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Film Guru Shin Sang-Ok Dies at 80

2006/04/19 Source

By Nigel DSa - Assistant Editor / Staff Writer

Korean cinema giant, Shin Sang-ok, died on April 11th, 2006 at Seoul National University Hospital where he was being treated for chronic liver disease. Director Shin had made over 70 films, many of them Korean cinema milestones, during his lifetime, and was preparing what might have been his final project, a historical feature dealing with Genghis Khan, when he passed away at the age of 80.

Shin directed such classics as "Mother and a Guest" (1961), "The Red Gate" (1963), "The Eunich" (1968), and "Farewell - 1973" (1973). He was born in 1926 in Cheongjin, North Hamgyeong Province, in what is now North Korea. In 1945, he graduated from the Tokyo Fine Arts School and made his debut as a director during the Korean War with "The Evil Night" (1952). In 1953 he married Choi Eun-hee, a popular movie actress who would later star in many of his films.

His films often focused on Confucian subject matters and presented an ambivalent view that criticized and at the same time venerated Confucian values. A highlight of his career and a representative example of his personal vision is My Mother and Her Guest which tells the story of a widow and her daughter who develop an affectionate bond with a single man boarding at their house. The mother ultimately sacrifices her chance at happiness to please her disapproving mother-in-law.

In 1963 Shin started a powerhouse production company called 'Shin Films' that had a profound influence on the Korean film industry and on a young generation of filmmakers. In the 1970's he ran into increasing difficulties with the Korean military government, and his company as well as his artistic career were effectively shut down at home. He made Hong Kong his new base and began a production company there, with the hope of bringing Korean films to an international audience.

In 1978 while in Hong Kong, Shin was apparently abducted to North Korea. His wife was also abducted six months later. After several escape attempts, Shin claims he was imprisoned for four years. When the movie-loving Kim Jong-il realized he needed capable help in rejuvenating the country's rather pathetic film industry, Shin was released and reunited with his wife, whom he had thought was dead. Kim asked the couple to make films that would promote communist ideology. After completing seven features there, Shin and his wife eventually escaped from North Korea and returned to South Korea in 1986.

Shin continued to direct and produce films, and in 1994 he served as a judge at the Cannes International Film Festival. In an interview just before his death, he commented, "I think directors should be able to master at least one thing, whether it is art, music, or literature. There should be 'esprit'". Shin is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters.

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