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Archive for the 'Directors' Category

Director Hwang Hye-mi

9th January 2010

hwang hye-miOriginally posted August 15, 2007–Hwang Hye-mi was not the first woman to direct Korean films. That distiction belongs to Park Nam-ok who debuted in 1954. Nor was she the second. That position is taken by Hong Eun-won who began making films in 1962. The third female director of Korean films would be the famous actress Choi Eun-hee who was also married to director Shin Sang-ok.  No, Hwang Hye-mi was the fourth woman to debut as a director in Korea with her film First Experience in 1970.

Hwang Hye-mi was born on August 6, 1932 in Seoul. She majored in French Literature at Seoul National University and after graduating went to Paris to study at the University of Sorbonne.  Upon returning to Korea, she and her husband Kim Dong-soo established to Bohan Corporation for Film Production which produced many great films such as Kim Soo-yong’s Mist (1967) and Kim Seung-ok’s Potato (1968).  Later, she also worked as a screenwriter on Im Kwon-taek’s Don’t Torture Me Anymore! (1971).

However, before that she made her directorial debut with the melodrama First Experience (1970).  It was the story of a young college dropout who meets a middle-aged man on a plane.  The two of them hit it off and the young woman finds herself falling in love only to learn that the man has a wife.  The heroine in this film is strong enough to break off their relationship and chalk it up to experience rather than wallow in self pity. Director Hwang not only directed this film but also wrote the screenplay and produced it.

Following this movie, she directed When Flowers Sadly Fade Away in 1971 and Relationships in 1972.  Both of these films are melodramas. When Flowers Sadly Fade Away was an overwrought melodrama fairly typical of the times in which a poor orphan, working in the home of a wealthy widower, transforms his selfish family into caring, happy people and falls in love with her employer even while she is slowly dying of some debilitating disease.  Relationships has her main character being raped by her employer. Afterwards, she meets a young man whom she trusts enough to fall in love with only to discover that he is the son of her rapist.

Although she was praised for her efforts on First Experience, winning an award for Best New Director, she stopped taking part in filmmaking. This was because of the times she was living in. Government control of the film industry was at its strongest and making movies was like pouring money into a hole.  Hwang Hye-mi made no other movies after 1972.

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Director Kang Gu-taek

9th January 2010

kang gu-taekOriginally posted July 18, 2007–Kang Gu-taek was born in 1959 and attended Incheon College where he majored in Korean Literature. However, he failed to complete his studies and dropped out of school. Instead, he relocated to Paris and enrolled in the Ecole Superieure Libre d’Estudes Cinematographiquie (ESEC) also known as Ecole de Cinema (  There he studied film-making for four years before returning to Korea in 1988.                                                                                                                                

As soon as he arrived, he took a job working among the staff of director Park Cheol-soo on Today’s Woman which opened in early 1989.  He continued working with Park on the director’s next film Oseam (1990) where, although not credited as such, his duties were expanded to that of assistant director. 

Kang wanted to establish himself as a director and finally had his chance with Shindo Production’s film Jazz Bar Hiroshima in 1992. 

On paper, Jazz Bar Hiroshima looks like it had all the makings of a great film–and perhaps an even better play. It was the story of a Korean who had been living in Japan at the time of the bombing of Hiroshima at the end of World War II.  He spends his remaining days playing saxophone in a bar in Seoul that is host to a wide variety of social misfits including anarchists, North Koreans stranded south of the border at the end of the Korean War, gangsters and artists. A Japanese tv reporter makes her way to Korea in order to convince the man to tell his story.

The movie was a flop. Less than 2300 people were recorded as having seen it when it opened in Seoul and these days it is remembered as a melodramatic adult film (a title it does not deserve) instead of the social commentary it was meant to be. In fact, people probably would not remember the movie at all except for the fact that it was the debut appearance of actress Yeom Jeong-ah.

Kang Gu-taek was extremely disappointed with the failure of his film and ceased working in the film industry.

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Director Seo Yeong-soo

9th January 2010

seo yeong-sooOriginally posted August 1, 2007–Born in 1957, Seo Yeong-soo demonstrated an early interest in images and film. In elementary school, he taught himself the mechanics of the camera and while he was in high school, he wrote a scenario that he hoped to see made into a movie. However, his parents were opposed to his wish to study film so Seo Yeong-soo entered into the Department of English Literature at Dongguk University.

He secretly kept his dream of making movies alive and in 1979, he worked on a short film called Fly Away Little Bird. That was all the encouragement he needed and he began working on making films full time. He was on Yoo Hyeon-mok’s staff for the making of Son of Man in 1980 and Jo Moon-jin’s remake of his 1970 melodrama Two Sons.  Afterwards he started working with director Lee Doo-yong as his assistant director.

In 1980, Seo Yeong-soo won a prize at the 1st Korean Short Film Festival and then in 1982 he was awarded another prize at the 8th Youth Film Film Festival.  He was gaining quite a reputation within the film industry and this enabled him to debut with his own feature film in which was released in 1985 as Before I Knew It.  This comic mystery was reportedly well received.

In 1988, Seo went to Los Angeles and participated in classes at The American Film Institute (AFI).  When he returned to Korea, he started filming a movie based on the novel, <Let’s Go to the Rose Motel> but soon ran into problems. The author of the novel was horrified by the direction Seo was taking his story and the production was tied up in court for more than a year. This resulted in Seo having to change the name of his movie and remove reference to it being based on the novel. The film was  finally released in January 1991 as simply Rose Motel and critics promptly labelled it a poorly-made erotic film.

His next movie, An Unlikely Farewell in early 1992, was considered much better if not particularly memorable and later that same year he directed the film which sealed his reputation as a director of adult films, Seoul Emmanual.

That reputation may not be fair but that is where is movie career ends.  He began working on television programs–especially dramas targetting teens— and documentaries. He became active in producing tv shows instead of directing but retained an important position in the Korean Directors Association.  Recently, Seo Yeong-soo has been primarily involved with commercial advertising.

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Director Min Byeong-cheon

9th January 2010

min byeong-cheonOriginally posted August 22, 2007–Born in Seoul in 1969, Min Byeong-cheon enrolled at Hongik Univerisity where he majored in Visual Design.  Although he graduated in 1995, Min had established himself as a director while he was still in school.  In 1992 he directed an award-winning documentary for SBS TV called 2 Meters To Go, featuring the struggles of the handicapped. It was said that the quality of that production was so good that Min was guaranteed a job anywhere he wanted to work upon graduation.

In 1995, Min Byeong-cheon directed a short film called Mongolian Food and the following year directed his first music video called 21st Century Mona Lisa for singer 015B. In 1998, Min was placed in charge of a new SBS drama called Baekya 3.98 starring a cast of actors that reads like a Who’s Who: Choi Min-soo, Lee Byeong-heon, Shin Eun-ha, Lee Jeong-jae, Song Hye-gyo, Shin Hyeon-joon…

In 1999, Min debuted with his first film, Phantom; A Submarine.  He claims he was influenced by the film Crimson Tide but he skillfully crafted a story that would appeal to his target viewers and it was well-accepted by both audiences and critics. The film was credited for upgrading special effects techniques in Korean movies and not only won a prize for best special effects but also netted Min an award for Best New Director.  Min followed up this film with the special effect extravaganza, Natural City (2003) in which nearly all the backgrounds are computer graphics.  Although well done and critically successful, the film was too slow for the average movie-goer and it failed to draw audiences to the theater.

The film did however help develop Min’s ability and reputation as a director of special effects. In the following years, he created many CGI animated sequences and characters for tv dramas, such as Goong, video games and music videos.  Recently, he established Olive Studios for the creation of animation and his work was  screened at the 2007 SICAF (Seoul International Cartoon and Animation Festival):  His latest works can also be seen on the television channel Tooniverse.

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Director Lee Yeong-shil

9th January 2010

lee yeong-shilOriginally posted October 10, 2007–Lee Yeong-shil was born on June 20, 1942 in North Pyeongan Province which is now part of North Korea.  Both he and his brother were very interested in movies when they were children and Lee was determined to become a movie director from a very young age.  He kept his goal in mind while he was attending Yeonse University in Seoul where he majored in Psychology.

Sometime after he graduated, his brother  Lee Yeong-il, was given a job as a film critic for the popular magazine called Movie Arts.  Yeong-il had many opportunities to meet with film-makers and became friendly with the famous director Yoo Hyeon-mok.  Using that connection, Yeong-shil was able to secure the position of assistant director on Lee Hyeon-mok’s next project, Son of Man which was released in 1981.  This gave Lee the foot in the door that he needed to begin his own film career.

Lee Yeong-shil debuted as a director in 1982 with the film Rebellion.  It was the story of a simple fisherman who meets and marries an ambitious woman who sees her new husband as her possession–to be enslaved and bound to her as she leads him into the world of crime and dark passions.  Rebellion proved to be popular and was sent to screen at the 27th Asian Pacific Film Festival and the 2nd Manila Film Festival.

After this, Lee continued to make melodramas however none of them gained a great deal of attention from audiences of the time. His filmography includes The Miss and the Cadet (1984), Riding the Moonlight (1985), Tomorrow Rain (1991), The Scent of Acacias in Your Arms (1993) and The President’s Daughter (1994).  Among these, Tomorrow Rain gained the most critical success and earned supporting cast member Ji Kyeong-won a prize for the best new actress even though the film failed in the theaters.

In addition to these films, Lee Yeong-shil made several documentaries, some for the military as part of the ‘Blue Dragon’ unit, and about ten television commercials.  These days he works as a lecturer at Busan Arts College and Myongji University in Seoul.

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Director Kim Eung-soo

9th January 2010

kim eung-sooOriginally posted August 27, 2007–Kim Eung-soo was born on January 1, 1966 in Chungju, North Chungcheong Province. He entered Seoul National University and majored in Psychology.  While a student he was so active in student government that he gave little thought to his future. He once claimed that upon graduating, he suddenly had to find something to do.  He chose movies.

So in 1990 he re-entered school, this time at Seoul Art College.  By 1991, he was already working with a production company and he wrote the scenario for Mother, I’m Your Son (1991) directed by Lee Sang-in.  Later in 1991, Kim went to Russia to study at the Moscow National Film School and he wound up staying for 5 years.  During that time, he made several short films such as A Different Face (1994). His first feature length film came in 1996 when he wrote, produced and directed Time Lasts. It was the story of a group of Koreans in their mid-thirties who, when they were students, were members of a radically leftist organization.  During that time, one of the members betrayed the others to the authorities and as a result, one of their friends died. Now they are meeting in Moscow unaware of the traitor’s actions. The film won a prize for best actress from the Korean Film Critics Awards that year.

In 1999, he prepared a film tentatively called I Am a Parisian Taxi Driver but it never got off the ground.  Finally in 2002, he directed his second film, this time for Myeonpil Films called Desire.  Although completed on time, it took this movie two years to get released in Korea.  Sometime after completing that project, he took a post at Gyeongseong University as a professor in the Department of Film and Performing Arts. 

Teaching has not stopped him from making more films. In 1995, he once again wrote, directed and produced a film–Way To Go Rose and in May of 2007 his film Heavenly Path was released, once again produced by Kim Eung-soo Productions.

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Director Kang Cheol-su

12th December 2009

kang cheol-suOriginally posted May 14, 2008–On February 23, 1944, the man who would become known as director/writer Kang Cheol-su was born in the city of Jinju. His real name is Bae Yoon-shik, but he changed it after graduating from Saribel University and started his lifelong career–writing comics.  He debuted in 1960 with the comic book series Myeong-Tam-Jeong and for the next decade he continuously wrote comic books for children. However, in the mid-70s, he changed his target audience and started creating comics for adult readers. He had many popular series, but the most popular ones were Cheongnyeon Manse, Love’s Scribble, Money-Money-Money, Memories of Barbari, Shin Baduk Story and Night Sakura.

Of the above half dozen stories, one stood out as a cut above the rest, Memories of Barbari. It was the sad tale of a young man in constant search of money, sex and love. Sometime in the mid to late 80s, it was adapted as a stage play and was successful enough for production companies to become interested in it. In 1989, Kang was given the chance by Taekwang Productions to direct a movie based on his comic book. The film version starred Lee Hyo-jeong (whose only recent movie role recently was a small part in Silmido) as Dal-ho.  Dal-ho is deeply in love with Eun-kyeong (Ha Hee-ra) but she sees him as a man with no future and wants nothing to do with him. Dal-ho sets off, not only to prove her wrong, but also see if he can perhaps do better in finding a girlfriend.  He soon discovers that not all beautiful woman are kind.  Every woman he meets deems him to be too childish and cannot endure having him around. Eventually, Eun-kyeong, in the film version at least, comes around to discover that she does indeed love him.   While the comic book was a huge success, the film was not and it flopped in the theaters.

Although, Memories of Barbari was the only film directed by Kang, many of his other ‘graphic novels’ were their way onto the silver screen. The Dull Servant Pal Bul-chul was made into a movie in 1980 with a sequel, The Hero Pal Bul-chul, opening the following year. Both were directed by Ko Eung-ho. Love’s Scribble became a film in 1988 (d. Shim Jae-seok) and Money, Money, Money hit the silver screen under the direction of Yoo Jin-seon in 1991.  The most recent film adapted from one of Kang’s comics was The Story of an Unemployed Man (d. Jeong Joon-seob) in 1997.

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Director Son Chang-ho

5th December 2009

son chang-hoOriginally posted on November 14, 2007—Son Chang-ho was born in 1954 and majored in English Literature at Danguk Unversity. However, it was not literature that interested him–it was acting. Especially comic acting. He debuted onscreen in 1974 with the film It Is You, a ’high-teen’ drama. Most of the films that Son would appear in would be  dramas aimed at young people and he would often play the role of comic relief in some of the more serious stories. However, his acting was most natural when he was paired with other comic actors such as Lee Seung-heon of the ‘Joker’ series (the most famous of which is The High School Joker).  Son went on to have numerous movie roles throughout the mid-70s to the mid-80s.   As time passed, Son couldn’t help but notice that the style of movie he was known for was rapidly falling out of popularity and his age was becoming a little too old for the kinds of characters he played.

This is what led to him taking a hiatus from acting after 1986.  He decided that he wanted to study movie-making techniques and went to Tokyo to attend a director’s course at the University of Japan.  Upon the completion of his studies, Son returned to Korea and made the film Tokyo Arirang in 1990. And not only did he direct it but he also wrote the script and had a part as a supporting actor. The film was a melodrama about a woman named Seon-hee who goes to Japan to search for her fiance, Dae-pyeong. Dae-pyeong had gone there in order to complete some unfinished business before their wedding, but disappeared. Unable to locate him, Seon-hee is forced to buy a false id card so she can remain in Japan after her visa expired. Eventually she locates Dae-pyeong, but he is with another woman. Seon-hee decides that she needs to make money, so she becomes the mistress of an elderly but wealthy Japanese businessman.  By all accounts, this movie was a complete failure.

Son Chang-ho did not get another chance to try again. He was plagued health problems and died at only 44 years old in 1998.  His dying wish was to have his ashes spread in the East Sea near the city of Sokcho.

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Director Yoon Baek-nam

27th November 2009

yoon baek-namOriginally posted October 31, 2007—Yoon Baek-nam has often been called the Father of Korean Cinema despite evidence pointing to the fact that the release of his first known film, The Vow Made Below The Moon, was preceded by Kim Do-san’s first true movie, The Border, by three months.  However, While Kim Do-san was certainly very active in the world of theater and kinodramas–producing, directing and appearing in three in 1919 alone–he was less active in the world of film (mostly likely because of his early death in 1921).

Yoon Baek-nam was born in Seoul on October 4, 1888 as Yoon Gyo-joong. It would not be until much later that he would adopt the pen name ‘Baek-nam’. From an early age he and his two brothers were schooled by their father in traditional Chinese literature and Korean history. He enjoyed studying and, while attending school in Seoul, he developed a passion for journalism and foreign languages, proving especially adept at Japanese.  His dream of furthering his studies seemed likely to come to an end in 1902 when, at just 14 years old, Yoon was compelled to enter into a marriage arranged by his parents years earlier. 

Although he complied with his parents and went through with the ceremony, Yoon was unwilling to give up the education he passionately wanted. Not long after his wedding, Yoon secretly stowed away on a ship to Japan. Without tuition and without his parents’ knowledge, he found a way to enrol in a school in Fukushima. The following spring, he heard that is older cousin had arrived in Tokyo to study engineering. They met and his cousin agreed to support Yoon’s continuing education. He co-signed a grant that Yoon believed would allow him to enter Waseda University as a Political Science major.

Unfortunately, that was not to be. The grant Yoon received did not allow him to study Political Science and he was forced to transfer to the Hitosubashi School of Business. Although it must have seemed like a huge setback at the time, it was the best thing that could have happened for Korean cinema because it was there that Yoon met a man who would assist him greatly in getting started in movies, his life-long friend Koichi Mori.  The two kept in close contact after they graduated and Yoon returned to Korea in 1909. It was on Mori’s recommendation that Yoon secured his first job in a management position at Shiksan Bank. He could not keep that job for long though because, just prior to the annexation of Korea by Japan, the Korean bank employess were forced to give up their jobs. Yoon took another job as a reporter for the Maeil Daily Newspaper.

In 1912, Yoon became involved with some other people who had studied in Japan and who were creating a group of theater players. They dubbed themselves The Munsuseong Troupe and worked on translating Japanese literature and scripting their first play, Bulyeogwi, which they performed on March 31, 1912. This was rapidly followed by three other plays. However Yoon and writer Jo Il-je (whose later works would frequently be made into movies in the early days of Korean cinema) became increasingly interested in the newly emerging styles of theater and art. They left Munsuseong Troupe together in 1914 to return to Japan to study. The troupe disbanded after their departure.  When Yoon returned to Korea, he took a job as a reporter at Donga News and started working on his life in the theater with gusto, translating Chinese and Japanese literature and plays for the Korean stage. Eventually, he published his own dram, Destiny, in 1921 and it was performed for audiences by the Minjoong Players. Several other of his plays were performed publically as well.

About the same time, Yoon became interested in finding a way to make a movie. The Shiksan Bank had some money put aside as part of an investment plan with the sole purpose of financing a movie-picture. Koichi Mori once again assisted his friend and secured the funds for him to make a film. Yoon’s contemporary, the famous director Ahn Jeong-hwa, mentions in his book, The History of Korean Film (1962, Chunchaguk Publishers, p.57) that Yoon Baek-nam mobilized the Minjoong Players and together they produced a light comedic drama. However, no other written record of this film exists and even the name of this film remains unknown. 

The earliest confirmed film made by Yoon therefore remains The Vow Made Below The Moon which, with Mori assistance, was allowed by the authorities to be screened. That was all the start Yoon Baek-nam needed. In 1925, he directed two more films, this time for the Fusan (now Busan) Chosun Kinema. These were The Story of Woon-yeong, a tragedy about a lady of the King’s court who falls in love with a poet, and an action movie called The Hero of a Small Village.  Yoon also established the Yoon Baeknam Production Company and funded director Kim Kyeong-son’s The Story of Shim Cheong that same year.

He directed his last film in 1930 called Justice Wins and later that same year he wrote the screenplay of The Challenge which was directed by Kim So-bong.  However, in 1933, as the oppression of the Korean people grew, Yoon Baek-nam left Korea to live in Manchuria where he remained until Korean independence was achieved.

When he returned in 1946, he became a professor at Gukmin University. Later, at the outbreak of the Korean War, Yoon went to serve as a lieutenant in the Navy where he was made the section chief of press reports and public information.  After the war, he returned to education, this time as the first president of the Sarabul Arts School in 1953.

Yoon Baek-nam passed away on September 9, 1954.

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Director Song Yeong-su

22nd November 2009

song yeong-suOriginally posted July 24, 2008–Director Song Yeong-su was born in Seoul in 1942. He attended Hanyang University majoring in Theater and Film. He was a pupil of such great directors as Lee Jang-ho, Ko Yeong-nam and Jo Moon-jin. He worked under them and other directors for a decade as an assistant director starting in 1969 with Director Jo’s film Young Women to 1976 with Choi In-ho’s movie Run, Don’t Walk.

In 1977,  Song finally had a chance to make his own film called Butterfly Maiden.  It was a fairly standard melodrama for its time about a college student who comes to the aid of a young woman who had collapsed in front of him. They share an appreciation of music, art and nature and with his help she is able to enrol in college. Of course, what the hero does not know is that she is dying of a rare disease…

Afterwards, Song directed ten more films: An Embrace in the Night (1981), Forbidden Love (1982), Jamsu Brideg Outside the Window (1985), Saturdays With No Nights (1986), We Are Going to Geneva Now (1987), The Wolf’s Curiosity Stole the Pigeons (1988), Reality (1988), A Story Inside a Handbag (1991), The Emperor of Cash (1992), and Boating Dance (1993).  Among these, his most critically acclaimed films is We Are Going to Geneva Now which was the story of a Vietnam vet is not readjusting well to life after the war and a young woman who keeps popping sleeping pills during their long train journey in an attempt to kill herself.

Song Yeong-su can be seen in a handful of movies as well. He had cameo appearances in Mist Whispers Like a Woman (1982), Scoundrels Below Zero (1982) and Age of Seduction (1986) and he has a fairly major role in 1984’s The Fire of Tandra.  However, his career was cut tragically short in 1996 when he passed away at just 54 years old.

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