By Mark Russell
With Christmas fast approaching, I am always sure to have some DVDs on my gift list. And with more and more classic Korean movies being issued on DVD, the selection keeps getting better for classic Korean movie fans.
These days, when I go to film festivals, whether in Korea or any part of the world, I find myself increasingly drawn toward the retrospectives. Sure, it is fun discovering the latest and hippest new movies being made. But for me, I really enjoy re-discovering older movies, from 40 or 50 or more years ago.
The main source of these old films comes from the Korean Film Archive. The KFA has been issuing DVDs of classic Korean movies for about five years now, and so far has published 27 sets and individual DVDs, for a total of about 47 movies.
In 2010, the KFA has had four big releases, including two box sets, for a total of nine classic Korean movies. Probably the most notable is the Lee Man-hee-I retrospective, which features four of his films, including "The Marines Who Never Returned" and "Black Hair".
Lee made 50 films from 1961 to 1975, before dying at a far-too-young at the age of 45. He had been largely forgotten, but was featured at the Pusan International Film Festival in 2005. "Marines" has some surprisingly good battle scenes and action throughout (as well as plenty of melodrama). "Black Hair" is a great film noir from the 1960s, full of gangsters and shadowy images.
Other new releases in 2010 included Choi Ha-won's "An Old Potter", Park Sang-ho's "The DMZ - 1965", and the 1950s Romantic Comedy Collection.
And then there are plenty of great movies that the KFA has released in past years. Most famous in the West would be Kim Ki-young's "The Housemaid - 1960". This film is especially interesting because the DVD is the restored version, that was cleaned up thanks in part to the Korean Film Council and the World Cinema Foundation.
The KFA also released a four-film Kim Ki-young box set, with some of the director's most twisted film, including my personal favorites "Insect Woman" and "Iodo". While the quality of the prints in this box set is not great, the stories are just bursting with strangeness and creativity.
Although the KFA is the main organization to release old classic Korean movies, there are some others. Most of the other companies have not bothered to add subtitles (in Korean or English), but Taeheung Film's Korean Classic (movie) Collection features seven significant films from the 1970s, 80s and 90s and does feature subtitles. It is a pretty interesting set, and includes "Yeongja's Heydays" by Kim Ho-seon, "Our Joyful Young Days" by Bae Chang-ho, "Hwa Eom Gyeong" by Jang Sun-woo, and "Gagman" by Lee Myung-se.
Of course, the KFA also has a video on demand service, but as it only works with Windows operating systems (and even then is a little wonky), I have not had a chance to check it out. If you can get it to work, there are scores of great old films available here. Besides, streaming films does not make for a decent Christmas gift, so I recommend getting the classic Korean movies on DVD.
The KFA's DVD website in Korean is here:
They have an English site too, but unfortunately, it has not been updated in a while.
You can order these DVDs at the Seoul Selection webite, too.
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