasons for her initial attraction to Kang borderline, to me, underscore the fact that Jeong-hee is not the only person in this film with psychological issues.

Kang himself is not free of blame nor clear of madness, although his madness takes a different form than the other characters. If this were another sort of movie, Kang would have been a mad scientist.  His home and office are filled with beakers of impossibly colored liquids that movie scientists often mix at random for purposes of bringing monsters to life or some such thing.  During a massive thunderstorm, he throws open the windows of his home cackling at the power of the storm. And his house is filled with every kind of animal you can think of, both alived and stuffed.  In cages he has the usual..such as wrens, canaries and squirrels.  Later, you start noticing more unusual things such as peacocks, the beautiful, native hoopoe and those green and red snakes that I see once in a while on the campus where I work..<and I just learned they are poisonous!> Posed stuffed around his home are deer, ferrets, owls and the heads of boars.  I could easily see him experimenting on these or making plans to add Na-mi to his collection– he doesn’t of course– the movie chooses to villainize only Jeong-hee.

Poor Jeong-hee.  Kang cheats on her with Na-mi, twice physically and throughout the film on an emotional level.  However, the one time she turns to someone for comfort– when both her husband and Na-mi left her alone on the island home with no way off– the music and lighting unite to villainize her and, before she can do more than unbutton the short of the man–her gardener– whom she has invited into her bedroom, she is caught in the act by Na-mi.  The look of horror on Na-mi’s face infuriated me. Who is she to judge considering what she had already done with Jeong-hee’s husband?  Why does the film treat her action so much worse than when Kang and Na-mi are both guilty of it as well?  Of course, I know why.. a double-standard often exists in these films and this is just one more example.

I had mentioned the music in the paragraph above as it plays a large role in setting the tone, but I had to wonder about it. Had I just been listening to the soundtrack, especially at the beginning of the movie, I would have thought I was in for a horror film. It is a familar tune that I associate with horror/sci-fi of the ’60s where some alien protoplasm or a severed hand is creeping across the floor towards and unsuspecting victim.  At the beginning of the film, it plays as we get a fish-eyed view of a street from the windshield of a moving car.  It does a lot towards letting you know that on some level, this will be a horror movie.

Zero Woman is not available on DVD, not even an unsubtitled one.  I was able to see it on television with my internt TV provider. If it is ever available, it is one I recommend seeing.

Posted in 1970s, Review | Comments Off

Moodori (2006)

6th August 2012

79596Sometimes I buy movies for the very reason that I know nothing about them.  Moodori is one of those films. I knew the basic outline of the plot but I really knew nothing else about it. And apparently, when the DVD arrived, I simply filed it alphabetically and never thought about it again until the other day when I was browsing through the shelves wondering what to watch and it caught my eye…barely.  I absolutely hate the DVD cover and the posters made to promote the film. They seem to eager to depict more of the slapstick side of the film which a) I could have done without and b) if you were going into this expecting pure comedy, you would be sorely disappointed.  I think those in charge of marketting would have done themselves better by advertising the movie as a black comedy along the lines of A Quiet Family.. (and have the film’ s editor leave some of the more base comic scenes on the cutting room floor)

I actually found the situation the film sets up rather interesting. Basically, there is a remote village at the base of a mountain whose north face is a sheer cliff.  The area is said to be haunted and looking over the ledge at the mists below can “make even the sane ones want to jump.”  Because of this, the area has become a destination of poor despondent souls seeking to leave this wordly coil behind.  However, when one of the elderly residents of this small village receives money from a mourning father as both a thank you for finding his son’s body and suicide note to him and as an apology for ‘disturbing the quiet of this peaceful village’ a mercenary streak emerges among the three most prominent members of the community.  They come up with a plan to fleece the suicidal visitors who come to the village for as much as they can get before their lives are ended by building an inn and a small mart where they can charge pretty much whatever they want.  At some point, they start taking things a step further by stripping some of the more valuable personal items from the bodies such as bejeweled hair clips and wondering if one not-yet-dead guest has gold teeth.  There actions and attitudes become increasingly repugnant until ironic tragedy strikes. Frankly, I was expecting some sort of ironic tragedy to make an appearance as the screenplay was clearly building towards it, but even I was caught offguard at the nature of the event that forces everyone to reconsider what they are doing.

Complications occur with the presence of an online suicide club that has made its way to the mountain. Almost cultlike, they have a series of rules they feel they must follow in order to correctly kill themselves and achieve happiness in the next world. And unknown to everyone, a down-and-out reporter has infiltrated the group thinking that she is on the story of the decade.  She is more than happy to play at being one of them but when the time comes for them to kill themselves en masse, she has to frantically come up with ways to keep them all –and especially herself– alive.

While most of the movie was not bad, and some of it had quite a bit of potential as a dark comedy, the reporter and her producer are where the film fails. Many of their interactions take the form of that lowest form of comedy–bathroom humor.  In particular the farsical PD spends all but his first and last scenes on the toilet talking to the reporter with a strained grimace across his face and the conversations punctuate by farts.  Really not at all my style.. and it adds absolutely nothing to the film.  The PD, beyond his first appearance does not serve a function in the film at all except for cheap ‘laughs’–if anyone actually laughs at this kind of humor.

What really surprised me was that this reporter whom I thought was chewing up every scene she appears in with her overacting, was none other than Seo Yeong-hee.  Ms Seo played the memorable murderess in the excellent film Bedevilled a few years ago. I can say with confidence that comedy is NOT her forte, however she seems to have made several attempts at it.  Looking at her filmography, I see she has appeared in movies such as Liar, Mapado, and Fortune Salon.  Compare those films with other, non-comic films she has  appeared in such as Chaser, To Sir With Love and Bedevilled and..well.. there is no comparison. So please, Ms Seo, don’t make any more comedies…

Moodori is available on DVD with English subtitles.. If you can get it from the discount bin, I recommend picking it up… but only from the discount bin..

Posted in 2000s, Review | Comments Off

The Daehan Empire and Min Yeong-hwan (1959)

27th July 2012

bloodbambooThe Daehan Empire and Min Yeong-hwan is part of the recently released collection, Historical Films About the Korean Empire. The collection contains four movies focusing on the years leading up to Japanese occupation and the resistance shortly thereafter.  It also contains a very useful booklet explaining exactly why these films were made, why scenes of daily life were never depicted in these films, why they cover such a limited time period- no of these ‘Memorial Films’ ever covered the years after the March 1st Movement unless they are set outside Korea– and what relation the time period depicted on film had with the filmmakers themselves, many of them who were alive at the start of occupation.  The films I have seen from the collection so far do not require one to have  strong knowledge of history.. it is quite easy to pick up on people’s roles in the events transpiring. However, they are not documentaries either and some liberties seem to have been taken as I will explain while discussing the film pictured left. 

I chose The Daehan Empire and Min Yeong-hwan to watch first among all the films in the collection because of the time period it starts in. If you have been following my blog for a while, you undoubtedly have seen my transcriptions of Korea’s first English (and Korean for that matter)-language newspaper, The Independent. I am currently typing up news from 1896 and this film begins right about that time. In fact, Min Yeong-hwan was interviewed by The Independent and he was a member of the progressive Independent Club.  Min Yeong-hwan was the nephew of the murdered Queen Min and as such had the ear of King Gojong.  He was among the first Korean envoys to be sent to the west, visiting the courts of Europe, attending the coronation of the Russian czar and representing Korea at the White House in the United States and he was a strong supporter of the modernization of Korea.  He wanted to develop Korea along the lines of the western nations and make his country strong enough to be free of the plots of its neighbors.

The movie starts upon Min’s return from a six month journey to Europe. He immediately goes to the palace to greet the king and suggests that the Korean soldiers receive western-style drilling and uniforms to increase their effectiveness and in the next scene we see the soldiers receiving the uniforms and practicing their drills. He then goes to his home and greets his wife, mother and the members of a secret movement he is forming to block the Japanese from getting the Eulsa Treaty ratified by the Korean Government Ministers. His actions put him in direct conflict with the Japanese Foreign Minister and soon-to-be Resident General Ito Hirobumi who was residing in Korea and assassins are sent by pro-Japanese Ministers to end Min’s interference. He survives and  meets with future president of Korea Rhee Syngman, recently released from prison where he was held following a protest against Japan. All the while, Min continually pressures an increasingly weak King Gojong to nullify the actions taken by the other ministers and to dismiss them in favor of allies to Gojong. As we know from history, in the end Min’s hard work was for nothing and he committed suicide immediately following the signing of the Eulsa Treaty, a final act of protest against making Korea a protectorate of Japan.

The Eulsa Treaty was signed by the Korean Ministers in 1905 (the King Gojong refused to ratify it) and paved the way for later treaties that would lead to the annexation of Korea. The treaty consisted of five points, the two most damaging were the first, which made Korea a protecterate of Japan, and the second  which forbid Korea from entering into treaties or agreements with other nations without the approval of Japan. Knowing that the treaty was signed in 1905 and that Min returned from his last trip to Europe in 1897 led me to realize that we were getting a very condensed history. It is hard to tell that time had past at all, especially since Min’s children do not age throughout the movie. However, because of this there are a couple of historic facts that don’t quite mesh with the film. For example, according to the film, Min suggested that the army adopt western uniforms when he returned from six months in Europe. However, according to The Independent published in 1896, the army had already adopted western uniforms as an article in the June 30th edition bemoans the fact that some soldiers had taken to not wearing their new suits in favor of traditional styles. He may have been the one to have originally suggest to the King to adopt western uniforms, but it was in an earlier year than is depicted in the film.

The film script also makes an odd claim that Japan ‘denied Korea the rights to build trains for themselves’ but that is not accurate at all. The US built the first train in Korea and later France added to the tracks eventually connecting the Seoul railway through Pyeongyang and into Manchuria by 1905. In fact, issues of The Independent in the latter half of 1896 state definitely that Gojong turns down offers by both Japan and Russia to build more railways in Korea. His original plan was to let only the US build the railways and then purchase them for Korea. It is possible that, after the Eulsa Treaty was signed, Japan bought the trains from the US when the ten year lease was up, but, if that was the case (I can find no information on it at the moment), the characters in the film could not have known this as the film only goes up to the signing of the treaty.

The  brief inclusion of Rhee was simply done as a way to help legitimize the 4-term president.  His terms in office were marred by corruption but it was hoped that connecting him to patriots of independence would help ease a growing unrest and save the fledgling democracy.  It didn’t work. Although he received 90% of the vote in the final election (his opponent died right before the election), it was determined that the vice-presidential election was rigged and protests–and the government’s violent response to those protests– eventually drove Rhee from office and into exile.

The acting in the film is good although some may find the subject matter a little dry. It was interesting to see Kim Seung-Ho in the role of a villain. Normally he played the father-figures in the films of the early 60s like The Coachman or Romance Papa. Here he plays Ito Hirobumi– whom the English subtitles mistakenly call ‘Prince.’  If you are looking for more information about this movie in the KMDb, you need to look under the title Blood Bamboo. That title refers to the legend of the bamboo that sprouted from the dead wood where Min’s blood was spilled.  If you have an interest in early Korean history and the style and reasons behind the movies of the late 50s, then I strongly suggest you pick up the collection. If however, you are looking for action, romance or a lot of emotion in your films, this might not be the collection for you.

Posted in 1950s, Review | Comments Off