Seen in Jeonju

Archive for December, 2012

Home for the Holidays

18th December 2012

The semester is finished, final grades are entered and the holiday season is here. That means it is time for my annual 3-week visit to the USA.  In a few minutes, I will go into Jeonju to get a shuttle bus to the airport– 4 hours.. After waiting a couple of hours in Incheon, I will fly for 12 or 13 hours to Detroit where I wait some more for my flight to Providence.  With all the waiting, it takes me more than 24 hours to get there, but then I can relax for a while.  During that time, posting will be spotty, if at all.  For some reason, my family does not appreciate when I spend time working on the computer when I am visiting…  But I will be back in January and I will catch up with posting then.  See you soon!vacation

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Korean Films Opening December 19th

18th December 2012

This weekend’s movies are opening a little early to take advantage of Election Day during which there is no school or work for most businesses.  The two Korean movies opening are Love 911 and Marrying the Mafia 5.

Marrying the Mafia 5d. Jeong Yong-gi – Jeong Joon-ho , Kim Min-jeong , Yoo Dong-geun

Love 911director: Jeong Gi-hoon (Goodbye Mom)– Go Soo (Haunters), Han Hyo-joo (Always), Ma Dong-seok (Nameless Gangster)– – the trailer has English subtitles

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True Love For Wife <1975>

16th December 2012

True Love For Wife <1975>– directed by Kim Eung-cheon. Starring Bae Sam-ryong <as Heo Mu-tae>, Park Nam-ok <as Mu-tae’s wife>, Lee Yeong-soo <as Yong-gi> and Yeo Soo-jin <as Yong-gi’s teacher.  Running Time: 108 minutes. Release Date: March 31,  1975

75-020~3Mu-tae works as a photographer for a cosmetics company and is responsible for taking pictures of the models and products. Because of his keen artistic eye, he often acts as creative director as well, writing dialogue for the commercials. This earns him the praise of his bosses and a hefty bonus. It is an understatement to say that Mu-tae needs the money. His wife is seriously ill and needs a pacemaker on top of her heart medication and his usual salary of 39,500 KRW a month does not buy very much. He also has his son, Yong-gi, to think about and provide for.  Naturally, his son’s needs go beyond the monetary. As his wife is unable to exert herself, Mu-tae has taken over the cooking and the housework. He also attempts to attend his son’s school events and this gets him in trouble at work.  However, attending a mother/child picnic at an amusement park with the school introduces him to Yong-gi’s teacher who takes an interest in the family after this meeting and becomes like a second mother to Yong-gi.  She is the one who initiates a special dinner for father and son– and herself– and an evening at a pinball arcade. She even pretends to be Mu-tae’s wife for an important company event.. and seems quite comfortable in the role. 

Although her actions may seem suspect on the surface, there is no ulterior motives to her her interactions with Mu-tae despite how close the two seem to have become. She knows that the photographer loves his wife deeply and there is no room for another woman in his heart. In fact, he had told his wife beforehand about the fact that the teacher would be masquerading as his wife and there are no hard feelings. His wife appreciates all the help and attention that the teacher is giving her family. She is gradually growing weaker and is in dire need of surgery. However, money is tight. Forget the pickpocket that relieves Mu-tae of some of his earnings, his salary is barely enough to cover the monthly expenses.. 5,000 for charcoal bricks to heat the house, another 5000 for Yong-gi’s education expenses, and then there is food and medicine on top of that. Mu-tae finds himself forced to take several other jobs on the side. He gets up in the pre-dawn hours to sell fried eggs and coffee to people exercising in the cold morning air at the park. After work, he moonlights as a waiter and bartender. And whenever he as free time, he attempts to make a little extra cash by taking pictures. But the cost of the pacemaker is said to be 1500 US dollars and his aforementioned salary would be about 35 dollars a month with today’s exchange rate, in 1975 it was a fraction of that! He has to work hard for a long time to get enough money to buy it, even once his salary is raised to 55,ooo KRW a month but, as it turns out, his wife’s condition has deteriorated too rapidly. There is nothing to be done as she finally breathes her last…

When I saw this film was available on Hana TV, I was surprised how low a viewer’s score it received.. just one star out of five. Even the worst films usually are given two stars..  But I am glad I watched it. Not only was I pleasantly surprised with the story which could have veered off into ridiculous levels of maudlin,but it also showed some very negative aspects of business in the mid-70s– something film directors usually steered away from doing or risk severe penalties. The ’70s were hailed as a huge success for businesses as Korea pulled itself back up after a devestating war. The ‘miracle on the Han’ occured with a great sacrifice of human rights. At the very start of this film, we are treated to the inside of a real cosmetics factory where we see hundreds of women dressed in uniforms laboring at crowded tables, packing boxes with the make-up and lotions as the role off the conveyor belt. It looked a little like a scene from the film A Single Spark, which was made to criticize business practices and memoralize Jeon Tae-il who fought for workers’ rights.  Usually in the 70’s, this kind of scene is shown with an air of pride as the government was pushing for the success of industry and wanted to portray it in the best light both at home and abroad. In this film, I feel the director was offering a critique veiled in a melodrama of a dying woman–and that may be how he avoided the censors. The bosses in the company are greedy idiots. The owner of the company, who at first praised Mu-tae for his creativity, later seems to unthinkingly mock him. He knows what kind of salary Mu-Tae makes yet he takes him to an expensive hostess bar where he proceeds to embarrass him by asking the girls he paid for how much they make a month. They respond that they make 100,000– twice that with tips! Mu-tae is shocked when he realizes they make three to 6 times more than he does.  Later, the bosses are painted in an even worse light when they fire Mu-tae for moonlighting.  By working extra, he has tarnished the image of the company. The employeess, the state, are the face of the company and by working as a waiter, he gives the impression to people that the company is not taking care of its workers. Image is everything.

Now, I said above that the film does not fall into overly maudlin however I will be honest and say that the script does try to do just that.  Any scene with Mu-tae’s wife ends up with her crying or collapsing, close to death. And strangely, the movie gives her not one, but two death scenes–one real and one imaginary, after the fact where she dies at her son’s school picnic that she never attended. It was a strange moment as is the end where both Mu-Tae and Yong-gi speak each morning to a gigantic billboard with the face of their lost loved one on it.  I don’t mean speak to as “I miss you” or “I love you, Mommy”.. they have actual conversations with it as the painting tells them to ‘Straighten their ties.’ Presumably this is in their heads and no one else can hear it, but they answer out loud which is more than a little odd–especially on a busy street. 

I was also confused at the end as to whether the teacher had taken on the role of step-mother to Yong-gi. The movie was certainly leading up to that. Their uncomfortably romantic walk by the river after leaving Mu-tae’s wife at home and the way Mu-tae stairs at the teacher’s lips during the company party certainly implied that there was something beginning between the two. It seems unlikely, especially since she knows how much he adores his wife– she is the first to see the huge mural he painted of her for the billboard and, while romantic from one perspective, it also is a little creepy.  However, at the end, the teacher is walking Yong-gi to school with Mu-tae just ahead of them. Did they all leave the house together?  The way the teacher refers to Yong-gi’s deceased mother makes me think that they are all living together. However, it is to the movie’s credit that they leave this point vague and I was grateful that there was no scene in which the dying woman gives her blessing for the husband to find a new love after she passes. Those scenes never work…

True Love For Wife is not on DVD and I suspect will never be. However, it is not a bad film. On one level it is a solid, if standard for the period, melodrama. On the other hand, it offers a view of business in the ’70s that I have rarely seen in a film made at that time. It may not be for everyone, but I found it to be very watchable and have no major complaints.

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Korean Movies on DVD: December 16-22

15th December 2012

There are three sets of Korean movies on DVD being released this week, but one of them is a collection of four films. Usually I posts these in the order they are released, but this time I am going to start with the collection of four films as I think it will be of interest to many people– It is certainly of interest to me…


The image above is for the Im Kwon-Taek Collection. This is not an assortment of his most recent films. Instead we are being treated to four movies from the ’70s and ’80s. I am happy to see some of these films– I had previously owned Family Pedigree on VHS and feared I would never be able to replace it after getting rid of all my videos. I will definitely be purchasing this for myself after the holidays..  Number of discs: 4/ Subtitles: Korean, English and Japanese/ Format: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital Mono/ Set Includes– My Hometown <1976, 112 minutes>, Family Pedigree <1978, 108minutes>, Mismatched Nose <1980, 103 minutes> and Mandala <1981, 112 minutes>/ Recommended Retail Price: 49,000 KRW/Available: December 18th.


Two other movies will also be available this week. The first is The Concubine, directed by Kim Dae-seung and starring Jo Yeo-jeong  and Kim Dong-wook.  Number of discs: 1/ Subtitles: Korean and English/ Rating: For mature audiences/ Format: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 5.0/ Running Time: 122 minutes/ Recommended Retail Price: 22,000 KRW/ Available: December 17th.

The other film is Ghost Sweepers starring Kim Soo-ro and Kim Ye-won. It is directed by Shin Jeong-won.  Number of discs: 2/ Subtitles: Korean and English/ Rating: suitable for ages 15 and up/ Format: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1/ Running Time: 120 minutes plus 67 minutes of extras on disc 2/ Recommended Retail Price: 23,100 KRW/ Available: December 19th.

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Ever So Good <1976>

13th December 2012

Ever So Much Good– directed by Lee Hyeong-pyo. Starring Im Ye-jin <as Kim Seon-hee> , Jeon Yeong-rok <as Jae-yong> and Hwang Hae <as Jae-yong’s father> . Running TIme:96 minutes. Released in theaters: July 3, 1976

76-080~1Kim Seon-hee has graduated first in her class and now dreams of going to a high school in Seoul. Her reasons are twofold. The first is that there is a general perception–no doubt correct in ‘76 but unfortunately persisting to this day– that the schools in Seoul are the best. The second reason is that her hometown sweetheart has also gone to Seoul to study.  In order to accomplish her goals, Seon-hee has secured herself a position as a housemaid with a moderately wealthy family. She is met at the train station by the eldest son of the household, Jae-yong and the two bond quickly. On the way home, they stop in at a dining place called Small Boy next to Jae-yong’s house that gives Seon-hee a chance to meet and charm her new neighbors.

Everyone loves Seon-hee at first sight. And what’s not to love? She is cheerful, bright and unfraid to speak her mind. She has a kind word for everyone and has probably never had a negative thought in her life. The title of the film, Ever So Good, sums up her character in every aspect. Unlike many similar films, this new housemaid from the country is not instantly scolded and chided by the mistress of the house. Instead, Jae-yong’s mother treats her like one of the family and tries to get Seon-hee to call her ‘mother,’ and honor the young girl refuses on the basis that the title of mother is very important and that she has a mother already. It is revealed shortly thereafter that the mother <played by Tae Hyeon-shil> lost a daughter in a traffic accident and Seon-hee bears more than a passing resemblence to her. Even the youngest child, Jae-ho, treats the new maid as a sister and a playmate and it helps that Seon-hee is very athletic and has a passion for soccer and climbing trees.

The only person who does not instantly love Seon-hee is Jae-yong’s girlfriend, Yeo-joo. The reason is because Seon-hee’s rather flipant and casual telephone manners cause a misunderstanding. However, even Yeo-joo is won over once she meets Seon-hee face to face and realizes that she is not a romantic rival for Jae-yong.  In fact, everywhere she goes and everything she does seems to have a successful.. and even joyful… resolution.  So where is the drama in the story?

Well, frankly there is not very much drama.  There is a rapidly solved problem between the waitress at the diner and the cook, but Seon-hee quickly points out that the tension between them is because the cook is in love and the waitress has been to self-absorbed to notice.  One date later and the problems has vanished.  There is also the time that Seon-hee gets carbon monoxide poisoning from the charcoal bricks used for heating the home and the unconscious girl  is rushed to the hospital but this scene takes place entirely off screen–no doubt to avoid distressing the viewers with a scene of a suffocating Seon-hee– and we are introduced to this scenario with Seon-hee waking up and getting told what happened along with the audience. She does have a headache from the experience, but her near-death experience serves a purpose. It forms a fast friendship between the grocery delivery man and the charcoal delivery man who, after duking it out, visit the hospital together. Really, that is about as dramatic as this story gets. We watch Seon-hee go on dates to an amusement park, we worry as Jae-ho forgets his homework and we fret as Jae-yong tries to decide on his future.. but there is no suspense.

The lack of a clear problem to overcome, however, is not a detriment to the film. I actually enjoy watching this kind of movie– the very definition of a ‘high-teen’ drama which were all the rage in Korean cinema of the mid/late ’70s.  And there is no doubt that a large part of the reason I like these films is because they often star Im Ye-jin.  In fact, in the year that this film was made, Ms Im also made two of the ‘Really, Really…’ series of films; I’m Really Really Sorry and and Really, Really Don’t Forget. Singer Jeon Yeong-rok as Jae-yong..aka Small Boy.. is always fun to watch in films even when he does not get a chance to sing like in this movie but what was interesting was seeing him sharing the screen with his real-life father Hwang Hae, here playing his character’s father. Their natural connection works well here and elevates the acting to a whole new level.. and when you add Im Ye-jin into the mix who is always a joy to watch, and experienced Tae Hyeon-shil  then the movie rises far above what its limited script and story.

While the acting throughout the film is excellent by most of the actors, one problem I had with the film was the portrayal of people from the country. Although the movie manages to avoid extreme country accents–something even modern comedies rely on overmuch– Seon-hee arrives in Seoul carrying three dried gourd bowls. That seems a little much, doesn’t it?  I live in the small, country village of Samrye outside of Jeonju, but I do not carry gourds with me when I travel. Yes, my neighbors grow gogourdsurds on their roof, but that doesn’t mean we carry them everywhere!  …  The gourds were played for a visual gag and do not make another showing in the film, but there is another thing that Seon-hee does brings a smile to the faces of the sophisticated Seoulites. In the diner, the server brings a first course of soup, followed by steak, to Jae-yong and Seon-hee. Seon-hee requests some rice along with her dinner and then proceeds to dump it into the soup in order to eat it. Unlike the visual gag with the gourd, this scene is more of a character-defining moment. Rice is often held up as being ‘pure Korean’ and their are often PSA on television that spout the benefits of eating rice at each meal rather than bread and milk. By asking for rice and incorporating into her Western-style food, Seon-hee’s purity of heart would have been immediately recognized by viewers and even the other characters smiling at her actions are not laughing at her, but instead smiling warmly at her innocence which they find refreshing.  However, it does play into the stereotype that country folks are innocent and pure as opposed to the jaded, westernized denizens of Seoul, but that depiction is more of a personal pet peeve than an actual complaint.

The story is based on a novel called Small Boy by Park Soon-nyeo.  I am not sure why the English title was not made that as well since the title of Park’s novel was already English, but it was selected as Ever So Good <or as the KMDb calls it Ever So Much Good– far too ungrammatical for me to write>.  Ever So Good was a loose translation of the Korean title the producers chose over Small Boy and the Korean title, by repeating the word Neomu <which means ‘very’> in the title, connects it at least in the minds of the paying audience with the Really, Really.. films which were extremely successful.   Ever So Good is not available on DVD, but it is a movie that should be. True, nothing much happens plotwise, but the film is saved by some decidely excellent performances.

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Trailers for Korean Films Opening December 13

12th December 2012

Well, out of the twelve movies opening in theaters in Korea this week, just one is Korean. I think the reason that more are not opening is pretty clear. Among the films opening this week is The Hobbit. That film is likely to dominate the screens and the box office this weekend and putting a film up against it would be foolish.

China Blue, directed by Kim Geon and starring Baek Seong-hyeon and Kim Joo-yeong, is likely to be getting a very limited release. The trailer is below…

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Korean films on DVD: December to December 9 to 15

9th December 2012

There are two DVDs being released during this week that I had not previously reported on in addition to Pieta which had been delayed from its original release date, reported here.


The first is the animation Green Days which started production in 2007 . It was on the production charts so long that I had begun to believe it was an abandoned project, but it was finally released into theaters in 2011. The movie was directed by Ahn Jae-hoon and Han Hye-jin and voiced by Park Shin-hye and Song Chang-ui.  Number of discs: 1 plus the DVD box contains a 48-page book of the story/ Subtitles: Korean and English/ Rating: suitable for all ages/ Format: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1/ Running Time: 98 minutes/ Recommended Retail Price: 25,300 KRW/ Available: December 13

M2012120644489Heaven is Only for the Single, directed by Jo Seong-gyu, starring Choi Yoon-so and Lee Neung-ryong. Number of discs: 1/ Subtitles: Korean/ Rating: suitable for ages 12 and up/ Format: 16:9 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital: 5.1/ Running Time: 95 minutes/ Recommended Retail Price: 22,000 KRW/ Available: December 13.

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Trailers for Korean Films Opening December 6, 2012

5th December 2012

This coming Thursday, four new Korean movies will be opening in theaters for the weekend. The first of these, My PS Partner, has been doing the heaviest advertising. It is directed by Byeong Seong-hee and stars popular actors Ji Seong and Kim Ah-joong

Romance not your style? Well, there is a new thriller opening as well called Roleplay. It features Lee Dong-gyu and Kim Jin-seon helmed by director Baek Sang-yeol.

Huh.. that was still a little heavy on the romance. There is also a film called Paradox Circle which looks like it has promise

Finally there is a documentary opening called Ari, Ari the Korean Theater directed by Heo Cheol and starring Yoon Jin-seo and Jeong Ji-yeong and many other famous actors, directors and critics.

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Soomokjang (2012)

3rd December 2012

Soomokjang– directed by Park Gwang-choon. Starring Lee Yeong-ah (Cheong-ah), On Ju-wan (Jeong-hoon), Park Soo-jin (Ji-hyo) and Yeon Je-wook (Han-ki). Running Time: 100 minutes. Release Date: November 15, 2012 (theater)/ August 17, 2012 (TV)

posterThe last few weeks for Cheong-ah have seemed like a beautiful dream as she has been preparing for her upcoming wedding with her high school sweetheart, Jeong-hoon.  She is also a tree doctor and researcher which allows her to be outside and working with nature and plants. It is the perfect job her and her love for plants is mentioned on more than one occasion. One particular day however, all that begins to change. Cheong-ah is sent out into the field to investigate a strange blight infecting which may be killing them. Something seems to call out to her from the tree’s trunk and compels her to lay her hand on it. Doing so gives Cheong-ah a vision of a girl, clearly a ghost, in the heart of the tree. This vision unnerves her, but not overly so until that night when her sleep is haunted by terrifying dreams of the dead girl.. and several others as well. Her dreams become even more bizarre as she is apparently attacked and entrapped in her sleep by tree roots. She wakes with a start to find her mother sitting by her bedside persistently asking what she was dreaming. Her mother closes the conversation with Cheong-ah with a query that she always asks, “Did you take your medicine?”

While all this is going on, a second drama begins to unfold. A young man pretends to hang himself in a mental institution in order to undertake an escape.  It is successful after he slays a guard and a truck driver who has been stealing trees from a mountainside burial ground.  The first thing young man named Han-ki does after escaping is to arrange to ‘accidently’ bump into Cheong-ah whom he also knows for high school. He knows her, her fiance, and her best friend Ji-hyo well as they were all classmates together, however Cheong-ah does not recognize him until he sends her a package containing their old yearbook with his photo circled in red. This terrifies Cheong-ah who starts having flashes of surpressed memories including a key one where the shy Han-ki attempts to confess his love for Cheong-ah and give her a present, but is cruelly interrupted and humilated by the rest of their classmates causing Cheong-ah to run away from him. What does this unstable killer have in store for Cheong-ah? Or will the spirits in the trees get her before he does?

I watched Soomokjang last night.  I was supposed to be watching R2B: Return to Base for a magazine article I have to write, but I was procrastinating because I know that film is not very good and yet I have to give it a positive review. Oh, I knew that Soomokjang was not going to be an award-winning film either, but I have far more tolerance for a film that is not good and cost thousands to make as opposed to a film that is not good that cost millions. And anyway, Soomokjang is not terrible.. it just gets derailed a little.

The biggest problem with Soomokjang is that it forgets it started as a horror film. The film itself warns us this is going to happen through the character of the old man in the mountains and insists the story of the ghosts is more about sadness than terror… but I would have preferred terror. The scary and suspensful scenes the movie does have are done simply but well…the sudden flopping over  of a menacing figure, the quickly moving ghost in the forest–always just out of flashlight range, and the revelation of the old man himself.. not to mention the unpredictability of Han-ki. All of these were memorable and effective. However, the film detours into the realm of standard drama with a love triangle or two and attempts at tear-jerking moments.

3The made-for-TV nature of the film is evident as well, especially in the acting. Lee Yeong-ah is passable as Cheong-ah but Park Soo-jin as Ji-hyo is not particularly good. Yeon Je-wook overacts his part as the psychotic Han-ki, throwing in occasional spasm and twitches and the actress playing Cheong-ah’s mother is especially bland. Actor On Ju-wan is several classes above the other actors, but even he sometimes has problems with what the script gives him, with one scene at the end coming across as unfortunately laughable when it was clearly meant to be tear-inducing. The failure of that sceene is due entirely to the writing, not the actors .  All of the characters suffer under the script and they often seem like stereotypes that can be found in almost any K-drama.  Soomokjang’s small-screen origin is evident in another place as well. When mad Han-ki breaks the fourth wall and stares directly at the camera with a long, pregnant silence, I thought to myself, “Ah, commercial break.’  Commercials don’t come as often on Korean tv as they do in many other countries. However, they do occur between programs or at the end of an hour and this was obviously the place to insert an ad. It was evident enough to completely jolt me from the narrative.

However, despite my complaints and criticisms, I am going to say that Soomokjang is entirely watchable–and there are even a few good scenes as mentioned earlier.. especially the old man on the mountain. While the story seems like it was written by two different people and then shuffled together, it was an easy way to spend an hour and a half.  And I got through it.  I can’t say the same for R2B.. and I’m getting paid to write about that…

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Korean Films on DVD: December 2-8

1st December 2012

There will be four Korean movies released on DVD this week, however only two of them have English subtitles…

M2012111544320M2012112944451Granny Goes to School– Directed by Jin Gwang-gyo, starring Kim Jin-gu.   Number of discs: 1/ Subtitles: Korean/ Rating: Suitable for all ages/ Format: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0/ Running Time: 102 minutes/ Suggested Retail Price: 25,300 KRW/ Available: December 4

Ninety Minutes– Directed by Park Seon-wook, starring Ju Sang-wook.  Number of discs: 1/ Subtitles: Korean/ Rating: For mature Viewers/ Format: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0/ Running Time: 94 minutes/ Suggested Retail Price: 25,300 KRW/ Available: December 5.

Late Autumn– Directed by Kim Tae-yong, starring Hyeon Bin. Number of discs: 1/ Subtitles: Korean, English, Chinese/ Rating: Suitable for Ages 15+/ Format: 2.35:1Anamorphic Widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1/ Running Time: 113 minutes/ Suggested Retail Price: 25,300 KRW/ Available: December 6.

Two Weddings and a Funeral– Directed by Kimjo Gwang-soo, starring Kim Dong-yoon. Number of discs: 1 plus 1 CD containing a PDF file of the storyboard and scenario/ Subtitles: Korean and English/ Rating: Suitable for Ages 15+/ Format: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1/ Running Time:  106 minutes/ Suggested Retail Price: 25,300 KRWW/ Available: December 6


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