The 23rd Busan International Film Festival will honor Lee Jang-ho with a Korean Cinema Retrospective and will screen 8 of his representative films.
Lee Jang-ho is a representative director of the 1970’s and the 1980’s Korean cinema. His debut film, Heavenly Homecoming to Stars (1974) opened to 460,000 audiences, which was extraordinary for that time. He immediately became one of the most prominent directors of that era. Lee came into the spotlight with his social realism, criticizing poverty and oppression in early 1980’s Korea with films such as Good Windy Days (1980), Children of Darkness (1981), Widow Dance (1983), and Declaration of Fools (1983). He became a renowned director again with his erotic films, Between the Knees (1984) and Eoh Wu-dong (1985), and Lee Jang-ho’s Baseball Team (1986), based on Lee Hyun-se’s comic book. Lee Jang-ho, one of the most significant Korean directors in the 1980’s, released The Man with Three Coffins (1987), a masterpiece of Lee’s films. Four of Lee’s films – Heavenly Homecoming to Stars (1974), Good Windy Days (1980), Declaration of Fools (1983), and The Man with Three Coffins (1987) are included in the 2013 edition of The 100 Korean Films listed by the Korean Film Archive. Lee’s achievement in film is undeniably outstanding. Lee was the executive chairman at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival and is currently the chairman of the Seoul Film Commission. Lee’s 8 representative films selected for the Korean Cinema Retrospective will be screened at the 23rd Busan International Film Festival from October 4 to October 13. His old but fascinating films have important implications for both cineasts and new audiences.
Lee Jang-ho’s debut film, Heavenly Homecoming to Stars (1974) is based on a serialized novel of Choi In-ho’s that was first published in newspaper installments. The film opened to 460,000 audiences, crushing domestic box office records. After Kyeong-A (Ahn In-suk), the main character of the film, was dumped by her first love, she becomes the second wife of a man who suffers delusional jealousy. She divorces the man and later becomes a prostitute. Her life story touches all audiences. The film reflects the new wave of the 70’s youth culture with Lee Jang-hee’s songs. The film is also the start of ‘Hostess Melodrama’ films such as Yeong-Ja’s Heydays and Winter Woman.
Good Windy Days (1980) is the film that defines Lee Jang-ho as a critical social realism writer. Ahn Sung-ki returns to the big screen as an adult actor for the first time in this film. Numerous actors such as Kim Seong-chan, Lee Yeong-ho, Yu Ji-in, Kim Bo-yeon, Choi Bool-am, Kim Hee-ra, Park Won-suk, Kim In-moon, Kim Young-ae, and Im Ye-jin provide unforgettable performances. The film was considered a must-see film for other young cineasts at that time. The film describes 1970’s Seoul after the development of Gangnam in southern Seoul. The film is focused on three young impoverished rural men who migrate to an urban life. It also includes different stories from different generations that portray the identification of an era.
Children of Darkness (1981) is based on Lee Cheol-yong’s novel of the same title. The story of the film corresponds to Lee Jang-ho’s other film, Heavenly Homecoming to Stars, in regards to dealing with a woman who becomes a prostitute. The main character of the film, Young-Ae (Na Young-hee)’s dream is to be a singer. She runs away from home and goes to a singer audition despite her parents’ opposition. After the audition, she tries to learn how to sing; however, she is raped and sent to a club band who moves around the local area. She gives birth to a daughter after she begins to live with a man who plays lead saxophone in the club band. Unfortunately, the man is arrested for assault and the daughter dies from pneumonia. Young-Ae later becomes a prostitute who lives a life of hardships in the red-light district.
Widow Dance (1983) is based on Lee Cheol-yong’s novel along with Children of Darkness. The film criticizes society by describing the life of widows who have divorced for different reasons. The film consists of three episodes. The first episode is Mal-suk (Lee Bo-hee), who commits fraud on a suitor to deprive him of money by pretending to be divorced from a rich Korean-Japanese guy. Her fraud is revealed and then she is finally arrested. The second episode is about Mal-suk’s sister-in-law (Park Won-suk). Mal-suk’s sister-in-law becomes a widow after her husband dies in a car accident. The last episode follows the previous two episodes. The widows lead hopeless and on-going lives.
Declaration of Fools (1983), by typical realist film director Lee Jang-ho, adopts the use of innovative film techniques that influence next generation filmmakers. He recorded ironic narration with a children’s voice, shot in low-speed cinematography as seen in classic silent films, and uses the film to express sarcastic acts. The experimental sound of the film is remarkable in mixing electronic game sounds and Buddhist sounds. Lee stated in an interview, “I don’t think that Declaration of Fools was created by myself. The period of dictatorship that overshadowed Korea creates the film. I was forced to make up the story for Declaration of Fools at the beginning of making the film. I was not able to film the movie that I wanted to. I would have quit filming if I had to.” The film reflects a director’s raging spirit that is not afraid of limitations.
Eoh Wu-dong (1985) is a representative erotic film of Lee Jang-ho, with the film Between the Knees (1984). During the Joseon Dynasty reign of King Seongjong, Eoh Wu-dong born of a noble family, falls in love with a lowly man. The true love is forbidden due to the hierarchical nature of society at that time. After a failed suicide attempt, she becomes a Korean geisha who uses her body to tease the nobility. Her family-in-laws attempt to kill her because they do not want the relationship with Eoh Wu-dong noticed. Eoh Wu-dong, the main independent female character, is impressive in regards to being against the male dominant society, unlike the film, Between the Knees (1984).
The Man with Three Coffins (1987) is Lee Jang-ho’s masterpiece work of his subsequent period, based on Lee Je-ha’s novel with the same title. The main character travels with his wife’s ashes who died 3 years earlier. He meets a sick old man and the nurse who cares for him at the motel by chance. The owner of the restaurant delivers a message of the old man’s special offer to take him to Wolsan, but the protagonist denies. After that, women who have had a sexual relationship with the protagonist continuously end up dead under strange circumstances. He meets the nurse again. Lee Bo-hee simultaneously plays three different roles, including a nurse, who meets the protagonist. The film maximizes a surreal mood.
Lee Jang-ho released the feature film, God’s Eye View (2013), 18 years after his feature film, Declaration of Genius (1995). A missionary group comprised of a church minister, a missionary, and a church elder is kidnapped by the Islamic rebel forces. The missionary group is afraid of the rebel forces, who demand the release of the rebel force leader from prison in return for releasing the missionary group. The missionary group begins to distrust each other. They are required to choose between life or a religious belief, revealing each one’s naked truth. They consider taking martyrdom is for granted because of the religious beliefs; however, the real martyrdom is not about committing suicide. They are questioned in regards to neglecting another’s death for a religious belief.