Seen in Jeonju

Archive for January, 2010

The One Love (1981)

9th January 2010

one loveOriginally posted June 3, 2009–Last weekend Bong Jun-ho’s Mother made waves at the box office. That film depicted just how strong a mother’s love can be and showed us that some mothers are capable of doing anything to save their children.  If we could step back just a couple of decades however, we could see that theme repeated in many different ways. Almost all of those films were melodramas and the relationships between mother and child were often highlighted. There were films where mother would donate their eyes for their children and condemn themselves to live in darkness. There were movies where mothers would admit to crimes they didn’t commit and others where the mother would secretly sacrifice themselves to a life a servitude for the happiness for their children.  In The One Love, the mother decides that she will give up her own happiness to see her child well-provided for.

When I first sat down to watch this film, I thought I hadn’t seen it before. How wrong I was.  This is basically a remake of a more famous Korean film, “I Hate You But Again.”  Alright, that is not the official translation..that is a literal translation. The problem is that the Korean Movie Database cannot seem to settle on one title for that film. The original from 1969 is called Love Me Once Again.  It was the first of a four part series.  While the Korean titles are all the same with sequential numbers added on to the end. But, oddly, the English title keeps changing (I really think that the KMDb should settle on a single title–Bitter But Once Again, Farewell My Love, Once More For Love and the 80s remakes–Love Me Once Again Despite Hatred, Forgive Me Once Again Despite Hatred).

Anyway, The One Love is the story of a woman who is dumped by her wealthy boyfriend because of objections to her background raised by his family. In this film, the young woman, Yeong-ju,  is a nurse–which is completely acceptable–but her mother was an… entertainer…jn a club catering to foreign soldiers. Yeong-ju and her lover Se-joon break up before either of them realize that Yeong-ju is pregnant. When the fact is finally revealed, Yeong-ju goes against the wishes of Se-joon’s mother and decides to go ahead with the pregnancy, steals away Jeju Island, and raises her son Joon-yeong as a single mother.

She and her son are poor but very happy together. The film does an excellent job of portraying their special bond and their love for each other. However Se-joon learns that his wife is unable to bear children. Knowing that he has a son, he is persuaded by his mother to track down Yeong-ju and covince her to come back to Seoul–enrolling Joon-yeong in school and giving him warm clothes and a better place to stay.  Gradually, the family tries to woo Yeong-ju into giving up custody.

The major difference between this and the more famous “I Hate You But Once Again” is that Yeong-ju is not interested at first in giving up her child. She is unsure that it is best for him. Although she is eventually convinced,  Joon-yeong fights vigourously against her decision to leave him in his father’s and grandparent’s care.

The movie has the strangest ending I have ever seen.  It just suddenly stops—literally. When a ‘final’ decision has been made one character screams in anguish…and the frame freezes while ‘The End’ pops up over the paused characters. It has the strangest feeling of being unfinished.  Doing a quick search, I learned that this movie was followed by two sequels that continued the story pretty much from where it left off–in which case the oh-so-sudden ending makes sense.

The One Love is a very watchable film. I especially liked the acting of the boy who played Joon-yeong and I set out to find if he was still active in film.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the ‘boy’ is actress Kim Min-hee who can often be seen in television dramas. She debuted in 1978–at just six years old on a tv series and has been acting ever since. She was 9 when this movie was made and 12 by the time the third film of The One Love trilogy was released.   Unfortunately, only part one is available DVD.

Posted in 1980s, Review | 2 Comments »

Short Reviews of 4 Films from the 60s

9th January 2010

old potterOriginally posted June 20, 2009–Just because I have been busy with the end of the semester for the past couple of weeks does not meet that I haven’t been watching movies. I just haven’t had time to write about them.  Recently I watched four older films from the 60s. Keep Quiet When Leaving and The Apron (not pictured), both from 1964, How’s Your Wife (1966) and The Old Potter (1969).   All of these are VERY melodramatic but I enjoyed most of them–the exception being How Is Your Wife for reasons I will get to.

The Old Potter was directed by Choi Ha-won. Previously I was not a fan of Choi having only seen his 1981 film The Invited Ones. That movie, about the persecution of Christian missionaries and converts in 18th Century Korea was far too heavy-handed in its Christian imagery and seems to have been made with the idea of converting viewers.  However, I found The Old Potter to be very enjoyable. The title character is played by the talented Hwang Hae whose film career stretched from 1959 to 1990.  Much of the pain the character goes through is conveyed through the eyes and Hwang’s experience in acting is put to good use  in many close ups of his face. There are no surprises in this film–you can guess how the movie will end as soon as the enormous, crumbling, clay kiln makes its appearance–but it was completely enjoyable.

The Apron was directed by Lee Bong-rae and featured some of the top actors of the time, most notably Kim Seung-ho and Jo Mi-ryeong. The appeared in many films together such as 1960s The Coachman where they had roles similar to what they play here–an older couple with possible romantic interest unsure whether they should actually persue their feelings or live how society expects them to live. Kim plays a retired widower named Kang who lives with his three children and housemaid. The eldest daughter, Myeong-hee (played by Uhm Aeng-ran), senses a relationship developing between her father and the maid but she is very oppposed to this and worries what people would think if their feelings became public. However, what Myeong-hee does not realize is that she is adopted and the housemaid whom she treats like dirt is actually her mother. Good acting all around and fun appearances by Twist Kim and a very young Ahn Sung-ki.

Keep Quiet While Leaving is pure melodrama and could have easily been a Rock Hudson/Doris Day film from the 1950s.  This movie also starred Uhm Aeng-ran along with the man who would become her real-life husband, Shin Seong-il.  In the film, they play Mi-yeong and Myeong-su.  Mi-yeong is the only daughter of a wealthy man (Kim Seung-ho) who falls in love with a student working his way through university. Mi-yeong’s parents are horrified by her taste in men especially when she has the chance to marry her long time friend and social equal. In defiance of her parents, Mi-yeong leaves home to live with Myeong-su and soon becomes pregnant. As they do not have enough money and another mouth to feed, Mi-yeong starts a business making baby clothes with the help of her friend. But Myeong-su is jealous of their relationship and feels he has failed as a man. He takes out his frustrations on his wife, locking both she and their infant baby out of the house on a rainy night. Mi-yeong makes her way to her parents house but, althought the infant survives the experience, Mi-yeong succombs to illness and dies begging her parents to forgive Myeong-su as ‘he is not a bad man.’  Her parents do not agree and raise their granddaughter for the next three or four years until Myeong-su shows up, now with a job in foreign affairs, wanting to take the child with him to the USA. It is an odd ending with the grandparents making a decision I found hard to believe but otherwise it was a good movie–no deep meaning but interesting to watch.  This movie was directed by Kim Ki-deok.

How’s Your Wife was my least favorite of the foursome I watched. It was the story of Jeong-sook (Kim Ji-mi) who for the past thirteen years has been a dutiful wife to her unnamed husband played by Kim Jin-gyu. But when day her friend introduces her to a dance hall targeting a slightly older clientelle.  She soon becomes a regular there in part because of gigalo Jae-seok (Shin Seong-il).  Jae-seok falls in love with her even though he was originally operating a blackmail scheme with his friend (played by Kim Soon-cheol). The plan was to take pictures of Jeong-sook in a compromising position and then force her to pay money to prevent her husband from finding out. Even though Jeong-sook was prepared to sleep with Jae-seok, she has a change of heart and feels guilty about her actions. However, Jae-seok’s friend still manages to get a shot of the pair together that would certainly spell the end of her marriage. The story continues and director Lee Seong-gu spares no effort in punishing Jeong-sook for her emotional, if not physical, affair and the film ends with her in a mental hospital after a suicide attempt with her children crying for their mother outside. That, however, is not the problem I had with the film. The complaint I have involves an unfortunate bit of ‘comedy’ involving a minor character played by Choi Nam-hyeon (NOT known for his comedic films).  In it, he plays a man who goes to the dance hall and shyly tries to ask women to dance–until he runs into his wife dancing to a jive tune with another man. He then drags her to a back room and “comically’ beats her. It is a disturbing double-standard that ruined the entire movie for me.

Hmmm..I thought I didn’t have enought to say about these films to give them each their own posts, but I guess I could have..this post ran longer than I thought it would…

Posted in 1960s, Review | Comments Off

List of Film Festivals in Korea

9th January 2010

Originally posted July 1, 2009–For being a relatively small country, Korea has a lot of film festivals. Of course, most people have heard of the big three, Pusan, Jeonju and PiFan but I seem to be hearing about a new festival every month–or learning about ones I did not know existed, and I got to wondering just how many film festivals there are in Korea. A quick search on the Korean search engine Naver revealed 95, but a closer inspection showed that was not the actual number. Many of the ones listed were just one-shot events or had folded a few years ago. Some were film awards and others were events held at a certain art theater. However, the list is still quite long. If you are coming to Korea pretty much any time of year, you are likely to be able to attend a film festival. Here is the list of current festivals below. I may have missed some and I have included three others that I am not sure are still running, but it is accurate for the most part.

Seoul Independent Documentary Festival (usually March. Not held this year?)

International Women’s Festival in Seoul (April 9-16)

Jeonju International Film Festival (April 30-May  8th)

Busan Asian Short Film Festival (May 5-13)

Green Film Festival in Seoul (May 21-26)

Seoul LGBT Film Festival (aka Korean Queer Film Festival) (May 30-June 7)

Human Rights Film Festival (June 11-14)

Mise-en-Scene’s Genre Film Festival (June 24-30)

Seoul International Film Festival (usually held in June, but not this year)

Seoul International Youth Film Festival (July 9-15)

Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (July 16-26)

Migrant Worker Film Festival (July 17-19)

Jecheon International Music & Film Festival (Aug. 13-18)

Busan International Kid’s Film Festival (August 14-18)

Cinema Digital Seoul Film Festival (August 20-26)

Chungmuro International Film Festival (August 24-Sept. 1)

Jeju Film Festival (late August)

Corean Network Film Festival (late August)

KBS Premiere Picture Festival (late August/early Sept)

Experimental Film and Video Festival in Seoul (Sept. 10-16)

Indie Anifest (Sept. 17-22)

Persons with Disabilities Film Festival (Sept. 21-25)

Seoul International Extreme Short Image & Film Festival (Sept. 23-27)

Seoul Christianity Film Festival (late Sept.)

EBS International Documentary Festival (late Sept)

Sogang Film Festival  (late Sept.)

Jeonbuk International Film & Video Festival (Oct.)

Pusan International Film Festival (Oct. 8-16)

Korea Youth Film Festival (Oct. 11-15)

Seoul International Family Film Festival (Oct. 28-Nov.3)

Megabox European Movie Festival (late October)

Korea Youth Film Festival (late Oct/early Nov.)

Asiana International Short Film Festival (Nov. 5-10)

Daejeon Independent Film & Video Festival (mid-Nov)

Daegu Independent Short Film Festival (mid/late Novemeber)

International College Peace Film Festival (late Nov.) –currently has website problems

Pink Film Festival (November–unclear if this is continuing this year)

Sth Lotte Cinema Art Film Festival (November)

Megabox Japanese Film Festival (November)

Made In Busan: Independent Film Festival (late Nov/early Dec)

Seoul Independent Film Festival (December)

Gwangju International Film Festival (December)

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Daytime Drinking (2008)

9th January 2010

daytime drinkingOriginally posted July 12, 2009–Daytime Drinking is yet more proof that a huge budget and well-known actors are NOT needed to create an excellent, entertaining film.  The poster indicates that it has won several prizes at film festivals including the 2008 Jeonju International Film Festival’s JJ Star Award and the 2008 Locarno International Film Festival’s Netpac Award as well as being invited to compete at the Toronto and Thessaloniki International Film Festivals which indicates a high degree of critical acclaim as well. It is well-deserved. Director NoYeong-seok is a name to watch for in the future. Calling him merely ‘director’ is not really fair to Mr. No because he didn’t only direct this film. He was the producer, the cinematographer, the editor, the writer…he even wrote the music.  What is equally amazing is that he, and all the actors in this film, have no other movie credits to their names. This is the first film for all involved and I hope to see more in the near future.

The story centers around Hyeok-jin (played by Song Sam-dong), a man who has just broken up with his girlfriend. His friends invite him out for dinner and drinks to try to take his mind off his problems, but Hyeok-jin spends the night staring at the photos of his ex-girlfriend on his cellphone.  His friends make plans to take a road trip together to Jeongsan (a remote town in the eastern mountains).  Against his better judgement, Hyeok-jin agrees to meet his friends there, only to discover when he arrives, that his friends have just dim memories of making the plans as they had too much to drink and are actually  unable to go at all because of their work schedules.  That is but the first setback in a series of possible events that spiral out of control and combine to make the worst road trip ever for Hyeok-jin.

Actually Hyeok-jin is ready to turn around he go home on the spot, but he allows himself once more, against his better judgement, to be ‘helped’ by his friend Ki-sang (Yook Sang-yeob) into continuing his journey and to spend the night at an inn run by a friend of Ki-sang.  Unfortunately, anytime he is helped by someone, his situation becomes increasingly worse. One thing leads to another and eventually, when things seem to be looking up, he finds himself stranded in the middle of the mountains, without pants, money and phone, forced to rely on help from strangers. And as with every other time in the movie–help from anyone leads to an even worse situation.

I found Daytime Drinking to be a wonderful film. The casting and writing worked well together–although the characters are quirky, they are not over-the-top and could actually be people you might meet in real life. Hyeok-jin’s passive befuddlement is fun to watch as both the viewer realizes  Hyeok-jin’s mistakes long before his short-sighted nature allows him to do so. (This is especially well-demonstrated by the hilarious ending). Also deserving mention is the odd Ran-hee (played by Lee Ran-hee), the creepy truck driver (Shin Woon-seob) and the unusually friendly couple next door at the inn played by Tak Seong-joon and Kim Kang-hee.

Daytime Drinking had opened in general theaters back in February 2009 and is now available on DVD.  This is one you should watch for and see when you get the chance

Posted in 2000s, Review | Comments Off

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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Dark Forest (2006)

9th January 2010

dark forestOriginally posted July 23, 2007–Yesterday I watched the Korean zombie movie Dark Forest. I had received it about a month ago when I purchased the horror collection, One Day Suddenly. I remember having seen it once before on tv…come to think of it, I saw it the on tv the same summer it was released–that should have told me something. I also realized after watching it, that I had seen the edited version on television not long before. 

The movie is unfortunately the weekest of the collection which makes it especially disappointing as zombie films are so rare in Korean cinema.  My biggest problem with the film was not the low budget or even the oddly convuluted story (Psychic visions? Why?). The biggest problem I had was the blatent misogyny on display. Many slasher movies suffer from the same discrepancy in how they deal with their male and female characters. The males often encounter a quick death and frequently the actual event occurs offscreen. Women, on the other hand, often endure long horrifying deaths for the pleasure of …ummm..who exactly?  Certainly not the audience.  Dark Forest takes this situation to a new and even more disturbing level when one of the characters is raped with a knife held by a zombie. Why this unnecessary cruelty? In a slasher movie, someone could make a weak arguement about the sexual deviance of the killer–but this film is about zombies!

Most of the action that occurs in Dark Forest was completely forgettable but one thing made me think about the movie long after the credits rolled—the message written in the matchbook.  One character claims to be trying to quit smoking.  His girlfriend writes a note behind the matches that he won’t be able to see until the matches have been all used. The subtitles claim this message reads “Why don’t you quit?” but that is not what it says. It actually reads “You bad man” followed by the symbols for tears used in text messaging and internet chatting.  Given that he discovers the note when he is about to burn a character to death to prevent them from turning into a zombie, wouldn’t the literal translation have been more poignant and fitting?

Posted in 2000s, Review | Comments Off

May 18 (2007)

9th January 2010

may 18Originally posted July 27, 2007–Last night I watched Director Kim Ji-joon’s latest film, May 18, which opened in theaters across the country this week. The story of the film is the Kwangju Massacre of 1980 in which the government sent in the armed forces to deal with protests against Jeon Doo-hwan’s coup on December 12, 1979.  The army and the nation at large were told that the incident was a communist uprising and that story persisted for more than a decade after the event.  After democracy was restored in the mid 90’s, the goverment apologized for the incident. The citizens of Kwangju who died in that week of fighting and seige are now considered heroes of democracy–although the exact number who lost their lives remains uncertain. More information about the incident can be read here:

The movie begins on the day before the tragic events. Taxi driver Min-woo (Kim Sang-kyeong) spends his time taking care of his younger brother Jin-woo (Lee Joon-gi) and nuturing a crush on a young nurse named Shin-ae (Lee Hyo-won). Although there are signs of something building–scenes of riots on unwatched televisions in the background for example–nobody is really paying attention and it is life as usual.

In fact, all of the main characters are so unaware of what is happening that they decide to go to a movie downtown (see note).  This puts them in the middle of everything when the soldiers are ordered to go on the offensive. It did not matter that most of the citizens of the city were not involved in the protests, they were deemed communists and were put down with deadly force. The scene of the audience fleeing the movie theater is incredibly powerful and their confusion and terror kept me on the edge of my seat. 

Besides the movie itself, I found the people in the theaters interesting to watch as well. Perhaps it was the time that I chose to watch it, but most of the audience were older- Every once in a while when a certain scene appeared or a particular shot struck a cord, their would be a murmer through the audience with people remarking to each other, “that really happened” and similar phrases. Normally, I don’t like any talking during a movie, but this actually hightened the feeling of dread and unease. 

I arrived in Korea in 1995. Shortly thereafter, the citiizens of Kwangju began a campaign to reveal what they had actually been through and part of that was a touring display of photos and even more information was provided at the city’s bi-annual art show. I wish I had never seen those pictures. They were images of death aimed at showing the brutality of the soldiers and to counter the official death toll (which after the event was set by the government at about 200 people–actually it could be as high as ten times that number).  As brutal as the movie is in parts, I was grateful that it was never as gory as it could have been. In fact, the film does a great job at showing enough violence to provide an emotional response while avoiding sensationalizing the violence a la Saving Private Ryan or Taegukgi. 

If I had to find fault with the movie, it might be in the budding romance between Min-goo and Shin-ae.  Their subtle flirting and unspoken feelings are nice in the first few minutes of the film, but once the Kwangju situation exploded, I had a very hard time caring whether or not their love would come to fruition. The events around them were too big for me to worry about that.

All-in-all, this is a powerful film–one of the best that I have seen in a long time.

trivia note:  The movie in the theater that they main characters are watching is Let Me Show You Something (1980).  However, this is a small mistake on the part of the film-makers. That comedy did not open in theaters until early June while the events of the movie occur in May–they could not have seen this film

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The Life of Ok-Rye (1977)

9th January 2010

life of okryeOriginally posted July 30, 2007–One of Korea’s most recognized names in directing films is Im Kwon-taek. He is perhaps best known for his more recent works such as Low Life and Chunhyang but he has been around for years. Ask most Korean men over thirty about their favorite movies and they will certainly list Im’s Son of the General  series among them and he gained quite a bit of critical acclaim with his masterpiece Seopyeonje.

However, Im Kwon-taek has been around a long time, debuting sometime in the early 1960’s. He rarely mentions his older films because he claims to be embarassed by them. I, for one, think that is a shame.  Although his older works, generally gangster/action films or melodramas, do tend to be a little simple–they reflect the film-making techniques and formulas of the times. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but rather provides an interesting look history–both of when these films were made and when they take place.

In the case of The Life of Ok-Rye, the viewer is treated to something that is both interesting and entertaining (which, as we know, are not necessarily the same thing). The entire film takes place on Cheju Island. When we first meet Ok-Rye, she is working as one of the island’s famed women divers, harvesting seafood from the deep to support her enormous family. She has something like seven or eight siblings and a sick father. Because times are hard, Ok-Rye’s parents accept an offer from a family on another part of the island and allow Ok-Rye marry their son, sight unseen, for a sum of money. 

Ok-Rye dutifully travels to the family’s house on a mountainside with her uncle who arranged the union and that very evening she finds herself participating in a marriage ceremony. Both she and her uncle receive a shock when the groom turns out to be severly handicapped. Uncertain what to do, Ok-Rye continues with the ceremony while her drunken uncle’s loud protests are quickly silenced with the offer of food and spirits.

Unable to uncurl his legs or arms, Ok-rye’s husband is carried from place to place by friends or various family members.  On the night following the wedding ceremony, everyone’s unease is palpable. Her in-laws clearly love their son and are worried that this wedding will not work, her husband who has not yet spoken to her seems as if he might be mentally challenged as well and Ok-Rye entertains thoughts of running away.

But, as it turns out, Ok-Rye’s husband not only very intelligent, he is extremely kind. Ok-Rye returns the kindness as well and begins a physical therapy program on his arm. Both mother and father-in-law treat Ok-Rye as they would their own daughter and life seems good—until Ok-Rye’s father comes to visit. One look at his son-in-law’s shrivelled limbs and he is dragging Ok-Rye back home.  Ok-Rye is now torn between duty to her husband and duty towards her parents.

Eventually, Ok-Rye chooses to return to her husband without her father’s blessing and for awhile life is good. She becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, but that same day her father-in-law dies.  From that time on, Ok-Rye’s life becomes a constant struggle.  She has an infant to take care of, her mother-in-law has fallen ill and cannot get out of bed, and her husband, who also cannot leave the house, is becoming suspicious of Ok-Rye believing that she may be having an affair with his best friend who is helping her on their farm.  Soon the entire village comes to believe that she is having an affair and she is ostracized.  How she copes with all of these problems is the subject of the second half of the film.

The movie is quite good and better than many similar melodramas of the times.  For example, Lee Yoo-seob’s movie Sister (1973) is so meladramatic that it is laughable. So many random and horrible things happen to main character of that film that it slips headfirst into the ridiculous and it is almost unwatchable. However, Im Kwon-taek handled Ok-Rye’s problems in a logical way–they build on each other and each of her setbacks are not met with an overblown deluge of tears or by the main character bemoaning her fate. In fact, the theme of The Life of  Ok-Rye is that we can overcome any adversity we encounter through hard, honest work and a quietly positive outlook on life.

The Life of Ok-Rye may not be for everyone. The slow-motion flashback scenes may set  modern viewers to daydreaming themselves. But it is certainly worth a look and offers a better than average example of a melodrama from decades past.

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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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The Moon…is the Sun’s Dream (1992)

9th January 2010

moon is the suns dreamOriginally posted August 10, 2007–When most people think of Park Chan-wook, they are most likely remembering his vengeance trilogy comprised of Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Sympathy For Lady Vengeance. They may also recall the much-discussed JSA which made him a director to watch or his recent film I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Ok–a film that seemed to polarize audiences into groups of either ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’.   But Park had a couple of films before making JSA in 2000. One of them was Threesome in 1997 and his debut film was today’s topic, The Moon…Is the Sun’s Dream.

I did not know what to expect when I started the film. I had read that it failed upon its release in the theaters but had somehow developed a small cult following of fans despite not drawing large crowds to the theaters.  While I was not expecting a great film, I was looking forward to catching glimpses of what would make Park great in his future films. However, that turned out not to be the case.

The story is about Moo-hoon, a gangster in Busan.  At the beginning of the movie, Moo-hoon has betrayed the gang he works with by running off with their funds and the boss’ girlfriend, Eun-joo.  The gang traces the pair to a seedy motel and Moo-hoon gets beaten. As the gangsters are about to slit his wrists, Eun-joo bravely blocks the descending blade…with her face. (Eun-joo proves on more than one occassion not to be the brightest cookie in the box).  Although the gangsters are unable to recover the stolen money, they recapture Eun-joo who is then sold into prostitution.

Jumping ahead a few years, we meet Moo-hoon again when he visits his half-brother Ha-yeong.  Ha-yeong is a photographer currently working for a fashion magazine and avoiding the drunken advances of the fading, alcoholic model Soo-mi.  While there, Moo-hoon spots a photo of Eun-joo among a series of photos Ha-yeong took featuring prostitutes.  Moo-hoon rescues Eun-joo and the pair live together with Ha-yeong.

Eun-joo becomes interested in modeling and even has an operation to get her scar removed though she is unaware of just how Moo-hoon came up with the money for such an expensive operation.  She becomes a success as a model and is even offered a role in a movie.  Her future seems secure.

Moo-hoon is not quite so lucky. He has been contacted by his former gang to do one more job for them. If he refuses, they will kill Eun-joo. Moo-hoon makes a plan that will turn the table on the gangsters but, in order to ensure Eun-joo’s safety, he breaks up with her first.  He then embarks on what may be a suicide mission against his former friends in the gang.

I had two major complaints about this film. The first is that it was unbelievably boring. At about the forty-minute mark I seriously considered turning it off.  I am glad that I didn’t because it does become more interesting in the second half of its running time but it is not, under any circumstances, a great movie.  The second thing I found annoying was the amateurish use of lighting and color.  Now, as it was his debut film, one can expect a little bit of amateurism. But Park seemed to be under the impression that adding various colored filters to a scene would make them more interesting or artistic.  It does not. If colors are used for a reason it is fine, but just using filtered lenses because they came with the camera is not. Likewise with colors–I kept wondering if they set manager had ordered too much purple paint as we see an unusual number of purple walls.

I also did not like most of the action sequences in this film. Almost all of them are cut before their conclusion and we have to assume what happened or be told by a character at a later date how the scene played out. For example, the opening scene (filmed with a yellowish filter) in the motel. We see Moo-hoon beat senseless by the thugs. We see Eun-joo scarred by the knife. We do not see what happened after that. Why do the gangsters take Eun-joo but leave Moo-hoon to escape? Did he suddenly find the strength to battle his way out?

There were, however, some interesting points as well.  Quite a bit of tension is built up in the elevator scene.  We know that Moo-hoon is armed with a plan and a large billy club when he enters an elevator disguised as a courthouse guard. He is to free a gangster that is being escorted by two officers. As the elevator descends, he taps his club against the palm of his open hand. The sound, combined with the numbers of the floors as the elevator drops, manages to build up a good deal of tension and suspense.

Another good scene is Moo-hoon’s fight with gangsters in the back seat of a car. He is outnumbered three-to-one and the enclosed setting and awkward camera angles manage to create a claustrophobic feeling.

The most interesting scene appears at the end of the movie and is entirely outside the action of the film and involves photographer Ha-yeong.  At his introduction, Ha-yeong had informed the audience  in a voice-over  ‘I am the camera.’  The entire narrative is told through him (which doesn’t always work as he is not there for many of the sequences and could not have known what was going on) and I came to think of Ha-yeong as the Park Chan-wook identification character.  In the final scene, Ha-yeong is watching the film Eun-joo made which ends with her crying on a pier. We have a view of this as if we were sitting near the back of the theater, the screen of the movie taking up our screens (whether theater or tv) with the rows of seats in front of us. The theater is empty except for Ha-yeong and the camera which seems to be the viewer. Ha-yeong moves forward towards the screen and leans against it filled with regret and sadness for the crying actress.  Then the lights come on and a voice (the viewer) says in Korean “What the hell…?” Cue red filter as Ha-yeong turns around and stares directly into the camera–at the viewer–with an accusing look mingled with remorse.  It is a surreal moment that feels as if the director is speaking directly to you without saying a word.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie was not like this at all and my reaction to the film was the same as the disembodied voice…What the hell…?  Thankfully, in the years that followed, Park Chan-wook managed to develop his style and technique to become one of the most respected directors in the Korean film industry today.

Posted in 1990s, Review | 2 Comments »