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Early Korean Cinema season at the BFI and KCC

Early Korean Cinema - Season PosterTickets for the Early Korean Cinema season at the BFI, which was announced as last year’s London korean Film festival came to an end, go on sale on 15 January. The organisers particularly direct our attention to two screenings:

  • THU 7 FEB, 18:00 – OPENING SCREENING WITH LIVE PERFORMANCE + INTRO: Crossroads of Youth 청춘의 십자로
    Onstage: Chung Chong-hwa, Senior Researcher (Korean Film Archive), Composer Park Chun-hwi, Narrator Cho Hee-bong, and Actors Hwang Min-su and Park Hee-von.
  • MON 18 FEB, 18:10 – SCREENING + DISCUSSION: Spring of the Korean Peninsula 반도의 봄
    Onstage: Baek Moonim (Yonsei University), Lee Hwa-jin (Inha University) Chung Chong-hwa (Korean Film Archive) and season co-curator Kate Taylor-Jones.

Here’s the schedule in summary, with links to the BFI and KCC websites to buy / reserve tickets. Screenings in the table below are at the BFI except where stated.

Thu 07 Feb 2019, 6:00pm Crossroads of Youth + live performers + Intro
Sat 09 Feb 2019, 3:50pm Sweet Dream + Fisherman’s Fire
Tue 12 Feb 2019, 7:00pm Angels on the Street + The Power of Sincerity + Q+A (@KCC)
Fri 15 Feb 2019, 6:20pm Sweet Dream + Fisherman’s Fire + intro
Sat 16 Feb 2019, 5:50pm Military Train + Volunteer + Intro
Sun 17 Feb 2019, 5:40pm Tuition + Patriots Day in Joseon
Mon 18 Feb 2019, 6:10pm Spring of the Korean Peninsula + discussion
Tue 19 Feb 2019, 7:00pm Straits of Chosun (@KCC)
Thu 21 Feb 2019, 6:10pm Military Train + Volunteer
Fri 22 Feb 2019, 8:30pm Hurrah! For Freedom
Mon 25 Feb 2019, 7:00pm Dear Soldier + Chosun, Our Rear Base (@KCC)
Tue 26 Feb 2019, 8:30pm Tuition + Patriots Day in Joseon
Thu 28 Feb 2019, 6:20pm Hurrah! For Freedom + Joseon News No. 11 + Japanese Chronicles + Intro

Full details can be found below:

Early Korean Cinema: Lost Films From the Japanese Colonial Period

7 – 28 February 2019
BFI South Bank and KCCUK

Early Korean Cinema lead image

Marking the centenary of the first Korean film (made in 1919) BFI Southbank and KCCUK will present EARLY KOREAN CINEMA: LOST FILMS FROM THE JAPANESE COLONIAL PERIOD, which will feature all surviving feature-length Korean films produced before 1945. The season, which runs from Thursday 7 February – Thursday 28 February, is co-curated by University of Sheffield Senior Lecturer Kate Taylor-Jones and KCCUK’s Film Curator Hyun Jin Cho and will include a diverse treasure trove of melodramas, propaganda films and newsreels from the colonial period as well as giving audiences the opportunity to learn about the stars, the directors and the politics of this complex and controversial time in Korean history.

The season opens at BFI Southbank on 7 February with Korea’s oldest surviving film Crossroads of Youth 청춘의 십자로 (Ahn Jong-hwa, 1934). Audiences will have the opportunity to experience this tale of love, desire, betrayal and revenge on the streets of Seoul as it was first premiered in 1934, with live performances from musicians, a narrator and actors, bringing the work to life. The majority of the films programmed were made under Japanese occupation (1910 to 1945), and so are products of a complicated and difficult period in Korean history, however, to just reject these films as nothing more than colonial propaganda would be to dismiss the skills, desires and ambitions of the Korean filmmakers. These include Military Train 군 용열차 (Suh Kwang-je, 1938), Volunteer 지 원병 (Anh Seok-young, 1941), Patriots Day in Joseon 조선의 애국일 (Unknown, 1940), Japanese Chronicles 일본실록 (Unknown, C.1943) Joseon News No. 11. 조선시보 제11 (Unknown, C.1943) and Tuition 수업료 (Choi In-gyu and Bang Han-joon, 1940).

The season closes on 28 February with the most recent film in the programme, which celebrates Korean independence in 1945 and was the first film made after Japan’s defeat. Hurrah! For Freedom 자유만세 (Choi In-gyu, 1946) charts the life and death battle that Korean freedom fighters faced under Japanese occupation. Directed by Choi In-gyu who had previously made colonial propaganda films, Hurrah! For Freedom shows the complex personal and artistic decisions people had to make under colonial occupation.

Crossroads of Youth 청춘의 십자로

+ season introduction
Dir Ahn Jong-hwa (1934, 73mins)
With Lee Won-yong, Kim Yeong-sil, Sin Il-seon, Park Yeon
Thursday 07 February 2019 18:00 @NFT3 | Buy tickets

Korea’s oldest surviving film with an accompanying performance. (Total runtime 120min)

Crossroads of Youth

Join us for a special season launch event: a richly illustrated talk by Chung Chong-hwa (Senior Researcher, Korean Film Archive) and a screening of Korea’s oldest surviving film. Chung will discuss the complex journey to discovering these Early Korean Cinema prints, as well as their filmic and historical significance. Following the talk, we present a rare performance of the silent classic Crossroads of Youth with live musical accompaniment. This tale of love, desire, betrayal and revenge follows a young man as he seeks his fortune on the streets of Seoul. We welcome composer Park Chun-hwi, narrator Cho Hee-bong, and actors Hwang Min-su and Park Hee-von for this unique performance, recreating an experience comparable to what Korean audiences saw and heard when it first premiered in 1934.

Sweet Dream + Fisherman’s Fire

+ intro by Chung Chong-hwa, Korean Film Archive
Saturday 09 February 2019 15:50 @NFT2 (without intro) | Buy tickets
Friday 15 February 2019 18:20 @NFT2 | Buy tickets

Two very different women set off for the bright lights of Seoul in this double feature.

Sweet Dream (미몽)

Dir Yang Ju-nam (1936, 47min)
With Mun Ye-bong, Lee Geum-ryong, Yu Seok-ok, Kim In-gyu

Sweet Dream

Early melodrama at its best! Sweet Dream follows a bored housewife as she abandons her family to search for love and excitement in 1930s Seoul.

Fisherman’s Fire (어화)

Dir Ahn Chul-yeong (1938, 52min)
With Park No-gyeong, Yun Buk-yang, Jeon Hyo-bong, Park Hak, Na Woong

Fisherman’s Fire is the tale of a young woman who is seduced away from her poor fishing village only to become a bar girl (gisaeng) in the city. The screening on Friday 15 February will be introduced by Chung Chong-hwa, Korean Film Archive.

Angels on the Street + The Power of Sincerity + Q+A

Tuesday 12 February 2019 19:00 @KCCUK | Reserve tickets
+ Q+A with Chung Chong-hwa

Angels on the Street

Director: Choi In-gyu
Cast: Kim ll-hae, Imun Ye-bong, Hong Eun-sun

Angels on the Street

Angels on the Street is a film that should feature more in the history of cinema. It was the first Korean film to experiment with live recording of sound, non-professional actors and on-location shooting. This pre-dates the Italian Neorealist film-movement by over 4 years and arguably makes director Choi In-gyu a cinematic pioneer. Angleson the Street follows the story of Myeong-ja and Yong-pil, two young siblings living on the streets of Seoul. Their lives are hard, and tragedy looks imminent but help is at hand in the form of kindly Priest Bang Soo-bin and his generous brother-in-law, Dr Ahn.

The Power of Sincerity

A film about paying your taxes is not a natural topic for entertainment but this silent 1935 film is both interesting and well-crafted. The film follows a son as he tries to convince her miserly father to pay his taxes and contribute to the wellbeing of the whole village. Found in Gosfilmofond, along with several newsreels from the period (see Korean Cultural Centre and the British Film Institute programs for more detail), The Power of Sincerity is look at a past long gone.

Tuition + Patriots Day in Joseon

Sunday 17 February 2019 17:40 @NFT2 | Buy tickets
Tuesday 26 February 2019 20:30 @NFT2 | Buy tickets

Tuition (수업료)

Dir Choi In-gyu and Bang Han-joon (1940, 80min)
With Susukida Kenji, Jeong Chan-jo, Kim Jong-il, Lee Dong-seong, Mun Ye-bong

Fighting against the odds: a heart-warming tale of a boy’s education in colonial Korea.


Tuition follows the trials and tribulations of schoolboy Young-dal as he struggles to find the money to pay for his education. The child’s viewpoint of economic hardship and the film’s upbeat ending makes this film a charming addition to the season.

Patriots Day in Joseon (조선의 애국일)

Korea-Japan 1940. Dir unknown. 11min. EST
A colonial newsreel exemplifying the day-to-day pro-Japanese propaganda seen throughout this period.

Spring of the Korean Peninsula (반도의 봄)

+ discussion (Total runtime 130min)
Dir Lee Byung-il (1941, 84min)
With Kim So-young, Seo Wol-young, Kim Il-hae, Baek Ran
Monday 18 February 2019 18:10 @NFT3 | Buy tickets

A filmmaker struggles with actors, finance and romance on the film set.

Spring in the Korean peninsula

A young filmmaker and his crew struggle to bring the famous Korean story of Chunghyang to the big screen. Torn between two very different women and facing financial ruin, the director makes a rash and foolish choice in order to realise his dreams. Visually arresting, Spring of the Korean Peninsula allows a fascinating insight into the Korean film industry of the period. Following the screening, leading Korean film scholars Baek Moonim (Yonsei University), Lee Hwa-jin (Inha University) and Chung Chong-hwa (Korean Film Archive), will be in discussion with season co-curator Kate Taylor-Jones to provide context for the propaganda films made in Korea under Japanese rule. Together, they will explore the realities and complexities of this period, and its legacy in Korean cinema history.

Straits of Chosun

Director: Park Gi-chae (1943)
Cast: Mun Ye-bong, Kin Sin-Jae, Nam Seung-Min
Tuesday 19 February 2019 7:00 pm @KCCUK | Reserve tickets

Straits of Joseon

The film follows the lives of a young couple who are divided by both war and family. Seiki and Kinshuko may be in love but Seiki’s upper class family have rejected his lower-class wife and refuse acknowledge the marriage. When Seiki’s elder brother dies at war he feels honour bound to volunteer for the army in his stead. Left pregnant and alone, Kinshuko decides to also work for the war effort. Between 1940 and 1945, Korean language was banned from the screen so all the cast speak in Japanese, a clear indication of the harsh colonial war-time rule that Korea was experiencing. Despite this complex background, Straits of Chosun captivates via a narrative of love, sacrifice and loyalty and a powerful use of editing and sound.

Hurrah! For Freedom (자유만세)

Dir Choi In-gyu (1946, 60min)
With Jeon Chang-geun, Yoo Kye-sun, Hwang Ryuh-hee
Friday 22 February 2019 20:30 @NFT3 | Buy tickets
Thursday 28 February 2019 18:20 @NFT3 + introduction | Buy tickets

Celebrating freedom in the first film from independent Korea.

Hurrah for Freedom

In 1945 Korea once more became an independent nation. The first film made after Japan’s defeat charts the life-and-death battle that Korean freedom fighters faced. Directed by Choi In-gyu, who had previously made colonial propaganda films, Hurrah! For Freedom shows the complex personal and artistic decisions people had to make under colonial occupation. Screening on 28 Feb includes two nine-minute newsreels: Joseon News No. 11. 조선시보 제11보 and Japanese Chronicles 일본실록.

The screening on Thursday 28 February will be introduced by Kate Taylor-Jones, season curator.

Military Train + Volunteer

+ intro by Baek Moonim, Yonsei University
Saturday 16 February 2019 17:50 @NFT2 | Buy tickets
Thursday 21 February 2019 18:10 @NFT2 (without intro) | Buy tickets

Joining the Japanese army: film propaganda from colonial Korea.

Military Train (군용열차)

Dir Suh Kwang-je (1938, 66min)
With Mun Ye-bong, Wang Pyong, Dok Wun-gil

Military Train

The most problematic of the colonial products were the ‘military recruitment’ films. Designed to encourage Korean men to join the army, these films give a highly inaccurate vision of the colonial experience. Military Train follows two young friends who drive military transport trains with tragic results.

Volunteer (지원병)

Dir Anh Seok-young (1941. 56 min)
With Choi Woon-bong, Lee Geum-ryong, Mun Ye-bong, Kim Il hae

Volunteer charts the tale of Chun-hoo, a young Korean man desperate to join the Japanese Army. While narratively the film is pro-Japanese propaganda, the mise-en-scene, cinematography and use of sound make it a valuable addition to this season.

Dear Soldier + Chosun, Our Rear Base

Monday 25 February 2019 7:00 pm @KCCUK | Reserve tickets

Dear Soldier

Director: Bang Han-joon (1944)
Cast: Kim II-hae, Lee Geum-ryong

Dear Soldier

Dear Soldier is probably one of the most uncomfortable films to have survived from this period. One of a series of propaganda film designed to encourage young Korean men to join the army, the film presents an image of a benevolent and paternalistic Japan seeking to care for its colonial subjects. The film presents an idealised vision of the Japanese military experience which was, in reality, marked with abuse, brutality and racism. Made in 1944, when the Japan was clearly losing the war, Dear Soldier is an ideal example from a film industry that had been completely subsumed into making propaganda. With no Korean spoken and images that bear little resemblance to the state of Korea and Japan of the time, Dear Soldier operates as a reminder of the awful reality of colonial occupation.

Chosun, Our Rear Base

Dir: Unknown (circa 1935)

One of several newsreels to be found in the Gosfilmofond Archive, Chosun, Our Rear Base was typical of the newsreels that would have screened before any feature film. Promoting the ideology known as naisen ittai in Japanese or naeseon iche in Korean, in short, ‘Japan and Korea as one body’, Chosun, Our Rear Base, presents a Korean nations working to support the Japanese Colonized. Clear examples of propaganda, these newsreel bear little resemblance to reality.

(automatically generated) Read LKL’s review of this event here.

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