Perhaps not too many people have heard of him. However, he holds a very special place in the history of Korean movies. The Post met one of his disciples, Prof. Jung Jae-hyung from the Department of Film, to learn more about Yu's works and his life as a film director. The three films below are the director’s masterpieces.
This film, produced in the mid-1960s, is one of his early works. According to Prof. Jung, this film was criticized by Christian. The film is based on a novel written by Kim, Eun-kuk, which received wider acclaim after winning praise from American Nobel Prize winner Pearl Comfort Buck, a writer of “The Good Earth.” It describes the pain and anguish of people during the terrible Korean War.
The plot, composed of several fictitious scenes, traces the characters’ emotion.
The first scene commences in Pyongyang, capital of North Korea, with the sound of a shot fired from a gun. Communists are then seen running away after killing several clergymen. Only two out of the 14 clergymen, Shin and Han, survive. Pastor Shin and a South Korean called Captain Lee are the main figures of the story. In the movie, Shin says that 12 ministers were martyred for their faith. The truth, however, emerges in a complicated, ambiguous way. It is revealed that the 12 priests were not in fact Christian martyrs but apostates who were executed after they denied the existence of God. Such an interesting and dramatic reversal caught my attention. What is the message of this story? Perhaps it is saying that ‘truth’ is only made out of what people really want to believe?
Prof. Jung gave the film high praise because of its existential expressiveness. “Director Yu understood the complexity of human consciousness even in a time of the war, and was able to express this in concrete,” he said. In the final scene, Shin said: “All my life. I searched to find God. But what I found instead was suffering and the relentless train of dead human beings." Lee asked what exists after the death. "Nothing" he answered.
Aimless Bullet (Obaltan)
Yu’s greatest cinematic achievement is 'Obaltan' without doubt, winning many awards and getting regarded as one "the great masterpieces of Korean film." The name of the film is famous because it has its root in a novel 'Obaltan', written by Lee, Bum-sun. The film was made in 1961, the period when Yu was reaching his zenith as a filmmaker.
In this movie, the characters are very complex; so the best way to approach it is to watch the scenes unfolded like a dream. The main character is Chul-ho. “When you watch the characters in Yu’s works, there is a sense that they are all aspects of Yu’s personality. He had a hard time in his childhood; this is why there is so much emphasis on the characters’ inner worlds,” said Prof. Jung.
Chul-ho, a chartered accountant, is the head of his family. He has to look after four members: a mother who lost her mind during the Korean War, a pregnant wife, a younger sister who has become a foreigner’s whore, and a younger brother. Each character has a tragic story. Eventually, however, these stories end with Chul-ho’s own aimless wandering. The aimless bullet stands for Chul-ho’s life.
In this movie, Yu realistically emphasizes not only the defeats of the era but people’s lonely peregrinations through a desolate post-Korean War landscape.
Kim's Daughters (Gimyakguk-ui Ttaldeul)
One of his most popular movies is "Kim's Daughters"(1963). Tong-young city provides the film's location. In spite of the beautiful backdrop of sea and sky, the story is tragic. Kim’s’ terrible destiny begins after his mother kills herself by arsenic poison. He, Kim, has four daughters: Yong-suk, Yong-bin, Yong-ran and Yong-ok. Though they are connected in siblings, their personalities are completely different.
Yong-bin, the modern girl who went University, returns to Tong-young to deal with her sisters' tragic experience. She is seen to pray for them. Kim's wife, the mother of four daughters is superstitious, believing that a big tree houses the spirit of a tutelary deity. Each day she prays in front of the tree, but, regardless of her effort, things become more and more hopeless. I was deeply impressed by a scene in which the mother angrily recants on her beliefs but then quickly apologizes for her lapse in faith. The expression of a mother's anguish over her daughters’ future is very realistic.
At the end of the film everything is naturally resolved: some characters die while others remain alive in order to overcome their struggles. It is a simple resolution: there is pain in existence, it seems to say, but you can expect compensation.
Kang-guk says at the end: "Does a place exist where there is no sorrow? No. If people are able to overcome unbearable sorrow, then they will continue to live."
In the film, sound plays an important role. The crashing sounds of thunder, the cawing of a flock of crows along with the sound of a child’s mimicry, are all proper to each scene. They all give the movie a sense of urgency. It was surprising to see how modern these effects are, even now.
*Korean Film Archives:
Korean Film Archives (KFA) is a nonprofit organization. KFA collects all of the visual data and offers them for the public. People can use most of the data freely. KFA is in DMC complex at the Sangam-dong in Mapo-gu, Seoul. If you want to get more information, visit web- site (http://library.koreafilm.or.kr/).
Cultural Desk Editor Kim Tae-hyang
Kim Tae-hyang firstname.lastname@example.org
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