Seen in Jeonju

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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