Seen in Jeonju

The Ball Shot By a Midget (1981)

9th January 2010

ball shot by a midgetOriginally posted September 13, 2007–I really wish that people who put out dvds of classic films did more to promote them. Here is a film that is in dire need of promotion and it is readily available on sub-titled dvd.  It is an excellent, if somewhat above average, example of Korean cinema from the 1980s.

The Ball Shot By A Midget was directed by Lee Won-se based on Jo Se-hee’s 1976 best-selling novel.  Now you might be thinking, “Wait a minute…The film was released in ‘81, the novel was written in ‘76. Why does the original poster have 1979 written on the top?”  That is nothing to worry about. In 1979, the novel was nominated for the Dongin Literary Awards.  You also might want to ignore the English title on that poster, Flew One Little Dad. That has long since been discarded in favor of a direct translation of the Korean title. While you’re at it, ignore the woman on the original poster who is making this look like cheap porn. She was only put there to get people into the theater.

The movie is a very well made social criticism which certainly would not have been allowed just a few years earlier. But by 1981, there was a new regime that was trying to legitimize itself. Restrictions on movies were slowly being relaxed and, as this film is set in 1975, it was not a direct criticism of the new government’s policies (although it would be guilty of the same things that the movie’s antagonists were).

It is the story of a family whose father, Bul-yi,  happens to be vertically challenged.  His son Yeong-soo has just been released from prison for some unknown offense.  His daughter Yeong-hee works at a combination grocery store/diner and his youngest son washes cars for a living and dreams of becoming a boxer.  Bul-yi’s wife works the salt fields while Bul-yi was recently released from his job in a travelling circus where he played the trumpet.

Bul-yi has always felt inadequate because of his height, but that feeling is now strengthened as he is unemployed. Hating the idea of his wife and children supporting him on their pitiful salaries, Bul-yi takes the only job that he can. He becomes a doorman of at a bar dressed in an offensive suit that robs him of his dignity.  Bul-yi also hates how everyone treats his grown children when they discover who their father is. For example, Yeong-hee was being followed by a boy to shy to introduce himself to her. A little annoyed at his awkward advances, Yeong-hee runs over to her father. When the boy sees how small her father is, he quickly runs away leaving Yeong-hee to happily declare, “That’s the last I’ll see of him!” not realizing just how hurtful those words are to her father.

Yeong-soo is the one that the family seems to rely on for so many things although he seems to be quite ineffective.  He had started to study higher education, but apparently gave that up. He is told by each member of his family at one point or another that he never should have done that. He is simply not meant for hard labor.  He does do his best though, taking a job at a local factory making pots and pans. His job was to fill a bucket with molten steel, walk it over to the pot molds and poor it in.  Sounds dangerous? It is and his inexperience at that kind of work soon leaves him injured and housebound for awhile. 

The family might still have been able to eke out their existence if it hadn’t been for fate. The waters around the village have become polluted making the salt worthless. The owners of the salt farm have pulled out and the entire village is about to be torn down and replaced by factories and new apartments.  The government offers everyone the opportunity to sell their little shacks, but the buying prices are not enough to put a down payment of an apartment. And they have no choice in the matter. They can either accept the compensation money that is being offered, or their house can be knocked down and they get nothing.

The family has to decide what they will do, where to go, and how they will stay together in a situation that they have no control over.  Highly recommended

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