One of the things we like about the London Korean Film Festival the range of different perspectives it offers us on the vibrant Korean film scene, from emerging directors to actor retrospectives via documentaries and more. One of the strands we appreciate most is the opportunity it gives us to see classic movies from the past which aren’t available on subtitled DVD. The non-availability of the back catalogue on DVD is gradually being addressed by the Korean Film Archive, but major gaps remain and often the only opportunity to see a film is at a festival such as this.
We’ve seen films by favoured directors Kim Ki-young, Lee Man-hee and Yu Hyun-mok at previous festivals – directors loved by the art-house audience – but little from the more commercial directors. This year we have the good fortune to to have a mini-retrospective of Chung Chang-wha’s output from the 1960s, before he moved to Hong Kong.
A case can be argued that Chung, born in 1928, should be regarded as Korea’s most successful movie export. Nowadays we regard a movie made in America as a success. Chung spent eight years in Hong Kong at Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest Studios where under the name of Cheng Chang-ho he gained international fame for, among other movies, King Boxer.
YesAsia calls this Shaw Brothers classic “the film that started it all for the Western world” and continues:
Months before Bruce Lee burst onto the international scene with Enter the Dragon, this powerful story of tragedy, torture, redemption, and revenge premiered across America under the unforgettable title Five Fingers Of Death. It went on to become the first international martial arts movie hit.
Before moving to Hong Kong, Chung was known for his fluency in a wide range of film genres, from melodrama to comedy via ghost stories. But he was of course best known for his action films, and Mark Morris, advisor to the LKFF for classic Korean film, describes his Swordsman in the Twilight as “perhaps the finest Korean muhyeop genre film” (muhyeop = wuxia, martial arts). That movie screens on 14 November, followed by a Q+A with the distinguished director himself. Director Chung will also be answering questions after Bonanza on 13 November. The opportunity to see these films and the director himself will be of interest to Korean studies students and scholars as well fans of classic Hong Kong and Korean movies.
Classics Revisited: the films of Chung Chang-wha
Starring Kim Seung-ho, Hwang Hae, Um Aing-ran, 100 mins.
Regent Street Cinema, 13 Nov 2015 6:00 pm
A young sailor arrives in Busan Harbour; an outrageous-looking, woolly bear of a man appears in downtown Busan with a shotgun over one shoulder, a heavy knapsack thrown over the other; a tough-looking young woman joins her friend in robbing a naïve fat man in a suit. The strands of character and story will slowly converge, well after the audience, tuned to the coincidences and mistaken identities of melodrama, has recognised that these three have a shared history and are fated to meet and reconcile.
Sunset on the Sarbin River
사르빈강에 노을이 진다, 1965.
Starring Shin Young-kyun, Kim Hye-jung, Nam Goong Won, Yoon Il-bong, 120 mins
Regent Street Cinema, 14 Nov 2015 1:00 pm
A Korean college student, his name japanised as Masumoto, feels compelled to join the Imperial Army and do his bit for the war. To his fellow Korean recruits, he seems a martinet, much too eager to try to prove himself as the equal of the Japanese. He gets promoted and rejoins the unit as officer in charge. They are despatched to Burma where they are visited by a group of young Korean women of a ‘teishintai’: comfort women. On the way to the front, their truck is attacked, on the road again, they encounter a beautiful Burmese woman with her child. They give her a lift, and she drops a note about their movements to waiting guerrillas of the new independence army. She and Masumoto fall in love, while her guerrilla husband swears revenge for the death of their son at the hands of Japanese soldiers led by our hero. Only one of the triangle will be standing at the film’s end.
A Swordsman in the Twilight
황혼의 검객, 1967.
Starring Nam Goong Won, Yoon Jung-hee, Heo Jang-kang, Park Am, 105 mins.
Regent Street Cinema, 14 Nov 2015 3:30 pm
A mysterious swordsman wanders into town. He saves a girl from abduction by brutal policemen. One of them recognises him and runs to the local government compound to give warning: Kim Dae-won has returned, no doubt seeking vengeance. Kim attacks the compound, killing or capturing all the police, and takes the county governor hostage. As the night wears on, he gradually unfolds his story to the bound hostages. He and his family became collateral damage in the political and social strife caused by Jang Hui-bin and her allies. He now awaits the arrival of the ruthless Jang family ally, O Ki-ryeong, the man who plotted the destruction of his loving wife and little girl. They meet in a deadly showdown. Kim Dae-won wanders back out of town.