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Ko - production in Busan
  • by Pierce Conran /  Dec 24, 2019

  • 1963|110 MIN | Drama, Epic/Historical 
    DIRECTOR KIM Ki-young
    CAST KIM Jin-gyu, JU Jeung-nyeo, SONG Eok
    RELEASE DATE March 15, 1963
    CONTACT Korean Film Archive
    Tel : +82 2 3153 2001 
    Fax : +82 2 3153 2080 

    KIM Ki-young remains most famous for his five-film cycle that began in 1960 with The Housemaid and ended with Carnivorous Animal in 1984, but his other works are nowadays increasingly gaining appreciation. Among these is the wickedly gruesome and breathlessly entertaining period piece Goryeojang, which was released in 1963.  

    During the Goryeo Era, a poor village follows the custom of ‘Goryeojang’ which involves bringing people over the age of 70 to the top of the Sacred Peak where they are left to die. Widow Geum marries again and moves to the village with her young son Guryong. They live with her new hus-band and his ten sons but when the local shaman prophecies that Guryong will bring about the death of the ten sons, the brothers conspire to poison Guryong using snake bite. He survives but his crippled for life and soon Geum leaves her husband and moves with her son to a small piece of land. Over the next 35 years, a grown-up Guryong is forced to face the wicked brothers several times and particularly during a three-year-long drought that brings the community to its knees. The shaman is once again called upon and she foretells that rain will come again if Guryong brings his elderly mother up to the Sacred Peak.

    Though likely influenced by KINOSHITA Keisuke’s The Ballad of Narayama from 1958, Goryeojang is a KIM Ki-young film through and through, with deliciously macabre touches throughout (including a shocking sequence of human sacrifice during a deranged shaman ritual), that foreshadow his later works such as Ieoh Island (1977), A Woman after a Killer Butterfly (1978) and Ban Geum-ryun (1981).

    Beyond its risqué elements, Goryeojang is also impressive for its gorgeous soundstage sets and cinematography as well as its aggressive and foreboding plotting. Characters act out of primal or tribal necessity throughout the film, which leaves very little room for goodness, though Geum and a young girl that appears later on in the story offer faint glimpses of it, only to be ruthlessly extinguished later on.

    Unfortunately, while the film exists through a beautifully restored print supervised by the Korean Film Archive (KOFA), the third and sixth of the film’s ten reels have been lost and existing prints only play sound during those intervals, with subtitles for the dialogue and in some version stage directions written on screen, which were taken from the original shooting script.
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