Seen in Jeonju

Archive for February, 2012

Sports in Korean Films

5th February 2012

This weekend the Superbowl is being held in the USA and I, being an American, am supposed to care.. especially since, being from New England, I am expected to care for the Patriots. Well, I don’t care.  I think I have seen two football games in my life… both were Seahawks games while I was in Seattle. I prefer the real football aka soccer.  I find it exciting, the players interesting and I love the fact that the clock doesn’t stop everytime somebody falls down. (I hate that about basketball too.. the clock says there are ten minutes left and you wind up unable to change the channel for another 40 minutes…because someone else in the room wants to see the end of the game).  Anyway, I was skyping with family members who were talking about the upcoming game and my mind wandered to Korean movies (as always) and I wondered when the first sports film was made and which sport was highlighted.  When considering films I did not concern myself with movies that simply showed a sport, but ones where an athlete or game was the main focus of the story. I had three suspicions about what the first sport in Korean film might be.  I thought it would come down to Baseball, Soccer or Boxing.  While searching I came across a few suprises.  The earliest sport committed to film in Korea was Tennis in a documentary made in 1924 entitled The National Women’s Tennis Tournament that screened in July of that year.  But I was not planning to include non-fiction or news reels, just fiction with actors playing the roles of athletes. Here is what I found:

6720rocking horse and girlBaseball:  The sport of baseball has been played in Korea for more than a century. If you have been following the Independent posts, you will have seen that baseball was being played informally by the American residents of Seoul in 1896. And in the past few years, there have been many examples of baseball-themed movies.. more than any other sport.   Glove, Scout, Superstar Mr. Gam,Perfect Game, Rolling Stars are some recent examples…and three of those listed were just in the last year.  But when was the first.  The earliest I could find was suprisingly recent. It was made in 1976 by Lee Won-se and was called Rocking Horse and Girl (pictured right).  You would never be able to tell from the pictured advertisement nor the poster of the second baseball movie that same year, Prayer of a Girl, that these movies had anything to do with sports.  In fact, the game took a back seat to the romance aspect of the stories.  For example, the following is the plot summary of Rocking Horse and Girl.  Sang-gyu is a college baseball player in the midst of crisis.  He is in a career-threatening slump. However, he meets and falls in love with Jeong-eun who becomes the center of his life. However, he proves to be unlucky in love as well as baseball for Jeong-eun is suffering from a progressive form of anemia and is likely to die without regular transfusions or a marrow transplant. Sang-gyu is anxious to help and is willing to donate, but that would mean he would have to miss a major baseball tournament and that would damage any chance of a sports career he has. Jeong-eun opts to disappear without a word. She returns to watch the big game which is won by Sang-gyu, but Jeong-eun dies in the stands during before the final inning.

68-115~2barefoot dreamsSoccer:  The international game of futbol has far fewer movies about it in Korean cinema than baseball, but its first game was nearly a decade earlier.  Pictured left is the poster of Barefoot Glory helmed by the famous and prolific director, Kim Soo-yong.  The story is also more directly related to the game of soccer than the first baseball film was to sport.  It is the story of Joo-yeong who starts training a group of orphans to play soccer and compete in an national match for children.  But the children are extremely poor, they cannot even afford to buy shoes and their ball is made out of strips of cloth.  They lose game after game while training for the big match, but the coach never gives up on them and both coach and team grow closer together.  Eventually, they are able to enter the national games and win.  More than 40 years later, we were given a movie with nearly the exact same plot from director Kim Tae-gyun, Barefoot Dreams (pictured right), except that it was set in East Timor.  Soccer films have had their share of melodrama as well. The 1972 film Mother Love was the story of a woman who was slowly losing her eyesight and her son is accepted onto the national soccer team and her sight fails completely while watching his big game on television, but she is happy because she has something to be proud of.

vanished dreamBoxing:  There are many Korean movies filmed in the 1960s that had scenes of people attending boxing matches as a first or second date.  Without looking anything up I can name two off hand, Early Rain (one of my favorite movies) and Barefoot Youth.  But these were not about athletes and the boxing scenes are just stock footage.  In fact, the first boxing movie comes early than these 1960-something films.  It was in 1959, that director No Pil’s movie, Vanished Dream, hit theaters starring the two-fisted, action hero Choi Moo-ryong.  In the movie, he plays a boxer who has high hopes of entering the Olympics.  In fact, he seems like he is a success in many parts of his life. He is content with his choice of careers and in love with a beautiful young woman whose purity is a shining light giving him hope.  But, that virginal purity is all an act for his benefit. His girlfriend actually works in a bar and has quite the reputation among the men in the surrounding neighborhood.  When the boxer learns of this, he is devestated and turns to drink for comfort, much to the chagrin of his coach.  However, with persist urgings and encouragement, the coach is able to pull him out of the depths of despair and eventually the boxer does indeed make it to the Olympics. This movie was followed fairly quickly by several other boxing films, but this remains the first.

But was this the very first sports film?  Unfortunatly, I cannot answer that because there is some lost information.  I found a second potential sports film released in 1959 called Angel In White and the Hunchback.  However, the release date of this movie is not known, so I do not know which film came first.  I may be able to find it later, but I have not been through the Chosun Ilbo of the 1950s yet.  Oh– and the sport that may have been featured in that film was rugby.  Again, with a lot of information missing on the movie, I do not know if the game was actually featured or if it was just incidental to the story.  What I know is that the main character is now called a hunchback because of a life-changing injury he suffered in the game. 

I looked at other sports to be sure I had my bases covered. Basketball movies came quite late in Korea and they have always been rare. Track and Field had its first movie back in 1965 and even Dodgeball had a film made, albeit a children’s film (Shoot Fireworks, Tonkey!) in 1993.

Because so much is unknown about The Angel in White and the Hunchback, I will dub Vanished Dream as the first sports-themed movie made in Korea.

final showdownAddition– Taekwondo: Matt in the comment section asked about Taekwondo.  Seeing how it  is the national sport of Korea, I really should have included it in my initial writing, but while I had researched it, I had left it out.  I will correct that oversight now.  When starting to look for Taekwondo movies, I thought I would have to wade through dozens of martial arts films that have someone training in taekwondo, but were not actually sports movies (any more than Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master could be considered a sports film. However, while that would have been the case in the 70s when Hong Kong-style action movies were popular, I was lucky.  The first Taekwondo film was made in 1967 called The Final Showdown.  Directed by Kim Mook, it tells the story of two rival training schools with different techniques of study, claiming to be the most authentic and pure form of taekwondo.  One of the school’s master students goes into the mountains and concentrates on his training and later returns to participate in a match, soundly beating the rival school and earning the title of True Taekwondo for his gym. While this is the first Taekwondo-themed movie, Boxing still retains the title of being the first sport in Korean film.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

New DVDs for the week of Feb. 5-11

4th February 2012


Last weekend, you may have noticed that this weekly feature did not appear on this site.  That is because there were no new DVDs of Korean films released then. But we are making up for it this week with five movies coming out on DVD. 

First we have S.I.U, which is short for The Special Investigation Unit. It was directed by Hwang Byeok-gook and starred Uhm Tae-woong (Uhm Jeong-hwa’s younger brother), Joo Won and Seong Dong-il.  Number of discs: 2/ Subtitles: Korean and English/ Rating: ages 15+/ Format: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1/ Running time: 111 minutes plus 51 minutes of extras on disc 2/ Suggested Retail Price: 23,100 KRW/ Available: February 8

Picture above right is Always, directed by Song Il-gon and starring So Ji-seob and Han Hyo-joo.  Number of discs: 4/ Subtitles: Korean and English/ Rating: ages 15+/ Format: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1/ Running Time: 105 minutes plus 150 minutes of extras.. Disc 2 contain footage of the making of the movie and standard ‘extras’, Disc 3 is a character profile of Jang Cheol-min (So Ji-seob) and Disc 4 is a look at Ha Jeong-hwa (Han Hyo-joo’s character)/ Suggested Retail Price: 27,500 KRW/ Available: February 8

family mart

Family Mart, directed by Kim Geon and starring Kim Yeon-soo, No Joon-ho and Kim Hyeon-sook, is a little bit obscure. It was made in 2008 and screened at the 2009 Jeonbuk Independent Film Festival. Later, it was granted a very small theatrical release in 2010, Number of discs: 1/ Subtitles: Korean and English/ Rating: for ages 18+/ Format: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0/ Running Time: 91 minutes/ Suggested Retail Price: 22,000 KRW/ Available: February 9.

The Journal of Musan made my and several other lists of Best Films in 2011.  It was directed by Park Jeong-beom who also plays the main character, a North Korean refugee from the town of Musan who finds life in South Korea less tolerant than he believed. It also features Jin Yong-wook and Kang Eun-ji.  Number of discs: 1/ Subtitles: Korean and English/ Rating: ages 15+/ Format: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0/ Running Time: 127 minutes/ Suggested Retail Price: 25,300 KRW/ Available: February 9.

Finally we have War of the Arrows directed by Kim Han-min and starring Park Hae-il, Ryu Seung-ryong and Kim Moo-yeol. Number of discs: 3/ Subtitles: Korean and English/ Rating: for ages 18+/ Format: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1/ Running Time: 122 minutes (theatrical release), 128 minutes (director’s cut?, disc 2). The third disc is extras of unlisted length/ Suggested Retail Price: 29,700 KRW/ Available: February 9.

Posted in DVDs: New Releases | Comments Off

Head (2011)

3rd February 2012

headWhen I first heard about the movie Head and saw the cast, I was really excited to see it. Ryu Deok-hwan! Park Ye-jin! Baek Yoon-shik! Oh Dal-soo! I have been a fan of Ryu’s for a while and really like his recent work–even his television forensic/mystery program, God’s Quiz on OCN. Park Ye-jin’s movie roles may be a little weak, but I fell in love with the image she created during the years she was on ‘real’ television comedy, Family. While BaekYoon-shik’s more recent film choices may be questionable, he has credits in Tazza and The President’s Last Bang under his belt and is still considered an excellent actor. And Oh Dal-soo is a mainstay in Korean films and a great character actor.  Throw in former G.O.D. singer Danny Ahn in a supporting role and what’s not to love?  You would think that this would be a great way to spend a chilly afternoon, just sitting at home and watching the story of Head unfold.  You would be very, very wrong.  It ranks as one of the worst films I have seen in a long time.  It is hard to pinpoint just one place where the movie went wrong, but if I am going to start finger-pointing, it would have to be at director and scriptwriter Jo Woon.  This was his first feature length film after a handful of shorts made around 2005.  I don’t think he knew what he was doing.

With a simple phone call early in the movie, I knew I was not going to be in for an enjoyable experience. It was one of the most awkward moments on camera I have witnessed in a long time. I truly believe that Ryu’s voice was added to the scene in postproduction and that Park Ye-jin had no idea what she was supposed to be responding to nor how she should be reacting. Her deadpan reactions to his panicked screams are at first frustrating and then humerous for all the wrong reasons. In general, her acting is very stiff but in these scenes, it is just terrible and not in line with the seriousness of the situation– even if she thought he was just pulling a prank, she would have reacted more strongly. 

Ryu’s talents are entirely wasted in the movie as he spends much of it tied up either in his underwear or in a dress. I could not tell you if his wardrobe was supposed to be for comedic effect or to add a sense of darker threats in addition to be abducted and threatened with death. In either case, it didn’t work.  Yoon tries his best at playing a villain but he never become fully convincing and I would say he was just phoning in his performance and counting the minutes for the shooting to be finished.  And it was easy to forget that Oh Dal-soo and Danny Ahn were even in this movie (and they probably want you to forget). Their roles could have been played by anyone and it would not have had any effect on this movie.

The script is a big part of this film’s failure.  It was so full of holes and illogical actions. Why didn’t anyone at any point just take the head-in-the-box to the nearest police station. Hong-je (Ryu) claims it was because he had a criminal record, but why would the police blame him?  The story starts with working for a delivery company and being unable to complete the delivery of a package.  The package leaks all over his hand and upon opening it, he discovers a human head.  The head belongs to a famous scientist who was believed to have committed suicide but whose cranium disappeared somewhere between the morgue and the funeral home.

Hong-je calls his sister, Hong-joo (Park), a struggling entertainment reporter, in a fit of terror. First about finding a head, then about his boss being killed at the company’s office and then about being nearly killed himself by a man (Yoon) desperate to get the grisly package back. He hides the head and waits for his sister at home when he is abducted. Hong-joo is informed that she has one hour to find where the head is hidden and get it to the kidnapper before he butchers her brother.  Basically, that is the story. Oh, there is also an illegal organ harvesting ring, a nursing home full of zombified elderly residents following the minister housing them with cult-like devotion and a corrupt cop subplot but it is all just padding and for the most part either makes no sense or is of very little interest. 

There is a too brief moment where the film could have redeemed itself a little when Hong-joo calls a flock of reporters to her assistance rather than the police and, had this been done with a little more satire, it would have been an excellent commentary on the mob-like behavior we often see with Korean reporters. However, it was not done with a tongue-in-cheek intention and proved to be a missed opportunity.  Although I like each actor individually, I cannot recommend this movie at all. And I hope that director Jo does not get his hands on a camera for a while. Even though his second attempt may be better, I need a little time to forget this film before I try to watch anything else he might make.

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

Index of Korean Movies, 1970s: Director Jeong In-yeob

2nd February 2012

Director Jeong In-yeob is perhaps most famous for directing what is recognized as Korea’s first porn film, Madam Aema, but that wouldn’t be until 1982.  He started his career in films on the staff of Director Kim Ki-yeong and became a director in his own right by the mid-60s.  He continued directing right up until 1997 with the direct-to-video movie based on musician Kim Geon-mo’s song Speed entitled, appropriately enough, Kim Geon-mo’s Speed.  Jeong directed twenty-two films in the 1970s. Most of these I have already uploaded information on, but the final eight information plates are listed below.  Just click the thumbnail and expand to see a full-sized image.  The rest of the films, and info on plates from other directors from the 70s, can be seen by clicking on the tab marked ‘the 1970s’ at the top of this page.

jeonginyeob1974 firstloveatmyeongdong, jeonginyeob1974 summerwithnobody,jeonginyeob1974 twobrothers,jeonginyeob1976 bluedays, jeonginyeob1977 standoff, jeonginyeob1977 taxidriver, jeonginyeob1978 arirangah, jeonginyeob1979 doyouknowggotsooni  Next: Director Jeong Jin-woo

Posted in K-Movie Index | 2 Comments »

The Independent; May 5th, 1896

1st February 2012

The Independent. vol.1, no. 13 Tuesday, May 5, 1896:  In this issue, the English School goes on a picnic and the editor makes an arguement for getting electric lights


Brief Notes

Tahmage, in a recent sermon, said some good things about newspapers. “There is nothing that despotism so fears and hates as a newspaper.”  “We would have better appreciation of this blessing (newspapers) if we knoew the money, the brain, the losses, the exasperation, the wear and tear of heartstrings ivolved in the production of a good newspaper.” ” Papers do not average more than five years’ existence. Most of them die of cholera infantum.”  “If you feel like starting a newspaper, secular or religious, understand that you are threatened with softening of the brain or lunacy, and throwing your pocket book into your wife’s lap, start for a lunatic asylum before you do something desperate.”  <The comment about papers not lasting more than five years would be prophetic for the Independent–tom>

The regulation in regard to butchers in Seoul has been that there shall be twenty-three slaughterhouses in the city but of late the number has increased to forty-nine.  The butchers laid a complaint before the Governor and took a vote of the butchers on the subject. The result was in favor of the old law. There will be twenty-three slaughterhouses hereafter.

Ex-Home Minister Yu Gil-chun and Ex-Chief of the Law Bureau Cho Jung Eung are now taking refute in Tokyo.

Forty students in the military school commenced their studies on April 1st.  The term of the school is six months and at the end of that time they will be given commissions in the army if they pass successful examinations.

The steamer Genkai Maru is expected to arrive at Chemulpo from Japan via Fusan on Wednesday the 6th.

Mr. Carsten Egeberg Borchrevink, a native of Christiana, organized a scientific expedition to the South Pole. He believes that there is an unknown continent the equal of Europe in size existing in the antartic circle, which can be reached within fourteen days sail from Melbourne.  It will prove invaluable for the whaling industry, for sealing, and guano. Ther is much zoological, botanical, geological, and other scientific work to be done in the new field. Traces of large mammels have been found, giving promise of attraction for the hunter. The party will start from Melbourne and will sail due south for Cape Adain, the northern-most point of Victoria Land.  They expect to come back by January, 1897.  <This article was a bit premature. Borchrevink petioned the Royal Geological Society in London for funding at this time, but was refused. He did eventually get private funds and became the first person to overwinter in Antartica in 1899.  It took forty-three days from Tasmania instead of the expected fourteen days he expected. The Independent misspelled the name of the Cape he planned, and eventually succeeded, to land at. It should be Cape Adare–tom>

Mr. Moffett returned Friday from a trip to Shanghai. He intends to go to Pyeng Yang in a few days.

Mr. and Mrs. Tate intend to return to their home in Chun Ju.

Minister of War Yi Yun Yong visited the baracks of the Royal Guard and the military school last Friday and delivered a lecture. The theme was “Patriotism and Bravery in true Soldiers.”

The total number of letters and papers passed through the Korean Post Office during the month of April was 10,840, an increase of 983 over the previous month.

The students of the public school in Kyo Dong will receive their diplomas today at twelve o’clock.  The Graduation Exerciese will take place in the building. These students have been in the school three years.

We are glad to be able to put in this issue a new type just received from America.

The Korean Embassy to Russia to attend the coronation of the Czar, missed the French mail steamer in Shanghai, and went to Yokohama on the 16th and from thence took the Empress of  China for Vancouver. <The coronation was for Czar Nicholas II. Although festivities in Russia began on May 9th, the official coronation was on May 26th. A detailed account of the party held at the Russian Legation in Seoul will appear in the Independent in the May 28th edition–tom>

On Saturday last, the students of the Government English School at Seoul held their first picnic, to which they invited their teachers Messrs Hutchinson and Halifax and one or two outside friends.  The place chosen was just outside the North-East gate of the city, where the hills open out into a wide flat valley.  Here a very pleasant day was spent. Among other “amusements”  was an hour-long hard drill, under the skillful instruction of Sergeant Boxwell and Private Staples of the English Consulate Guard. This the boys seemed to enjoy most heartily. They went through their squad and company drill and physical exercise with surprising smartness and precision.  The marching, forming four, etc were really well done, and reflected great credit upon their instructors, the more so that they have been under training for not more than seven weeks. This is a branch of school training which has been found of great value in western countries, and is carefully cultivated in every school which claims to be of any importance. The present school buildings in Seoul, good as they are, need a larger drill ground than they at present possess if this branch is to be developed. Great credit is due to the Government for what they have already done for this school, and to Lieut. Meister for his kindness in allowing the instructors to give their services. A hearty tiffin served in the Shin Heung Sha Monastery filled an important fuction in the day’s proceedings, and showed conclusively that Korean boys, like boys all over the world, have a fine appreciation of the good things provided by the cook and butler.  <A tiffin is a light lunch. The world orginated from British India and today is heard mostly in Indian English–tom

The baseball game on Saturday between the U.S. Marines and the foreign residents proved a great success. There was good play on both sides and the interest was sustained to the end. The score was 17 to 11 in favor of the Marines. There were several lady spectators and a crowd of Koreans who seemed to get some amusement out of the game. 

Mr. W. D. Townsend has lost a clock, three revolvers and some articles of clothing. He offers a reward of $20 dollars for the apprehension of the thief. The stolen goods will probably be brought ot foreigners for sale and if so there will be the opportunity to trace the thief and secure the culprit. 


The subject of municipal improvement in Seoul is a fertile one for there are few places in the East where there is more room for improvement. The first move toward improvement was made in 1891 when the grounds of the Seoul Union were laid out and the building erected. Since then the handsome club building has been erected and the last and best of all, the roads in the foreign quarter have been put in fairly good condition.  The trouble is we want all the good things usually found in a foreign community but we are so few in number that the expense is very heavy on each individual.  It would be a good thing if some way could be devised whereby future residents might be granted the privilege of helping bear the initial expense of some of these improvements.  The first thing in order is an electric light plant.  It is easy to demonstrate that, including the initial expense of the dynamo and steam engine or the interest of the amount they would cost, we could light our houses with electricity cheaper than we do now with oil.  Very few of us use less than three dollars’ worth of oil a month while very many use twice or three times that amount. If the average is five dollars and the cost of lamps and all their furnishings be considered we will find that one hundred sixteen-candle incandescent burners could be put into Chong Dong and vicinity and be cheaper than our present system.

We have figures from New York for such a plant and it could be laid down here, housed in a small brick building, the wires put in position and everything gotten in running order for about $3200 in silver.  So much for plant.  The salaries of electrician (Japanese), engineer and fireman and the cost of coal would come to something like $180 a month.  According to this it would cost $1.30 a month per light or, includng interest at 7% on the plant, it would cost $2.00 a month per light.  But it might be arranged so that for each light when put up an initiationor entrance fee might be charged of say ten dollars and in this way each newcomer would help pay of the original cost of the plant. Changes are occurring all the time in the personnel of the missionary as well as diplomatic community and if each newcomer should pay even five dollars for the priviledge of using the electric light it would not take long to pay off the cost of the plant.  It would take a good degree of public spirit to put the thing on its feet but there is little doubt that it would prove a success.  We propose that anyone who feels so inclined should make inquiries and get figures on a plant capable of running three hundred lights of sixteen candle power each, and we will keep the community informed of progress made and it may be that it will be found worth while to call a mass meeting and form a syndicate among ourselves for the purpose of supplying this need.  <King Gojong had electricity in Kyongbok Palace since 1887 and in Changdok Palace when it was complete in 1897.  He then formed a partnership with two American businessmen, Henry Collbran and Harry Bostwick, in 1898 to build a public electric lighting system and electric streetcar routes. This company was called Hansung Electric Company and King Gojong himself was 50 percent owner. The plant was operational in 1899.–tom>

Posted in The Independent: 1896 | Comments Off