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namhanman, a Korea-fan

Namhanman meets Korean popular culture. Namhanman is based in Budapest, Hungary. Contact: namhanman@gmail.com /// Célkeresztben a dél-koreai popkultúra (kiváltképp a filmművészet). Hírek és villámkritikák a Koreai Köztársaság (Daehan Minguk) mozgóképtermésének gyöngyszemeiről.

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2011.07.29. 15:09 namhanman

5 Korean Classics You Must See

Madame Freedom (자유부인, 1956)

One of the most controversial films in the history of Korean cinema, Madame Freedom tells a story of a professor's wife who is following the latest popular trend: instead of being a traditional jipsaram (wife, literally: home person), she begins to work as a store manager selling western goods, enjoys western-style dancing not to mention her interest in  extramarital affairs. Based on Jeong Bi-seok's novel, Han Hyeong-mo's powerful melodrama depicts the total collapse of social morals after the Korean War.

Available on DVD with English subtitles.




The Housemaid (하녀, 1960)

Widely recognised as one of the best Korean films of all time, The Housmaid is even more radical than Madame Freedom. Kim Ki-young's opus magnum focuses on a family completely disintegrated by a young maid from the countryside who seduces the husband and constantly terrorizes the other members of the family. Beginning as an innocent melodrama, the movie quickly turns into a suspenseful, gripping psychological thriller that contains all the unique social and sexual politics that made the director famous. Kim Ki-young himself created two remakes of The Housemaid (Woman of Fire and Woman of Fire '82), the latest revision of the same story was made by Im Sang-soo in 2010 who transformed the title character from a wild, destructive femme fatale into a good-hearted, pitiable victim.

Thanks to the wonderful restoration work of the Korean Film Archive and Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Foundation, The Housemaid is available on DVD with English subtitles.


 

Yalke, A Joker In High School (고교 얄개, 1977)

The only comedy in the list, Yalkae, A Joker in High School is the representative youth film of the '70s that helped to launch a teen movie boom. Starring Yalkae (literally: cheeky, cocky person), played by the Yoo Seung-ho of the era, Lee Seung-hyun, the movie presents a series of lighthearted vignettes that centers around the title character also known as the biggest troublemaker of the school. Based on Cho Heun-pa's bestselling novel, the movie spawned a series of sequels and spinoffs in the early '80s (see Yalkae series).

Available on DVD with English subtitles.


Chilsu and Mansu (칠수와 만수, 1988)

In the late '80s a new generation of socially conscious directors emerged and started a protest cinema movement that later became known as the Korean New Wave (not to be confused with New Korean Cinema which catapulted in the late '90s). Along with Jang Sun-woo, Park Kwang-su was the most famous director of the Korean New wave. Park's debut feature, Chilsu and Mansu was an early landmark of the movement, presenting two alienated billboard painters: Chilsu (Park Joong-hoon) is a young dreamer who wants to travel to the US while the older, resigned Mansu  (Ahn Sung-ki) cannot climb on the social ladder because his father was a Communist sympathiser. Depicting the frustrations of a generation growing up under social inequality, Chilsu and Mansu is a bitter satire that culminates in a scene when the protagonists starts shouting out their critical opinions on the top of a building and the authorities misinterpret their actions as a labour protest, leading to tragicomical situation.

Available on DVD with English subtitles.

 

Christmas in August (8월의 크리스마스, 1998)

Hur Jin-ho's first feature film is an extremely rare treat: it gives the premise of a typical melodrama (terminal illness) and then transforms it into a supremely sublime  thing that is everything but melodramatic or sentimental. Zero dramatic culminations only subtle moments, zero  forced plot turns only everyday situations, zero kisses (let alone sex) only slight facial expressions. Christmas in August is a  brilliantly acted, lyrical love story of a dying photographer (Han Suk-kyu) who owns a photography shop in a small town and a local traffic cop (Shim Eun-ha) who slowly begins to develop a relationship with him without knowing his health condition. A truly heartbreaking tale about unrequited romance, Hur Jin-ho's masterwork is possibly the best Korean tearjearker ever made.

Available on DVD with English subtitles.

 

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