Seen in Jeonju

Archive for October, 2009

Mystery of the Title Change

14th October 2009

6 million dollar man 26 million dollar man 1Originally published January 28, 2008—I was digging through newspapers today from 1977 I came across this ad for the Korean made film The Six Million Dollar Man directed by Kim Shi-hyeon and released  on July 24.  The following week, the ad appeared again with a significant change.  No–it is not the way the number is written–that is the same difference as writing 6 million as 6,000,000. The major difference is that the title changed–the first ad reads ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’. The way it appears in that first ad is the way tv schedules at the time had written the name of the tv show starring Lee Majors which was airing at that time in Korea. The second ad deletes the word ‘Man’ altogether. It simply reads ‘Six Million Dollars’.  Interestingly, this latter style is the way it is recorded in the Korean Film Archives as well.  What was the reason for this? Were there complaints from people going to the theater expecting to see their television hero only to find themselves watching a knock-off starring someone else. They should have expected that..the first ad plainly states that this Six Million Dollar Man ‘can’t be seen on television.’  Was there a sudden fear of a lawsuit on the part of the producers.

Who starred in this movie is actually in question. The ads above list Bionic Man as being played by David William.  That is what I will eventually go by when I start typing up the cast list for this movie. However, the Korean Film Archive lists the main actor as a man named John K. Justice–though they do list a co-star as Nick Williams.  A book I have which was published in 1986 states the Bionic Man was played by John K. Jullus (the spelling is an approximation as the credits in the book are in Korean).  One of the co-stars in the film is Joan Wells–according to the ads above. However, the Korean Film Archives  lists her as Kelly Wells.

I guess this is going to be a mystery until I can actually see the credits for the film–which fortunately is housed at KoFa

Posted in 1970s | 2 Comments »

Radio Dayz (2008)

14th October 2009

radio dayzOriginally posted February 8, 2008—I had mentioned on Monday that I loved the movie Radio Dayz that had opened a week ago and is currently showing in theaters.  I had originally thought that I would be writing about it for one of the magazines I write for, but I abandoned that idea after struggling with the article because I did not feel that I could get the three pages I needed to write. That frees me up to write a short review here.

But before I begin the review, I would like to direct your attention to the teaser poster above. This poster was made well before the release of the film which is why the release date on the poster just says January rather than a specific date. However, the most obvious thing about the poster for an English speaker is the misspelling of the word ‘Radio’ as ‘Ridio’. This is do to the old-style Koreanization of the word ‘radio’ in the Korean title which seems like a mistake today as it is now out of use. However, ‘ridio’ has apparently been abandoned and the misspelling is now in the word ‘days/dayz’ which although wrong gives the correct pronunciation.

Early promos and magazine articles about the film indicated that this was a Ryu Seung-beom venue..which while never a bad thing, would have been a waste of the other cast members. After watching the film however, I am happy to report that almost all the main actors have equal time with the exception of young Ko A-seong.  Her character, Soon-deok, has very little to do.

Ryu Seung-beom plays Lloyd, the fast-thinking producer of a radio program in 1930. The station is underfunded and understaffed. New ideas are needed to keep gain listeners. One of these ideas is to create a radio drama, the first of its kind in Korea. Lloyd gathers together a handful of voice actors. These consist of Marie (Kim Sa-rang) a beautiful and modern Jazz singer, the kisaeng Myeong-wol (Hwang Bo-ra) who often forgets that the radio audience cannot see her, Man-cheol (Oh Jeong-se) a voice actor who takes the part of just about every male character in the drama as the narration, reading the news and doing commercials. The previously mentioned Soon-deok is recruited to handle the voices of female extras. Off to a slow start, Lloyd also recruits a sound-effects man who simply calls himself K. 

The writing is handled by the harried Mr. No who has trouble coming up with what will happen next in the daily drama. He task is complicated frequently throw the script out the window if they don’t like how its going and adlib their way through the show.

The drama is a hit with the people with the people who argue on the streets about the love triangle and where street-performers re-enact the events of the previous day’s show. The cast is launched to stardom but the increased attention given to the radio drama also draws the attention of the Japanese colonial government. This may not have been a big problem for Lloyd, but some of the things his actors say outside the script may cause problems and one of his cast is secretly working for the Korean Independence Army.

I think this may be a first for Korean movies in the light way the Korean Independence Army is portrayed. Of course, this film is a comedy, by the four men making up the KIA (one of them is the well-known comedian Moon Se-yoon) are portrayed as being highly ineffective–the most successful thing they have done recently is rob a mail car. However, at least one of them is smart enough to recognize how useful the radio station can be to their cause.

The radio drama itself is extremely well-done. Not only is it used to poke fun at the government at the time, it also spoofs the cliches of modern television dramas. Love triangles, amnesia, contrasts in social status between the rivals for the hero’s affection…however, despite the cliches it manages to draw the modern viewer in and we begin to wonder..along with the writer…just how the drama will end.

With so many other high-profile Korean films released at the same time for the Lunar New Year, Radio Dayz may be pushed to the background–However, when the dvd is released, don’t hesitate to snap it up.  It is a genuinely fun movie!

Posted in 2000s, Review | 1 Comment »

Recovered Posts^^

12th October 2009

I just wanted to give a big thanks to JB for sending me nearly 100 Seen in Jeonju posts dating back to early 2008.   I never would have been able to recover them without his help and I am extremely grateful.   I will begin re-posting them as soon as I can (which may be tonight). 

So thank you JB for all your help.   I guarantee that this time I really will make back-up files.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Director Profiles: Lee Han-wook

12th October 2009

lee hanwookDirector Lee Han-wook was born on September 8, 1932 in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province. He graduated from the Department of English Literature at Jeonbuk University and began his career in the film industry by directing the action movie No Way to Go Ahead in 1964.  It was the story of a  man, played by Park No-shik, fighting the Japanese on the island of Bagio in the Philippines at the end of the Second World War. The movie was a rare co-production between Korea and the Philippines.  His second film was also made in 1964, a melodrama entitled Sad Movie (in no way related to the more recent film of the same name). Creating no films in 1965, Director Lee came back strong in ‘66 with three anti-communism action films–The Great Escape, The Red Line, and The 76th Prison Camp.  These were followed by one more war film, this one about the Korean War, called The Imjin River in 1967.

What happened next is a mystery for there is a ten year gap in Lee Han-wook’s filmography. However, he resurfaced in the movie industry in 1978 with a melodrama called Floating Weeds about life, love and death in the circus. Despite the somewhat unlikely premise of the film, Floating Weeds won a prize at the Korean Performing Arts Awards. But that was the last the film industry heard from Lee Han-wook. For whatever reason, Lee stopped making movies and he left no traceable record after 1978. His ultimate fate is unknown

Posted in Directors | Comments Off

The Power of Sincerity (1935)

12th October 2009

Originally posted August 15, 2009

In the early years cinema, silent movies dominated until the developing technology brought voice to the images flickering on screens around the world. Many people are unaware that Korea’s own film industry dates back to these early times as well with Korean directors churning out pictures since before 1920. However, it was believed since the Korean War that these silent films were all lost to time or destroyed in the war. Recently however, a search has been on from these shadows from the past and vaults in Japan, China and Russia have been revealing treasures from the past. We now have an intact, silent Korean film that was discovered in Gosfilmofond in Russia. It is a short ‘enlightenment’ film, only 24 minutes long, designed to teach people the ‘correct’ way of living. The movie can easily be seen via DVD as it has been included in The Past Unearthed 4.  This fourth collection includes mostly  newsreels created by the ‘Chosun Government-General’-the Japanese colonial governement. These newsreels were made to encourage support for Japan’s war effort.  They ask women to give up their gold jewelry, men to stop smoking and drinking so the savings can by donated to the army and boys to volunteer at training camps.  These propaganda films, ranging from 1937-1943, provide a fascinating glimpse at life at that time. Of course, it is a strongly biased, slanted, unrealistic and sanitized version of what life was like–but the images are real and we have the benefit of being able to read between the lines and put things in a historical perspective. Allowing The Power of Sincerity at the end of the newsreels was a brilliant move as the newsclips provide context for this short.

Much about the film, The Power of Sincerity, remains lost including such basic information as the name of the director and even the original title of the film. (The Korean title used in the collection is listed on the KMDb as ‘different title’)   However, the story is complete.  It opens with a zealous young man lecturing to his friends about the importance of paying taxes. He has learned that if all the taxes in his village are paid, eventually a bridge will be built over the large river they border. The town miser, Mr Kwon,  is against the idea and suggests to the young man that he earn a living as a ferryman (a thought that occurred to me as well).  However, it turns out that the young man doesn’t really need a job as he had inherited a large tract of land from his father. But he doesn’t hold onto it. He generously donates his entire land as communal village property. This results in Kwon losing all of his workers who can now work on communal land and share in the profits. When tax time comes around, Kwon avoids his commitments and his son is humilated.  How can his son get his father to give to the cause? 

The film is blatan in its propaganda with one character claiming “I feel no regrets since my son died for the village.”  It is hard to make a movie about taxes interesting but the movie held my attention through its short running time and I would (will) happily watch it again.

Two actors were recognized in the film by the people at the Korean Film Archives, Shim Yeong and Kim Yeon-shil.  Shim Yeong was born in 1910 and passed away in 1971. He debuted in films in 1930 and worked on the stage as well.  After the Korean War, he continued with acting in North Korea after the Korean War.  Kim Yeon-shil also wound up in North Korea at the end of the war and went on to be awarded the title of ‘Citizen’s Actress’ before her death in 1997. (The KMDb credits her with a film in South Korea in 1984, but this is an error)

The Past Unearthed series  has been excellent. I strongly recommend checking out all four of the collections and I am hoping that KOFA is planning a fifth set–perhaps dealing with some of the lesser known films of the 50s.

Posted in Review, pre-1950 | Comments Off

Korea’s First 3D Horror Project in 2010–Really?

12th October 2009

apeOriginally posted August 7, 2009–On July 30, the below article appeared on the KOFIC website and was picked up by other websites that provide information about Korean films. Written by a KOFIC staff member, it reads:      Korea’s First 3D Horror Project Soul Mate Announced:  Soul Mate, to be directed by KIM Ji-hwan resulted from KOFIC’s Filmmaker’s Development Lab (FDL) and took part in PIFAN’s Network of Asian Fantastic Film’s (NAFF).  The production of such films underscores the growing importance of PIFAN not just as an exhibitor of genre films but as a catalyst of film production.  The FDL on the other hand, is a programme that takes a number of film projects from up and coming Korean film makers (in and out of the country) and matches them with mentors from the film industry.  This year there were 5 projects including Soul Mate.  The $2 million dollar film is to be created by Korean visual effects company ‘Macrograph’ and production company ‘Entourage’.   Macrograph for its part is no stranger to high profile movies after working on Korean films The Forbidden Kingdom, The Restless, and thriller Handphone.  The film has already secured development funds and the film’s producers are in talks with local and one Singaporean company to secure coproduction partners. Rather than the usual fare of (pretty young) girls becoming murder fodder to a host of grizzly attackers, Soul Mate focuses on a group of college boys.  The producers are aiming to assemble a “dream team of good-looking boys” who will one by one, come to their ends at the hand of a mysterious stalker.  This film is expected to be released in the summer of 2010. 

As much as I dislike the stinker of a movie pictured above right, what I dislike even more is forgetting the past and the efforts of filmmakers from previous decades. This ad pictures the infamous film know in English-speaking countries as APE. It was co-directed by Choi Yeong-cheol and Paul Leder and screened in theaters as Korea’s first 3D horror movie in July 1976.  Choi had a career as a director that ran from 1963 to 1991. (His last film, Pure White Cult, was about the cult briefly mentioned in the giant pig film Chaw this summer). As can be seen on the poster–in letters almost as large as the title–is that it was a horror film made in 3D. Actors Lee Nak-hoon and Woo Yeon-jeong are listed first and second in the credits in this ad and the film was produced by Hong Yeong-shil for Gukje Productions.

Although there are many non-Korean actors, APE is still a Korean film. While an argument may be made that it is not a horror film, that would go against the classification on the Korean Film Database and of KOFIC themselves. Incidently, the first 3D Korean film that I am aware of is from 1971, an action film entitled The Black Sun of Jijiharu.

Just because a film is from another era or was not successful, does not mean it should be overlooked. And for an organization like KOFIC, which aims to promote Korean movies, to spread incorrect information is unforgivable. Ten minutes of research would have turned up the unfortunate APE as the true first Korean 3D horror project.

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Take Off (2009)

12th October 2009

take offOriginally posted on August 6, 2009—I had thought that Haeundae would be the highlight of the summer movies. I was wrong. Last night I watched Take Off and I have to admit that I liked it. I knew from word-of-mouth and reading reviews in magazines like Cine21 that it was good, but I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed the film.  While watching the film I ran the gambit of emotions–from sadness to joy and from suspense to fear.  Director Kim Yong-hwa (200lb Beauty, Oh Brothers) managed to find the balance between comedy and drama–neither one outweighing the other. The camera angles draw you in, especially during the competitive ski jumps, and the really help you imagine what an athlete must feel poised alone at the top of a steep hill where one mistake could mean the difference between life and death.

I will keep this review short and spoiler-free as the movie is still in theaters.

Actor Ha Jeong-woo continues to impress and has secured his place as a top actor in Korean film. Here he plays a Korean adoptee returning to the country of his birth to find his mother who gave him and his sister up decades earlier. His character, Cha ‘Bob’ Hyeon-tae, feels more than a little like a man without a country.  His inner confusion manifests itself in a variety of ways, most commonly making him standoff-ish from his teammates. He is also confused on how he wants to deal with his mother–on the one hand, he is still bitter from being abandoned long ago but on the other, he wants to understand her and help her escape from the hardships she is undergoing.

Although Hyeon-tae’s issues could easily weigh down the movie and make it pure melodrama, the other characters provide a little levity into the scenes–even though each of their family situations is equally as difficult as Hyeon-tae’s–if not worse. And each of these characters gets a moment to shine. Most surprising to me was the scene in the bar that changed Heung-cheol (Kim Dong-wook) into a character I could respect. This was done not by transforming his personality into something new and more palatable, but rather through revealing a deeper level inside the already existing character- like what happens in life as you get to know someone.  However the most touching, exciting and fear-inspiring part of the film involved young Bong-gu (Lee Jae-eung). Although often used for comic relief–Bong-gu has one of the most dramatic parts of the movie.

All the characters are memorable in their own way–from the sultry, quick-witted Su-yeon (Lee Eun-seong) to a cameo appearance by Kim Su-ro. The story is exciting and paced well and the camerawork is excellent. All-in-all, Take Off earned  4 1/2 out of 5 stars.   It is well worth your time to see it…maybe even twice!

Posted in 2000s, Review | Comments Off

Korean Box Office: October 9-11

11th October 2009


Closer to Heaven surprisingly remains at the top of the box office charts although both The Sword With No Name and Where is Jeong Seung-pil nearly overtook it this week.  Given the percentages, I believe that all three will fall to I Come With The Rain opening later this week. I Come With The Rain stars Lee Byeong-heon and Takura Kimura–both box-office draws. Other films being released this week are listed below.


A. The Battle of Algiers (it/alg)- d. Gillo Pontecorvo, starring Brahim Hadjadj, Jean Martin

B. Busan (kr)- d. Park Ji-won, starring Kim Yeong-ho, Yoo Seung-ho

C. District 9 (s. africa)- d. Neill Blomkamp, starring Sharlto Copley, Jed Brophy

D. I Come With the Rain (fr/us)- d. Ahn Hung Tran, starring Lee Byeong-heon, Josh Hartnett

E. Meet Bill (us)- d. Bernie Goldmann, starring Aaron Eckhart, Jessica Alba <Being released in Korea as Goodbye Chocolate>

F. Planet B-Boy (us)- d. Benson Lee, starring Vasco Nunes, Benson Lee

G. Tears in the Arctic (kr) d. Jo Joon-mook and Heo Tae-jeon <documentary> Narrated by Ahn Seong-gi

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The Door of the Body (1965)

10th October 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 1960s, Review | Comments Off

Boys of Tomorrow (2007)

10th October 2009

boys of tomorrowBoys of Tomorrow is the second film by director Noh Dong-seok who had debuted with My Generation in 2004.  Like his first film, Boys of Tomorrow looks at the struggles of youth living in poor environs, trying to find their place in the world. In My Generation, Noh examined a couple battling futilely to stay afloat financially while holding onto their dreams. In Boys of Tomorrow, he looks at a family of brothers just trying to survive.  The dreams of the brothers..or more accurately half brothers…are simple.  The youngest, Yo-han, only wants his mother to come home.  She had left just a little while ago and Yo-han’s severely depressed father has been looking for her. He even manages to locate her, but had not yet summoned the courage to ask her to come back saying that it is his life that is the problem. The father is rarely present in the film, and when he is there he is just one more person for the oldest boy, Ki-soo, to take care of. 

Ki-soo has several dreams of his own. First and foremost he wants to take care of and protect his family–not necessarily in a physical, think-with-his-fists kind of way, though he is able to fight if necessary– it is his very presence that offers protection and stability to the family. Frequently throughout the film his brothers will sob on his shoulders and turn to him for protection. There is a memorable shot (later repeated in the film with different characters) where vigilant Ki-soo has this youngest brother asleep on his lap while his other brother, also asleep, is leaning on him.  Ki-soo also has dreams outside the family..he wants to be a drummer and he even gives drum lessons. But that becomes less important to him as his family takes priority. He even tells his brother Jong-dae that ‘you are my dream. You are more important than I’

Jong-dae is the black sheep of the family. Deeply troubled, slightly wild and scarred with a humiliating childhood injury caused by Ki-soo, Jong-dae yearns for one thing. Power. He wants to be someone that he sees as important. And the most important person in the town is a relatively small time gang boss who had an affair with Jong-dae’s mother in the past. Jong-dae tells the gangster that he wants to be like him and among the reasons that he cites is ‘because you are kind.’  This is clearly not true though Jong-dae is blind to that at first as he looks for a father-figure beyond his brother. It is true that Ki-soo, mostly motivated by guilt, would do anything for Jong-dae and their neighbors often ask him if he is tired of cleaning up after the messes his brother causes. But Ki-soo never thinks about giving up on his brother and would deny him nothing. The proof in that is when Jong-dae asks him for a gun which he saw for sale in a back alley. Jong-dae decides that this gun is his dream–and he cannot live without it. This gun, he feels, is what will make him a man.

I have to say that I liked this movie quite a bit especially because of the charater of Ki-soo played by Kim Byeong-seok.  Kim is the same actor who played the leading man in Noh’s My Generation.  Looking at the cast list, I saw that his co-stars have been in or are making many other films. Even young Lee Dong-ho who played Yo-han has had other parts including as the little boy in The Host. But Kim has only been in Noh’s work so far. I was mystified as I consider his acting to be the best parts of both films. He brings a believabilty to the roles and a strength that comes quietly from the inside rather than from loud posturing. In short, I think he is an excellent actor. So I was a little surprised to find an news blurb from 2004 that stated Kim has not yet decided whether he wants to be an actor.  I, for one, hope that he does come to a decision soon and starts taking more parts. He has the potential to be one of the greats.

Posted in 2000s, Review | Comments Off