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[HanCinema Korea's Diary] Classical Korean Cinema at KOFA: Im Kwon-taek's "Gilsotteum"

2012/03/17 Source

Every month at Korean Film Archive in Seoul Darcy Paquet, a respected Korean film critic and journalist, will be presenting a number of classic Korean films. The first of these was held last weekend and Im Kwon-taek's hidden masterpiece "Gilsotteum" (1985) was screened. After which, Darcy shared some facts on the piece as well as his thoughts on the film, the director and the actors involved. Hancinema was there for the screening and recorded the Q & A session (English and Korean).

Darcy Paquet's Introduction to the film followed by Q & A

Director : Im Kwon-taek
Production Company : Hwa Chun Trading Co., Ltd.
Date of Rate : 1985-07-31
Date of Theatrical Release : 1986-04-05
Running Time : 105 min.
Opening Theater : Dae Han Theater
Genre : Melodrama

Staff :
Screenplay(Adaptation) : Song Kil-han
Producer : Park Jong-chan
Director of PhotoGraphy : Jeong Il-seong
Gaffer : Kang Kwang-hee
Music : Kim Jeong-kil
Art Director : Kim Yu-jun
Editor : Kim Chang-sun

Cast(Actor/Actress) :
Kim Ji-mee, Kang-Shin Sung-il, Han Ji-il, Choi Bool-am


Summer, 1983. The entire nation is glued to their television sets as KBS airs a special live broadcast dedicated to reuniting family members who were separated during the Korean War. Hwa-yeong (Kim Ji-mee), who has been keeping a prosperous and harmonious household, decides to search for her lost son, at the recommendation of her husband (Jun Moo-song). On the way to the TV station, Hwa-yeong begins to reminisce about the past. At the end of Japan's occupation of Korea, Hwa-yeong's family moves to a small village called Kilsodeum, in Hwanghae-do. Hwa-yeong (Lee Sang-ah) soon becomes an orphan, and is taken in by her father's friend, Kim Byung-do. She falls in love with his son Dong-jin (Kim Jung-suk), who treats her with warmth and affection. One rainy day, Hwa-yeong and Dong-jin consummate their love and Hwa-yeong gives birth to a child. But the Korean War breaks out and their respective fates take them away from each other. While looking for her son in the rendezvous plaza outside the TV station, Hwa-yeong reunites with Dong-jin (Kang-Shin Sung-il), who has been waiting for her all his life at the expense of the family he built with the daughter (Oh Mi-yeon) of the man who saved his life. The two of them run into Seok-cheol (Han Ji-il), a man who has been searching for his parents, and sense that he is their lost son. They go to visit him, but his rude behavior the product of a life spent in the gutters of society causes them to feel a sense of estrangement. Seok-cheol's scar and a DNA test virtually confirm that he is their son, but Hwa-yeong turns her back on him, saying that she will not believe anything less than proofpositive of his parentage. Dong-jin turns away also, as he tosses Hwa-yeong's contact information in the garbage. As she drives along the road, Hwa-yeong stops her car for a moment and weeps, but soon continues on her way.


"Im Kwon-taek's hidden masterpiece, which deals with the controversial issues of familial separation and national division with a realistic eye and a dispassionate understanding of reality, without becoming engulfed in the emotional tide of the 1980s family reunion campaign"

When it was first released, Kilsodeum achieved a respectable degree of commercial success and enjoyed positive reviews, even scoring a submission to the Berlin International Film Festival. While it is true that the movie has fallen out of the general purview since then, numerous critics still regard Kilsodeum as director Im Kwon-taek's hidden masterpiece. It demonstrates extraordinary perspective and sophistication both in terms of its form and its handling of theme. Im Kwon-taek himself has noted that from the 1970s onward, he endeavored to eliminate all superfluous elements of form and content from his films in the service of theme. He cites Kilsodeum as the film that most clearly reveals his aesthetic of emotional restraint and understanding of reality in the 1980s. What makes this movie particularly interesting is its dispassionate grasp of reality and strict adherence to a female perspective, at a time when nationalism and the discourse of motherhood dominated the social consciousness. Employing still shots and long takes, the intricate intersection of flashbacks by both protagonists, and the apt insertion of actual footage from the family reunion campaign, Kilsodeum puts artistic restraint to effective use on a formal level as well.

Especially masterful is the scene in which Hwa-yeong (Kim Ji-mee) denies Seok-cheol (Han Ji-il) and rides away in her car as the voice-over narration of the doctor who performed the DNA test (Choi Bool-am) flows in the background. The doctor, who holds scientific authority, offers the nationalistic commentary that "some reunited families come to regret finding their lost family members due to a sense of estrangement, but eventually come to feel the pull of blood ties". As if in agreement, Hwa-yeong brings her car to a halt but only for a moment. In the end, she rejects both the discourse of medicine (the DNA paternity test) and the discourse of motherhood (the scar on Seok-cheol's body), and continues on her way. Although this ending invited the criticism that the movie was too cold and dry, it can also be read as a radically progressive conclusion drawn from the perspective and reality of women, who cannot be assimilated into patriarchal nationalism. Im Kwon-taek's astonishingly meticulous direction also shines through in the scene where Hwa-yeong and Dong-jin meet and look back on the past from their respective points of view, and the scene in which the flashbacks of both characters intersect amid quiet voice-over narration from the present perspective. By refusing to privilege one character's flashback over another's, the movie shows how Hwa-yeong and Dong-jin have diverged in their lives as they followed their respective paths, and how they have already come too far from their beautiful yet irretrievable past. In an interview, Im Kwon-taek explained that he put particular care into emphasizing the beauty of the Hwa-yeong and Dong-jin's days in the village of Kilsodeum, in order to underscore the difference between past and present.


A significant amount of research into reunited families was undertaken prior to the film's production, and the screenplay was written on the basis of this research. During the interviews conducted for the film, the majority of families who had reunited with lost relatives through the TV broadcast reportedly professed regret at having found their family members because of their vastly divergent environments and circumstances. As a result of his findings, Im Kwon-taek became cynical about the unconditional reunion of separated families and the reunification of the two Koreas.

Director Bio: Im Kwon-taek (1936- )

He began his filmmaking career as prop assistant to the lighting assistant, going through the traditional apprenticeship system of Chungmuro to become a film director. And in 1962, he made his directorial debut with "Farewell Tumen River" (Dumangang-a Jal Itgeora), an action film that deals with the plight of the Independence Army of Manchuria. He made "Weeds" (Jabcho), "Jagko" ("Mismatched Nose"), and "The Family Pedigree" (Jogbo) during the 1970s and with his movies of the 1980s, "Gilsotteum" (Kilsodeum), "Ticket" (Tiket), "The Surrogate Woman" (Ssibat-i) and "Mandara" (Mandala), gradually became recognized for his artistry and craftsmanship. He met Lee Tae-won and began working with Taeheung Film Studios starting with his 1989 film "Aje Aje Bara Aje" (Aje Aje Bara Aje) and continued to work consistently with the studio from then on. He achieved box office success with his "The General's Son" (Janggun-ui adeul) series and became a nationally recognized figure with the then unparalleled box office success of "Seopyeonje" (Sopyonje). He won many national and international awards for his works that dealt with traditional Korean themes and motives and many retrospectives of his works were held abroad. In 2002, he won the prize for best director at the Cannes Film Festival with his work, "Chihwaseon" and in 2005, won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Berlin Film Festival for his lifetime effort in film

* The above information was taken from KOFA's website and can be viewed here.

**Future screenings with Darcy will include "Wangshimni", "Mandala", "Genealogy", and "Jagko"

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