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Year: 1934
Director: Ahn Jong-hwa
Re-directed by: Kim Tae-yong (김태용)
Cast: Lee Wan-yong, Shin Il-seon, Kim Yeo-sil
Runtime: 70 min

This post is part of the Korean Cinema Blogathon 2012, which runs from March 5-11. Featuring the best of posts on Korean film from blogs around the web, the blogathon is hosted by CineAwesome this year and mirrored by New Korean CinemaVCinemaKOFFIAHangul Celluloid and Modern Korean Cinema.

Seen at a special screening organised by the KCCUK at the annual Thames Festival (London) in September 2011.

Being Korea’s oldest surviving film, 청춘의 십자로 (Cheongchunui shibjaro/Crossroads of Youth) is a production you are unlikely to ever see as it screens so rarely. Yet reviewing it is worthwhile, simply for the reason to encourage you to go watch it if you should ever happen to be so lucky to come across a performance.

‘Performance’ is the keyword here. Ever since Cheongchunui shibjaro was dug out from the archives and rediscovered as a masterpiece from times long ago, care has been taken to provide modern viewers with an experience just like Korean audiences had when it first premiered in 1934. Under the direction of Kim Tae-yong (known for films like 여고괴담 두번째 이야기/Memento Mori, 1999; 가족의 탄생/Family Ties, 2006; 만추 – 晚秋/Late Autumn, 2010) a number of screenings have been put on around the world, ‘performing’ the silent film with live narration by the 변사 (byeonsa, provided by Cho Hee-bong at the 2011 Thames Festival) and musical accompaniment (Kang Pil-suk, Lim Moon-Hee, Shin Ji-a, Park Hye-sung and Kim Chang-hyun), creating an experience unlike any other – utterly strange in a way but fascinating all the while.

The story of Cheongchunui shibjaro (taken from the flyer handed out at the Thames Festival):

Yong-bok has married into Bong-sun’s family. There he works hard for 7 years, only to see his wife leave him for another man. Putting this stinging betrayal behind him, Young-bok leaves his rural hometown, elderly mother, and younger sister, Young-ok, to make a name for himself in Seoul. There, Young-bok falls for Kye-soon, a young woman who lives a pitiful life supporting her ill father and younger sister. Back in the countryside, Young-bok’s mother passes away, and Young-ok goes to Seoul to look for her brother. Instead, she meets Kye-chul, who assaults both her and Young-bok’s new love. After hearing about his girlfriend’s plight, Young-bok rushes to Kye-chul’s house, where he unexpectedly reunites with his sister. After hearing her story, Young-bok decides to take his revenge on Kye-chul.

Cheongchunui shibjaro takes us back to a completely different era of filmmaking and viewing – Hazanavicius’s L’artiste (The Artist, 2011), lovely as it was, still is a technically-polished production of the 21st century, while Cheongchunui shibjaro truly invokes another time. It provides a glimpse into the social structures of a Korea some eighty years ago and tackles issues that prevalent back then: family loyalty, marriage, gender roles and a rural society slowly transforming into a more urban one. It also raises the issue of rape, offering a message that is surprisingly hopeful and more progressive than some contemporary takes, which still often relegate it a taboo. Indeed, an old film though it may be, Cheongchunui shibjaro has plenty to teach modern audiences.

I myself watched Cheongchunui shibjaro after working at the Thames Festival all day. Tired I was, very ready to head home, even more so with the light rain that was coming down. I told myself I would stay ten minutes or so, but, unable to tear myself away, left an hour and a half later – still tired and cold, but feeling exhilarated. This, I think, says everything about the brilliance of the original film and the superb restaging under Kim Tae-yong’s direction.

Overall verdict: Highly recommended – don’t miss it if you ever get the chance to see it.

Bonus Bits:

  • Review of a New York performance of Cheongchunui shipjaro
  • UPDATE 30/5/2012: Another review, based on a new performance, this time in Seoul. Note the sentence at the end: “The film is scheduled to be screened at the former Seoul Station in June and in London during August.”
  • UDPATE 5/8/2012: A review of the August 2012 performance in London.
  • Flyer from the 2011 Thames Festival (large image file, may take a while to load): 

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