Seen in Jeonju

They Shot the Sun (1981)

9th July 2013

They Shot The Sun (1981)– director: Lee Jang-ho– Starring: Park Il, Lee Yeong-ho, Bang Hee, Lee Kyeong-shil and Kim Gi-beom. Running Time: 100 minutes. Release Date: February 25, 1982.
theyshotthesun Looking for a film to write about for REVENGE WEEK over at Modern Korean Cinema, and wanting to review I film I had not seen before, I stumbled across this title and wanted to take a look. As an action/crime movie, there was a chance it could have been revenge-themed but as it turns out, it wasn’t. Of course, I could have saved myself the time by reading the descriptions of the film available online, but then I would have missed out on seeing this exceptionally well-crafted movie.
The story begins with a collage of events– a woman praying in a church, a group of children catching insects in a field, and a drive-by shooting of a woman with an infant followed by a tearful interview of a family whose father was just found shot. These last two events we soon learn are connected. The shooting of the woman was accidental. It was the result of a struggle taking place within the care owned by the two criminals who are the stars of the film, Jong-bae and Do-seok. These two men had just kidnapped a man carrying a company’s payroll. Oblivious of the danger, the man struggled with Do-seok in the back of the car and, in the course of the fight, Do-seok’s gun went off and the woman on the street was shot. A few moments later, Do-seok ends the struggle by shooting the frightened man as well.

Returning home after spending some of their money, the pair shower their families with presents. Both men have two children and a devoted wife. Their interaction with their families reveals more about their characters– Do-seok, now guilt-ridden and determined to leave the life of crime behind, is gentle to his kids and loving to his wife. Jong-bae plays a little rough with his son and his wife is clearly less trusting of her husband although it will be revealed just how deeply she loves him at a later time. Unlike her counterpart at Do-seok’s house, Jong-bae’s wife is instantly suspicious of her husband..even before he returns home. While watching the news, she hears the story of the shooting and the type of crime committed. She immediately goes to the set of drawers in her room and discovers the gun and ammunition kept within are gone. When she confronts her husband with this fact, he spins a quick lie as to why he needed the guns and she allows herself to be convinced..or at least to pretend to be convinced.

She has the right to be suspicious. Jong-bae is an ex-con and that is where he met the Do-seok. The two seem to be a perfect match and act like they have known each other all their lives. However, when Do-seok announces that he wants to turn himself in as a murderer, Jong-bae does not hesitate to beat up his friend in a scene that I noted on a scrap of paper, “Looks like the ending of Rough Cut” — the fight takes place on a mudflat and by the end of the very long fight scene, the two combatants are so covered in mud that they are indistinguishable. In the end, Do-seok agrees not to go to the police, but neither will he join Jong-bae on any more crime sprees.

His resolve however is remarkablely short-lived. In order to make an honest living for himself, Do-seok buys a taxi. But while driving around clients one night, he hears on the car radio about another robbery/shooting of a payroll courier, this time with many witnesses present. He is so distracted by the report that he drives recklessly and causes an accident that lands him in jail. His wife comes to bail him out, but that is the end Do-seok’s attempt at an honest living.

The irony of trying to live right but winding up in prison while having gotten away scott free with murder is not lost on Do-seok and he becomes more brutal in his crimes with Jong-bae than he was before. He stands by, not even looking concerned as Jong-bae chokes an innocent man to death as part of their plot to secure a getaway vehicle for their next crime– the robbing of a bank. The plan this caper as if it were a game, joking, laughing and role-playing their way through the heist, and blindly see it as the perfect crime. However, before they are barely underway, they run into problems–namely car problems. While pretending to repair their car on the side of the road and making plans to steal another from a good samaritan, they have an encounter with a police officer who is immediately suspicious of them. This leads to a shootout and a car chase as the two robbers try to get back to Seoul where it will be easier to hide.After avoiding many roadblocks, the pair make it home, only to discover that the police had thier ID’s and know where they live.

This last part of the film is the most shocking and I will be spoiling it here. However, the movie is not available on DVD (although it really should be) and unless you are living in Korea, you are unlikely to ever come across it. For that reason– and the fact that the movie is thirty years old– I feel no pangs of conscience about revealing the end. If you don’t want to know it, skip the next paragraph.

Do-seok and Jong-bae know the police will come for them. Do-seok removes his wife and eldest son from their home and takes them to a house owned by Jong-bae–much larger than the virtual one-room dwelling the latter lives in with his wife and two children. His youngest child, an infant that does not yet know his father, is left in the care of the housekeeper. Do-seok gives his wife a long note while he leads his son upstairs. By the time she reaches the end of the letter where he explains what he is going to do, it is too late. From upstairs a shot is heard and the terrified woman dashes up the stairs begging her husband not to kill their son. It is too late. Another shot rings out as Do-seok commits suicide. For his part, Jong-bae joins the police in a firefight with his wife and children in the house. Surrounded by more than two dozen cops, plus reporters and onlookers, it looks like Jong-bae is hopelessly outgunned– until his wife picks up a gun as well and joins him in the fight, foregoing the chance to escape. However, the situation is still hopeless and they too decide on suicide to escape capture and disgrace. Jong-bae’s wife begs him to shoot her first as she cannot stand seeing her children killed and Jong-bae proceeds to shoot them one by one before turning the gun on himself. Roll credits.

This has to have been one of the most shocking Korean films I have seen from the ’80s and it was social commentaries. One of the things that I loved was the comparisons of the family dynamics. Jong-bae more violent and wild nature was making his son into the same kind of person which we see while the boy is playing with toy guns. Many children do play with toy guns, but Jong-bae’s son is especially aggressive and gleaful at the imagined bloodshed he is causing. On the other hand, he is shown doing small acts of kindness –such as given money to a homeless man unbidden- and we know there is hope and innocence still in him. The two children of the first shooting victim are also followed by this film for a time, long after they have direct impact on the plot. They are just there to hammer home the relationship and bonds between father and children perhaps to help us understand the later actions of our anti-heroes, though certainly not to condone them.

There are some excellent technical bits to this movie as well as some things that don’t quite work. The use of black-and-white while the two men are planning the bank robbery was a good choice as was making that whole scene almost–but not quite– like an interpretive dance which highlighted the fact that this scene was a fantasy and that their plan in real life was full of holes that only in their daydreams could be avoided. I was not as sold on the brief musical number near the beginning of the film, nor the filtered lens during the sex with the crazy woman on the beach scene. However, both of those scenes got me thinking that the friendship between those two cellmates was very close..and made me wonder just how close the director wanted us to think of them. This was especially the case during the sex scene where Jong-bae spends the entire time watching his non-participant friend on the beach.. the camera focused on Do-seok and moving up and down with Jong-bae’s humping of the crazy, flower-eating woman. However, the film makes nothing more of that so further speculation is useless.

I might be feeling extra-generous today– (I decided to stay home rather than type this in my office and I feel very relaxed..) — but I am giving this film nine out of ten stars. It is an excellent movie that I hope will one day get a wider audience.

Comments are closed.