Seen in Jeonju

Hyperbole of Youth (1956)

21st January 2010

hyperbola of youthOriginally posted November 28, 2008–Director Han Hyeong-mo’s Hyperbole of Youth launched an era of Korean comedies in the mid to late 50’s and solidified the careers of of several important stars includign the lead players Hwang Hae and Yang Hoon. However, although it is classified as a comedy, this film is actually more of a social drama with comedic elements.  It is the story of starving Myeong-bo and overweight Bu-nam.  Their names already clue us in to the fact that this is a form of social morality play as Bu-nam has the meaning of ‘wealthy man’ and Myeong-bo means ‘rare treasure’. The characters of the two men fit their names perfectly. Myeong-bo lives his life in poverty, but he never complains as he struggles to take care of his elderly mother and younger sister as best he can.  On the other hand, Bu-nam is from an extremely wealthy family and used to the finest things money can buy. However, even though he is certainly spoiled, Bu-nam is not depicted as evil because of his wealth. Rather he is shown to be rather clueless as to how the rest of the world lives.  His ignorance is ended on the day that he visits the office of Doctor Kim with a distended stomach. His problem? Overeating and not enough exercise. While he is there, Myeong-bo visits the doctor as well with a case of exhaustion and malnutrition. As the two men know each other from their college days, the doctor suggests a simple solution–they should switch lifestyles for two weeks. Myeong-bo is to go live in Bu-nam’s house while Bu-nam will live in Myeong-bo’s shack in a shanty town overlooking Seoul.

While the expected humerous elements occur as each one tries to adjust to their new way of life and relate to the other’s family, these elements are muted and do not drag the movie down to slapstick. In fact, the situation is handled with surprising sensitivity. Poverty in movies is often glorified as a kind of purity while rich people are often depicted as selfish at best and outright evil at worst. Here, even the most snobbish of Bu-nam’s family is actually quite kind and his parents accept Myeong-bo without question. Meanwhile, Myeong-bo’s mother does not judge Bu-nam. She merely expresses concern that he will not find her house as comfortable as he is used to.

The plot flows along rather predictably but it is nonetheless enjoyable. The acting is quite good but that is to be expected. Hwang Hae (Myeong-bo) would go on to become a mainstay in Korean films for the next two decades .  Yang Hoon (Bu-nam) would team up with Yang Seok-cheon (Dr. Kim) for their next dozen films and their fat/skinny relationship would have them be like the Laurel and Hardy of Korean cinema.

Perhaps though, the most unexpected and enjoyable part of this movie occurs right at the beginning with the appearance of the Kim Sisters as The Singing Nurses. Their harmony and nonsense song makes them sound exactly like their inspiration, the Andrew Sisters.

Before this film, Han Hyeong-mo directed the excellent Hand of Fate (1954) and his next project following Hyerbole of Youth was the famous Madame Freedom (1956). He has fifteen other films to his credit, but these three are definitely his best. They are also all available on DVD and I would recommend seeking them out if you have an interest in early Korean movies.

2 Responses to “Hyperbole of Youth (1956)”

  1. Adam Hartzell Says:

    I’ve been wanting to see this film ever since I saw the snippet of the singing Kim Sisters in Kim Hong-joon’s documentary MY KOREAN CINEMA. Glad to hear it’s on DVD so I can snag it now.

  2. Seen in Jeonju » Blog Archive » Bread & Milk (2003) Says:

    [...] think I would have time to watch a whole movie before I slept.  Turning on the tv, I saw that Hyperbole of Youth was showing on KTV but it was well into the movie, or at least past the singing nurse scene, and [...]