Seen in Jeonju

The Heavenly Homecoming of the Stars (1974)

1st April 2012

74-062~1The Heavenly Homecoming of the Stars was based on the work of novelist Choi In-ho and inspired two sequels. It won numerous film awards including prizes forBest New Director at the 1974 Grand Bell Awards, and the 1975 Baeksang Art Awards where it also won Best Cinematography. Not only that, this movie screened at the 24th Berlin International Film Festival.  It would seem as of this would be a hard act to follow for debuting director Lee Jang-ho, but that turned out not to be the case.  Lee would follow this up with such masterpieces as A Good Windy Day, Children of Darkness, Knee to Knee and, of course, Lee Jang-ho’s Baseball Team.  Incidently, Chilren of Darkness will be released later this month on DVD but, like today’s feature, it will be sans subtitles.  That is a shame because these older films have a lot to offer, not only in potential stories, but in history as the backgrounds, fashions and culture of Korea of decades past comes to life before our eyes.  In the case of The Heavenly Homecoming of the Stars, the background takes on a life and is actually blamed by the author for its callous treatment and the eventual destruction of Kyeong-ah. 

Personally, I have a hard time blaming Seoul for the turn of events. Rather, the downfall of Kyeong-ah can be blamed on the rigid morality and double standards of men at the time– at least in films.  Kyeong-ah’s early life seems very happy and as a young woman, she is wooed by her true love Yeong-seok.  In fact, the two seem perfectly suited for each other and they have an understanding that they will be married until that fateful night Kyeong-ah gives into Yeong-seok’s persistant demands for sex.  That night started a double tragedy for the young, vulnerable woman.  First, it did far more than rob her of her virginity which by 1974 was not enough to get a heroine dumped by her lover, but it left her pregnant and forced her into a backroom abortion clinic.  Yeong-seok never looked at her again without feeling guilt and that effectively destroyed his love for her although she loved him with all her heart right up until her last breath. The second major influence that night had on Kyeong-ah was that it began her reliance on alcohol. To take the edge off her nerves as she became determined to satisfy Yeong-seok, Kyeong-ah turned to drink for the first time.  This reliance on liquor becomes more severe as the years progress until she is a full-blown alcoholic. 

Alcohol ruined more than one subsequent relationship after Yeong-seok’s marriage to another woman.  Kyeong-ah began seeing a much older widower and soon marries him. Moving into his enormous house must have seemed like a dream come true until she realizes that she is living in the shadow of his first wife. While her husband is on a business trip, she throws out everything belonging to the deceased woman, Kyeong-ah’s happiness is cut short due to their first fight and her drunken explanation as she drinks heavily to get the courage to explain herself. Although her husband, who loves her deeply forgives her and much of her past, he cannot live with her when he later discovers that she had an abortion.  Her pleas for him were reaching him even as he was leaving out the door, until he realizes that she is in a drunken state. Rather than let him go, Kyeong-ah says that she will leave on her own, and this leads down a road to ruin.

Not having any way to earn a living, Kyeong-ah needs a way to support her habit. It is because of her reliance on drinks that she falls under the control of the dangerous pimp Dong-hyeok who tatoos his name on her as if she is his property when she tries to escape.  It is at this stage in her life when the other main character enters the picture, artist Kim Moon-ho. His one night stand with her turns into a continuing relationship which gives Kyeong-ah the courage to escape from her life as a prostitute and try for respectability.  However, she cannot escape from herself or her memories. Her addiction to alcohol and her past regrets are both destroying her from within… as is a case of TB she picks up along the way…

In the movie, we are actually introduced to Moon-ho first and it is through him that we learn of Kyeong-ah’s life. In fact, in the opening scene, Moon-ho is carrying a box of ashes wrapped in white, so we know right from the start that things are not going to end well for the tragic young woman. Her entire life is told as a flashback within a flashback.  At some points in the film, we are actually four levels deep in flashbacks as the Moon-ho remembers Kyeong-ah when they were together telling him about the time she told her husband about how she became pregnant.  The movie continues like this jumping in and out of various depths of the past, but due to the director’s skill, it is never confusing. 

Some quick research reveals that the first of the two sequels deals with Moon-ho who is suffering from TB as well and has met a new lover– Soo-kyeong– who suffers from mental problems. Soo-kyeong has a baby and at first claims that it is Moon-ho’s daughter (and he, in a nice bit of continuity, promptly names her Kyeong-ah), but it would turn out that Soo-kyeong is lying and Kyeong-ah is not his child.  The second sequel (The Heavenly Homecoming of the Stars 3) follows the life of the sole remaining living character at the end of the second film, Soo-kyeong and what leads to her unhappy marriage and death. 

One can only hope that these movies will also be released on DVD at sometime in the near future..maybe as part of a Heavenly Homecoming collection. Is that asking for too much?

2 Responses to “The Heavenly Homecoming of the Stars (1974)”

  1. jb Says:

    > One can only hope that these movies will also be released on DVD at sometime in the near future..maybe as part of a Heavenly Homecoming collection. Is that asking for too much?

    Doesn’t seem like it. Next up are two more “firsts of a series”: 병태와 영자 [Byung-tae and Young-ja] & 어둠의 자식들 [Children of Darkness Part 1, Young-ae the Songstress] and it’s not part of the (imho great) 2012 DVD line-up from the Korean Film Archive either.
    But let’s not loose hope, maybe they’ll be published eventually.

  2. Tom Says:

    JB– thanks for posting that link from the Film Archives. I am now looking forward to seeing all those films this year!