Director:  Shin Seong-il
Year: 1966
Rating: 5.0

Country: Korea

AKA - Choyeon

For months now I have been wanting to get to some of the old Korean films that the Korean Film Archives have generously put up on YouTube in the Korean Classic Film Channel. There must be about hundred or more films from the 1950's through the 1970's and all with English subtitles. It is a treasure that I wish other countries would do. Korea takes a lot of pride in their film legacy and film industry and have marketed their films outside of Korean very successfully.

Now I will be the first to admit that I know absolutely nothing about Korean films from that period - none of the films or actors or directors - so this is all new but unlike other film industries from that period that I have been interested in such as Hong Kong, France, Egypt or even Mexico there seems to be very little out there on the Internet in English. For example I looked up the main actress in this film, Nam Jeong-im, who is an absolute stunner and all I could find out about her is "Nam was commonly referred to as one of the "Troika" along with her rival actresses, Yoon Jeong-hee and Moon Hee of the 1960s and early 1970s". Troika of what I wonder? Beauties? Great actresses? Popular actresses? Melodramatic actresses? Because damn if this film isn't melodrama on steroids. Nam also made a hell of a lot of films in her short career - over 40 in 1967 alone! So I hope to watch a few of these Korean Archive films from time to time and piece together what I can about the films from that period. They will just be random picks - the title Gunsmoke in English intrigued me but there was no gun smoke to be seen here - just a whole lot of tears.

Koreans love their melodramas. If I am cable surfing and come upon a Korean TV show, the chances are about 50/50 that someone is either crying or yelling at someone. This affinity apparently goes way back. I am a little familiar with this genre that I call the Weepies because I have seen so many that Taiwan made in the 1970's often starring Brigitte Lin. They often follow a pattern of love between two people of different economic means or a love triangle or a disease shows up. They are female centric and the stars gather a huge loyal female fan base. Sometimes they end happily ever after or more often in tragedy sending every one home with Kleenex in their hand.

The melodrama here towers above what I have seen in those Taiwanese films. Looking at it from today it feels a little creepy and pathetic actually but back then I expect it was quite effective. We are all so jaded now. Three female friends are on an island for the weekend soaking up the sun and quoting poetry of love and laughing. They return to the shore and find their boat missing but lo and behold a handsome fellow in a motorboat comes by to save them. The man Jin-u (Shin Seong-il) and one of the girls Gyeong-a (Nam) immediately fall for one another and run through the woods and dance under the moon as we all do when we first fall in love.

Gyeong-a goes back to Seoul where she has a job as a tutor in the home of a wealthy family. And it turns out the older son has just returned and he is of course Jin-u. But it is no coincidence - he had seen her photo, went to the island and sank their boat. Ok - romantic I guess but a little stalkerish I would say. Still they fall in love over the objections of his parents - she is a nobody - and have a fake marriage ceremony so that they can go to a hotel - where the concierge puts on a romantic record and later asks if she wants an erotic magazine - and have sex - or so we assume. But then Jin-u introduces her to his brooding handsome romantic painter friend (Lee Soon-jae) who says things like "Is there such a thing as love" and you are thinking to yourself oh oh that was a bad idea. Never introduce your girlfriend to a man better looking than you are who is artistic. Never.

So we see the love triangle coming a mile away and she is like a leaf in the wind blowing from one to the other. At some point you realize Jin-u's parents were right - she is trouble and not good enough for their son. It goes over the top - at one point Jin-u brings out a gun and says to her I want to die - here take this gun and shoot me - I have a will in my pocket to protect you - use the handkerchief so you won't leave fingerprints or powder burns - put the gun in my hand after I am dead and walk away. I am like just shoot yourself!

The two men eventually decide to duke it out - in a wheat field with stalks a mile high - and Gyeong-a is running for miles through the field looking for them as music swells shouting out their names as they beat the crap out of one another. But putting that aside - either you like this sort of thing or you avoid it like a newly discovered plague - the film in black and white is beautifully shot and the acting is good even when they have to give these solemn flowery speeches that would thrill the heart of a sixteen year old girl. So my first film in this collection wasn't a total success but I was impressed enough by aspects of it and will return for more.