Sorrow Even Up in Heaven AKA Jeo haneuledo seulpeumi
R0 - South Korea - Korean Film Archive/Blue Kino
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (24th August 2015).
The Film

A family consisting of 4 children and a father is kicked out of their home and forced to live in an abandoned shack near a dirty river. The oldest son, the 11 year old Yun-bok (played by Kim Cheong-man) must take care of his younger siblings since the gambling-addicted father (played by Jang Min-ho) is not in the healthiest condition. Yun-bok is the only one attending school, and must even ask permission from his deadbeat father to attend. It is his only escape from the cruelty at home, but he doesn’t stop there. Yun-bok and the eldest sister Sun-na (played by Jeong Hae-jeong) sell gum on the streets of Daegu to make money which is both dangerous and difficult. His teacher (played by Jo Mi-ryeong) is not the most understanding, as she thinks he is a troublemaker and makes him clean the entire classroom alone when he arrives late for school. Not everyone in the school feels the same, as the female classmate Gyeong-ae (played by Jeon Yeong-seon) willingly helps him clean.

One day when Yun-bok arrives at school in his usual raggedy clothes and dirty lice-covered hair, a male teacher Mr. Kim (played by Shin Young-kyun) is very concerned, so he offers to cut and shampoo Yun-Bok’s hair for free in the schoolyard. Mr. Kim asks Yun-Bok’s teacher for his file, which happens to include diary entries that brings Mr. Kim to tears. The bullying, the father’s gambling addiction, the hardship of finding enough food for his family, and the yearning to see his mother again (played by Ju Jeung-nyeo) who left the family years ago. The family gets torn apart even further, as the father decides to move away to find work in the factory city of Ulsan, leaving the 4 kids on their own at the shack. Yun-bok tries to be the good older brother and leader of the siblings, but frustration leads to anger, and eventually Sun-na decides to leave the family to find a better life on her own. The family is now down to three, with Yun-bok having to look after the younger sister Tae-sun (played by Lee Ji-yeon) and the younger brother Yun-sik (played by Kim Yong-yeon).

Mr. Kim asks his friend Yong-ung (played by Bang Su-il) to take the diaries of Yun-bok to Seoul to a publishing house, as the stories are so heartbreaking and painful that they are meant to be read by the public to raise awareness of children in poverty. Yong-ung reads the diaries and agrees, as he says that the stories brought him to tears as well. After visiting multiple publishers, one place finally decides to give it a go. All seems to be turning towards the right direction with the published book becoming hugely successful in sales and Mr. Kim being heralded by the schoolboard for his work concerning the schoolchildren, but when he tries to tell Yun-bok the good news that people are touched and want to help, it is too late, as Yun-bok and Tae-sun hopped a freight train towards Seoul to try to find Sun-na. Will Yun-bok ever have his family reunited? Or will his family be separated even further?

“Sorrow Even Up in Heaven” was originally published in a newspaper in 1964, accounting the stories of the real Lee Yun-bok, who went through poverty and hardship. Later, the published book entitled “Sorrow Even Up in Heaven: The Human Cries of an 11 Year Old Boy” and like the portrayal in the film was a big success in sales and bringing awareness to the social issue of children living in poverty. Director Kim Soo-yong, read the original story and knew instantly that it had to be made into a feature film. His production team used scenarios from the original story, interviewed the Lee Yun-bok for further research and produced with Shin Sang-ok’s production company “Sorrow Up in Heaven” in 1965.

Some scenes are especially difficult to watch, like when Yun-bok is beaten on the head by the street thug and starts to bleed as he cries, the multiple times that he cries out for his mother in which she appears in dream sequences, the truck carrying away homeless children looking more like a dog catcher’s caged truck, and when Yun-bok is stripped naked by some men as he cries is one of the most disturbing moments in the film. Filmed in Cinemascope mostly in Daegu and some scenes in Seoul for a month period, the atmosphere of the seemingly 2 different worlds of poverty and rich were captured very well. City scenes show the hustle and bustle, with buses and cars, modern cafes, and popular music and fashion. While the poverty scenes show dirty shacks, filthy rivers, and empty spaces. The 1960’s were a changing time for South Korea, as it was an era of modernization post Korean War. The scene in which Yun-bok visits Gyeong-ae’s house is a great example of the changes. There is a television in the living room, westernized facilities, yet a sense of Korean-ness with the mother wearing a traditional “hanbok”. Kim was concerned about the pacing of Korean films, as many felt Korean films at the time and in the 50’s as very slow in pacing compared to foreign films. “Sorrow Up in Heaven” featured more cuts than other films of the period, and also featured many more dolly and tracking movements. For this the director and the camera crew invented a special small camera crane, which helped with shots move smoothly without a track having to be laid out. Although this was 10 years before “Rocky” first used the waist attached Steadicam, the innovation was for similar effect. The camera often tracks actors and their movements, giving an excellent sense of space while also holding composition. Kim stated that the composition of the characters and objects within the frame was very important and each shot had intention, wasting nothing in the frames.

Considering the film is held together by child actors, they come off quite naturally. Kim Cheong-man made his acting debut playing Yun-bok in “Sorrow Even Up in Heaven” at the young age of 10 years old. He definitely carries the emotional core of the film, and considering that he had no acting experience prior, the performance is quite good. He continued in film even reprising his role in the 1970 sequel (which was directed by Lee Sang-eon) and more recently in television. Jeon Yeong-seon who played the friendly classmate was actually a well-known child actress, debuting in 1958 and appearing in “A Bonanza” (1961), “Goryeojang” (1963), “The Marines Who Never Returned” (1963) and later in her career in “Assassin” (1969) and “Wangshibri: My Hometown” (1976).

Shin Young-kyun who played the caring teacher Mr. Kim was one of the most prolific Korean actors of the time, playing in films such as “Ah! Baekbeom Kim Ku” (1960), “Five Marines” (1961) and “Bloodline” directed by Kim Soo-yong in 1963 and also "The Seashore Village" by Kim Soo-yong, released a few months after "Sorrow". His career continued in the 1960’s and 1970’s with an impressive average of working in over 10 films per year. Later in his career, he became chairman of the South Korean Olympic committee and worked as chairman in various broadcasting associations. Jang Min-ho who played the father was already an established actor since the 1950’s and worked with Kim Soo-yong on “The Heir”, which was released the same year as “Sorrow Even Up in Heaven”. He later appeared in many productions including the 1970 sequel film, “Ilwol: The Sun and the Moon” (1967) and “Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War” (2004). Jo Mi-ryeong who played the teacher had quite a resume as an actress prior to “Sorrow Even Up in Heaven”, playing in “The Love Marriage” (1958), “A Female Boss” (1959), “Ah! Baekbeom Kim Ku” (1960), “A Bonanza” (1961), and “Bloodline” (1963). Although she is one of the more recognizable names, her role is very limited here. Another limited performance is of the mother played by Ju Jeung-nyeo, as her character is more or less in flashbacks only. She also starred in “Ah! Baekbeom Kim Ku” (1960), “The Housemaid” (1960), “Goryeojang” (1963), “The Barefooted Young” (1964), “Yongary” (1967), “Mist” for Kim Soo-yong in 1967, and “Night Journey” also for Kim Soo-yong in 1977.

The film was the highest grossing, highest attended film in South Korea in 1965 and the story has been continued or remade several times over the years. As mentioned before, the sequel film was made in 1970 as “Is There Sadness in Heaven?” (The Korean title is the same as the original which is confusing) with most of the principal cast reprising their roles, continuing the story of Yon-buk as a high school student. In 1984, 20 years after the original story was published, Kim Soo-yong remade his own film but updated the setting to the 1980’s with “Sadness Even in the Sky” (again the Korean title is the same as the 1965 original). In 2007 it was remade again, but was not a box office success.

The film won the “Best Film” and “Best Director” awards at the 3rd Blue Dragon Film Awards and submitted for competition in the 26th Venice Film Festival.

Note this is a region 0 NTSC DVD, playable in any DVD player worldwide.

Video

Over the years, “Sorrow Even Up in Heaven” was considered a lost film. Many Korean film companies went bankrupt and shut down or merged with other companies, neglecting much of the earlier work. Film were abandoned or stored in terrible conditions, so almost 40% of Korea’s film history has been lost. In 2014, at the Chinese Taipei Film Archive in Taiwan, a print of the film was miraculously found, and the DVD was made from that lone print.

The film is presented in the original anamorphic 2.35:1 cinemascope ratio. The Chinese Taipei Film Archive stated the 35mm print was “not in good condition, but viewable”, which seems like an overstatement. The film was copied and the new duplicate print was sent to the Korean Film Archive for their vaults, and for this DVD release. The DVD is in a pretty good watchable state, with grey levels being a bit light due to fading, but details are still fine. Most of the film is covered in the usual scratches and dirt, but much of it has had a bit of digital cleaning to make it less noticeable. Though end reels look extremely worn, with the scratches looking like heavy rain in a thunderstorm. Luckily it only lasts for short periods. Korean Film Archive did a stellar job with the transfer.

Another point is the 35mm print includes burned-in Mandarin (Traditional - Taiwan) subtitles on the bottom of the screen. It is not too distracting, but there is a very questionable point about the subtitles which will be discussed in the audio/subtitle portion.

The film runs uncut with a runtime of 104:24 including the restoration credits.















Audio

The audio is Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 dual mono.
The soundtrack is limited in its fidelity, considering the age of the film, but dialogue sounds clear, the music cues including the theme song “The Ibis” (“Ttaogi”) sounds great. There are no hisses or popping sounds at all. The audio restoration is on par with the image restoration.

There are optional English, Japanese, and Korean subtitles for the film, in a white font. Subtitles are easy to read. The English translation is great, although there are the one or two questionable translations, like a character saying ”Why do you go…” instead of ”Why don’t you go…”.

As mentioned prior, there are burned-in Traditional Mandarin subtitles on the image, which was part of the film that was found at the Chinese Taipei Film Archive. One thing that is very questionable for readers of Mandarin, is that during scenes that Yun-bok has a dream or a daydream about his mother returning, on the bottom of the screen it would say “Dream”. Did the Taiwanese distributor think Taiwanese audiences were too dumb to figure out it was a dream sequence or not? It is a suspense killer. Imagine if the hospital scene in “An American Werewolf in London” had “Dream” written on the screen, or if “Inception” had the same - it would absolutely ruin the surprise. The beginning of the film also has some Mandarin subtitles when there is no dialogue at all, to give a short prologue which isn’t quite necessary.

Extras

Audio commentary by director Kim Soo-yong and professor at Korea National University of Arts Kim So-young
Recorded recently, director Kim Soo-yong has fond memories of the film, the reception, and about the time period in the Korean film industry. Professor Kim So-young gives some additional information on the film as she interviews the director, and an analysis of the film. The two talk about the casting process, the building of the special camera crane, and the director points out trivia such as director Lee Chang-dong making an appearance as a student in the classroom, but he is not sure which child it is. Also mentioned in a lengthy portion is director Kim’s friendship with Nagisa Oshima and Donald Richie, and his reaction to finally seeing Oshima’s documentary short about a homeless South Korean child “Yunbogi’s Diary”, which was inspired by “Sorrow Even Up in Heaven” and Chris Marker’s “La Jetee”. They also talk about the similarities to the 1940 film “Tuition”, which was also released on DVD by KOFA recently. It’s a great commentary, and one of the best that Kim Soo-yong has done.
In Korean with optional English and Korean subtitles

“Image Gallery” is a slideshow of film stills and posters.

32-Page Book
As with all Korean Film Archive sets, the informative booklet is half in Korean and half in English with film information, director biographies, and essays. The essays consist of “A Prolific Master’s Dramatic Folds, with Sharp Edges” a multi-part essay by professor Kim Yeong-jin and “Encountering Sorrow Even Up in Heaven in Taipei” by professor Kim So-yong, who does the commentary track.

There is no documentary or featurette on the restoration which would have been nice to see, but considering the wealth of material in the book and the commentary, it’s a good set of extras.

Packaging

The DVD of “Sorrow Even Up in Heaven” is packaged in a clear amaray keep case with doublesided artwork, housed in a slipcase which holds the case and the 32-page book. It should be noted the case has color artwork, but the film is in the original black & white.

Overall

“Sorrow Even Up in Heaven” was a lost classic that is now finally able to be seen by future audiences, and appreciated further. Definitely one of Korean Film Archive’s best DVDs. Hopefully the 1970 sequel which is still a lost film will be found, and also hopefully the 1984 remake (which is not lost) will be available from Korean Film Archive soon. It makes a great companion piece to “Tuition” which like “Sorrow” was lost for many years and finally found in 2014. Currently this title is not available on the Korean Film Archive YouTube Channel and is exclusively available on DVD.

The Film: A Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: B Overall: B+

 


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