Seen in Jeonju

Shim Cheong (1972)

8th October 2009

shim cheongOriginally posted September 24, 2007—There are three or four Korean legends that are regularly adapted into films.  The story of Chunhyang probably has the been made into movies the most number of times. Janghwa, Hongryeon follows closely behind that and the next would by the legend of Shim Cheong.

Shim Cheong is the story of a young woman devoted to her blind father.  Her one wish is that she can find a way to cure him of his blindness.  She learns from a man from China that she has there is a ritual that she can perform, but it will be at the cost of her own life.  Nevertheless, the brave Shim Cheong eagerly volunteers to become a part of that rite which the Chinese sailor will be performing to appease the gods of the sea.  Bidding her father goodbye, Shim Cheong is then taken to sea and in the midst of a tempest, thrown overboard.  The woman sinks directly to the bottem and discovers, to her surprise, that she does not need to breathe as she embarks on an adventure across the ocean floor.

The underwater fantasy requires good special effects and a director who knows what he’s doing and in these areas, the movie succeeds brilliantly. The director of Shim Cheong is none other that Shin Sang-ok who is able to propel the film from a simple fable of devotion to one’s parents to an outright fantasy epic.  Especially enchanting are the underwater scenes.  The set was meticulously constructed with enormous corals, seaweeds and seashells.  The floor of the set is a mixture of flowing silks and actual puddles of water, both of which ripple from the action of a powerful fan.  The fan is also useful for causing the garments and hair of Cheong and the people she meets on the ocean floor to wave around them as if they really are underwater as them move around with exaggerated slowness.  Fish are added in distance shots by shooting through an aquarium. Unfortunately they used a freshwater aquarium and the presence of familar tropical fish of home aquaria (tiger bars, kissing gouramis, platies and mollies) destroy the illusion a little.  But all in all it is quite a convincing effect.

This is certainly my favorite version of the Legend of Shim Cheong and frankly, after watching it again, I am very surprised that it was not included in the recent boxed set of Shin Sang-ok films.  Be sure to watch it if it ever is released on dvd though…it is yet another example of Shin Sang-ok’s exceptional talent.

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