LKL’s latest must-see film of the LKFF 2014: The Road Called Life

by Philip Gowman on 28 October, 2014

in Ahn Jae-hoon, Animation, Han Hye-jin, Korean literature in translation, Literature, London Korean Film Festival

The Road called Life - poster

It’s taking a while to go through the LKFF 2014 programme to prioritise those films which I simply *have* to go to see. So thanks to Frances Yoo from Studio Meditation with a Pencil for alerting me to the title that instantly has gone from “when I get round to it, I’ll look to see if I can find out what that film is about” to “this is that very film that I’ve been hoping against hope will be part of the festival programme as it’s so perfect both for the KCC’s 2014 literature focus and consistent with the festival’s promotion of Korean animation, but I don’t know what it’s called.”

I absolutely loved Studio MWP’s Green Days which screened at the London Korean Film Festival in 2010, and have been looking forward ever since to whatever they produced next. And when I heard two years ago that their follow-up project was an adaptation of Yi Hyo-seok’s Buckwheat Season I was delighted. So when I heard two months ago that along with Buckwheat the studio had adapted two other classic short stories from the 1930s I could hardly contain myself. But now I know that it’s included in the LKFF2014 programme I’m cursing that it’s on a weekday afternoon – rather tricky for someone with a full-time job to attend.

Buckwheat Season

Buckwheat Season

Yi Hyo-seok’s Buckwheat Season (메밀꽃 필 무렵) is possibly the most-translated short story in the history of Korean fiction, while Kim Yu-jeong’s Spring, Spring (그리고 봄봄) and Hyeon Jin-geon’s A Lucky Day (운수 좋은 날) are also very well-known.1 The Korean title of the omnibus film is a bit of a mouthful – 메밀꽃, 운수 좋은 날, 그리고 봄봄, a concatenation of the titles of the individual short stories – so it makes sense to have an alternative title for a foreign audience.

Buckwheat season in Bongpyeong

Buckwheat season in Bongpyeong (image: Korea.net)

The Road Called Life might at first glance seem a slightly anodyne title, but it possibly encapsulates the flavour of a journey through advancing years: Spring, Spring captures the endurance emparted by young love to a couple in their 20s; A Lucky Day talks about grief and hardship in middle age, while Buckwheat is all about the memories of old-timers.

A Lucky Day

A Lucky Day

According to Korean Cinema Today. Spring, Spring‘s first-person narrative is enhanced by pansori music. For A Lucky Day the directors made a close study of 1930s Seoul to give authenticity to the street scenes, while voice actor Jang Kwang (The Crucible, Masquerade, New World) really entered into the spirit: “This is one of few projects which made me cry while dubbing.” Continuing the theme of attention to detail, the directors went to Bongpyeong in Gangwon-do, where Buckwheat Season is set, “and drew petals of buckwheat flowers one by one.”

The film was released in Korea on 21 August. So far I can only find one review in English, which I won’t read until I’ve seen the film. But before then, I’ll go back and read the three short stories.

Here’s the trailer.

And the official text from the LKFF website:

The Road called Life

aka Buckwheat Flower, A Lucky Day and Spring
(메밀꽃, 운수 좋은 날, 그리고 봄봄, dirs Ahn Jae-hoon, Han Hye-jin, 2014)
Wednesday 12th November 14:00, Odeon Covent Garden, runtime 90 mins.
Book tickets.

Road Called Life

This animation depicts three pieces of traditional Korean stories told by the filmmakers of Green Days.

The first film, When the Buckwheat Flowers Bloom, is the story of Heo Saeng-won, an old market seller. After a long day of peddling his wares, Saengwon and friend visit an inn where they meet Dong-I. Over the course of the evening the three generations of vendors form a special bond.

Spring Spring sees a field labourer who has been promised the hand of his master’s daughter in marriage. Yet every time the servant looks to claim his would-be-wife, his master comes up with an excuse. Finally tried of being denied his bride the servant challenges his master to the ultimate match.

The last of the trilogy is A Lucky Day which features a rickshaw driver named Kim. His wife has fallen ill and looks to earn enough money to make her well again. He finds himself unusually flush with customers but doubt and fear creep into his mind as he contemplates the consequences of his good fortune.


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  1. All three are in the collection Modern Korean Literature: An Anthology 1908-1965 (Routledge, 1995). []

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

alua October 30, 2014 at 11:20 pm

It’s a pity they are screened both animations in the middle of the day – I can’t make “The Fake”, but I plan on going to see this one.

Philip Gowman October 30, 2014 at 11:33 pm

I’ll get there somehow. Similarly, I think, Mr Heskins.

Gag Halfrunt November 1, 2014 at 2:23 pm

It’s a shame that, despite the director’s extensive research, the cars are driving on the wrong side of the road.

Philip Gowman November 1, 2014 at 3:18 pm

Well spotted, sir.

Philip Gowman November 15, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Actually, the above still is misleading, Mr Halfrunt. I watched the film very closely, and would observe that in the street scenes depicted in the section A Lucky Day, the rules of the road were rather fluid, the emphasis being on giving priority to the trams. I noted one scene where two cars passed each other “Japanese” style, but do not recall any scenes in which they passed each other “American” style.

Frances Yoo November 16, 2014 at 7:55 am

Hi, everyone. My name is Frances Yoo and I’m a producer from Meditation With a Pencil studio. We thank all of you for having an interest in our film. (Hope you enjoyed it in LKFF! :D) As for the traffic lane issue, it seems like the rules of the road were pretty much arbitrary as Phillip Gowman points out. According to our research, some of the pictures from those days showed left lanes, and some others showed right. But we thank all of you again for having such a deep interest in our film, and please do not hesitate to ask questions or talk about your thoughts on our films. We would be more than happy to hear from you.

melvin February 7, 2015 at 6:59 pm

Hi! Is the movie already out in bluray? Does it have an English subtitle? I would like to import it. Do you know where I can purchase the film? Please provide a link here. Thanks.

Philip Gowman February 7, 2015 at 7:27 pm

I doubt it will get a DVD or Blu-ray release. The studio’s previous feature, Green Days, wasn’t released on DVD either. Shame.

Let’s hope I’m wrong. I recommend you check periodically at YesAsia

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