Seen in Jeonju

The Power of Sincerity (1935)

12th October 2009

Originally posted August 15, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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