Shin Dong-hun Animation Collection
R0 - South Korea - Korean Film Archive/Blue Kino
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (30th July 2016).
The Film

“Shin Dong-hun Animation Collection”

The Korean Film Archive’s latest DVD collection is a set of two feature films directed by Shin Dong-hun, who directed the first feature length animated South Korean film. The films in the set are not available separately.

“A Story of Hong Gil-dong” (1967)

The powerful politician minister Hong is having a birthday celebration when he is visited by a fortune teller who tells him in secret that the Hong family has a distressing future. Minister Hong is told that his illegitimate son Gil-dong will cause calamity if kept as part of the family. As the minister decides that the future of his entire family is more important than that of one who could bring everything down, he heartbreakingly tells Gil-dong that he is no longer part of the family and must leave the following day. The teenaged Gil-dong is devastated by the news, and even worse is that he finds out the fortune is a lie - as it was due to his father’s wife Lady Choran, who paid a fortune teller to give the news so the illegitimate son would be disowned. Rather than fight back, he decides to journey out into the world where he first encounters a young bandit who tries to rob him.

The young bandit is Chadol Bawi who started robbing after the death of his father, who was killed by the evil local magistrate Eon Ga-jin. The magistrate is a money hungry man who taxes the locals at high rates and gives severe beatings to those who cannot comply. After hearing the story, Hong-gil decides to help Chadol Bawi by getting revenge on the magistrate. With his strong martial arts background, Hong-gil is able to take down the magistrate’s guards singlehandedly and also embarrassingly beats the magistrate easily. With the riches and property distributed back to the local people, Hong-gil becomes a bandit hero for the people, but this does not bode well for the beaten magistrate who will do whatever it takes to get his own revenge…

The character of Hong Gil-dong is one of the most well known characters in Korean literature as a hero for the common people. The original novel, the first to be written in the currently adopted Hangul Korean letters, was written in the 16th or 17th century with a very similar tone to Robin Hood - of robbing the rich to help the poor and with “Journey to the West” - a tale of adventures and misadventures filled with mysticism and the unknown. It seems fitting that the very first animated feature length production for South Korea would be about one of their most beloved characters.

Shin Dong-hun worked as an illustrator and cartoonist and later as an animator starting in 1960. The Segi Company was a theatrical distributor who made huge profits with Disney animated films in South Korea, and they approached Shin Dong-hun after seeing his production company’s animated work for commercial advertisements. Shin chose to make a film about Hong Gil-dong, as the character is very well known and also because his brother Shin Dong-woo illustrated an original series of Hong Gil-dong comics in a weekly newspaper with new adventures and new characters. In 1965 tests for production started but it was a grueling effort of trial and error. Celluloid film was not available in South Korea at the time, but they were able to obtain alternative vinyl material from the US military for a cheap price. A staff of thirty inexperienced people worked on the film for nearly two years, using equipment and materials that they had never used before, working on a script with constant revisions, and constantly working under tiring conditions. The finished film was completed and screened in theaters on January 21st 1967 and was a huge success. Children flocked to the theaters as well as adults, seeing for the first time a full feature film made by Koreans for Koreans with a Korean story.

Shin said that the very first animated feature he had ever watched was Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” after World War II and it shows that early Disney animation had been a significant influence on “A Story of Hong Gil-dong”. The animals like the baby tiger scene and the pig wearing the guard’s clothing are reminiscent of Disney animals in the features as well as the short subjects, with slight anthropomorphic elements - though no singing or talking. The scene of the skeletons dancing and the bats flying in the mysterious cave is similar to that of the landmark Disney short “The Skeleton Dance” (1929), although in this film, the skeletons dance to a surf-guitar based 60s instrumental. The fight scenes are like the early sound cartoons of Disney and Warner shorts, with lots of repeated animation for the hundreds of bandits and guards running and battling. The technique seems extremely outdated in terms of worldwide 1960s animation, with Disney leading the way in America and Toei leading theatrical animation in Japan. The characters are fully expressed with body language from eyes popping out, necks moving back and forth, and constant movement, rather than still performances seen in many cheaper television animation works with only mouths being replaced.

As for the story, with a short runtime of only 67 minutes, it’s amazing how much story is crammed into the finished film. This is a slightly negative point as it moves from one plot point to another so quickly that it barely gives time for characterization and environment. But people were already familiar with Gil-dong, and modern audiences who read the comics knew of Chadol Bawi - who was not in the original story but was an addition to the comic version created by Shin Dong-woo.

“A Story of Hong Gil-dong” was an important part of South Korean cinema history but unfortunately was forgotten for a 40 year period as the original Korean film prints were lost and only soundtrack elements survived. It was in 2008 that two film prints were discovered in Japan - one in Kobe and one in Tokyo. They were both 16mm prints that were dubbed in Japanese and added Japanese credit sequences. The Japanese print was resynched to the Korean language soundtrack and a new 35mm element was created. The new master was restored in 2K and now has been given new life by the Korean Film Archive for future generations to see the long lost film.

”Hopi and Chadol Bawi” (1967)

Chadol Bawi is on his own again after Hong Gil-dong is off to study, which leaves him eager to learn swordfighting to be as great as Hong Gil-dong was. While trying to sleep in the forest, a band of wolves try to attack him. Only armed with his little axe, he does not have a fighting chance of survival. Though he gets knocked out, a mysterious man takes down all the wolves and saves the unconscious Chadol Bawi. In town, Chadol Bawi learns that there is a powerful swordsman as fast as lightning named Hopi, who is a wanted man by the local government. As he is certain that Hopi was the one that saved him from the wolves, he sets off on a journey to find the wanted man and to learn swordfighting from him.

Along the way, he meets a fat bandit named Gomsoe who becomes a very useful ally, they meet the men who are trying to capture Hopi dead or alive, and the lovely Goeun - a woman who believes in the two boys rather than the men of power. Why is Hopi a wanted man? And what do the men in power want from him?

Following the massive success of ”A Story of Hong Gil-dong”, Shin Dong-hun productions was under pressure to make a follow-up film. But due to arguments and turmoil with Segi Productions, director Shin Dong-hun decided to produce a sequel elsewhere - this time with Hapong Films. As the animators learned what to do and what not to do, the process was much smoother but was still under heavy pressure from the film company to make a feature as fast as possible. Since the follow-up film was to be produced by a differing company, Shin avoided copyright issues by NOT including the main character of Hong Gil-dong in the sequel, but this time using the characters solely created by Shin Dong-woo - Hopi the wanted swordsman, Gomsoe the fat bandit were new additions while Chadol Bawi from the first film would be the only recurring character from the first.

The film was more fine-tuned compared to the first. The pacing of the story was much better with time given to each of the characters and scenarios - the editing was much better and there are better character connections. Like the first film, there is good vs. evil, an adventure filled with magic and swordsplay, and fun characters throughout. As most of the animators were the same as on the first film, the artwork was still in the same world, with beautiful colors, great backgrounds, and character movements. Nothing in the sequel is particularly upgraded in terms of technology, but one particular point that is amazing to think is that “Hopi and Chadol Bawi” was completed and released theatrically only 5 months after the first film. The film premiered in August 1967 and was a hit just like its predecessor. Unfortunately for Shin, the pressures of film distributors overseeing the productions and time constraints made things extremely difficult. The number of staff involved along with the production costs were overwhelming. After only two feature length films, Shin stepped down from directing features and concentrated on animated shorts, television work, and other work. Shin’s production company’s early animators would go on to further work in the future in the west, notably KimDae-jung who worked on shows such as ”The Real Ghost Busters” and Nelson Shin who directed the 1986 “Transformers Movie” and supervised animation on “The Simpsons”.

South Korean animation has not had a very large success on film screens compared to that of Japan or America, but many Japanese and American animation productions have their animation work outsourced to South Korea with a large number of production companies currently based there. Ironically most of the Korean animators working these days could not watch and experience the earliest Korean animation features because there was no way to see them. With this DVD release from the Korean Film Archive, future generations will finally be able to see this important turning point in Korean film history with Shin Dong-hun’s animated features.

Note this is a region 0 NTSC DVD which can be played back on any Blu-ray and DVD player worldwide

Video

The Korean Film Archive / Blue Kino presents both features in the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (anamorphic) in the NTSC standard. Yes, unusually for a 1.33:1 presentation, the films are presented in 16:9 with black bars on the left and right sides. For widescreen televisions the image should look fine, but on older 4:3 monitors the image will be windowboxed with black bars on all four sides of the frame.

”A Story of Hong Gil-dong” as stated earlier was a lost film for nearly 40 years with the original Korean film prints missing in its home country. With the discovery of two dubbed in Japanese 16mm film prints in at the Planet Biblioteque archives in Kobe and at Digital Meme in Tokyo, the Japanese 16mm elements were resynched with the existing Korean audio track, the film was then remastered in 2K. Colors were digitally corrected and stabilized, the picture wobble was also stabilized, dust, specs, and large grain were reduced to create a new master and also new 35mm elements. The result is outstanding. While most of the film is in a dark and muted color scheme, there are some seriously beautiful exceptions. Colors such as the magistrate’s pink robe, the dark shadows in the first fight scene look wonderful. Grain itself is still visible and scratches were not completely removed. Also animation errors were not corrected or the sake of keeping with the original animation. The original Japanese credits were not recreated in Korean and are kept here with the Japanese title card, Japanese credits and Japanese prologue text. It’s amazing that the film looks as good as it does considering the fate it had.

The runtime for ”A Story of Hong Gil-dong” is (67:11).













”Hopi and Chadol Bawi” was not a lost film and the original negative elements were stored at the Korean Film Archive. This HD transfer of the film looks as good but it hasn’t gone through the 2K restoration of the first film. Corrections were applied, but there are scratches and dust on the image. Animation errors inherent to the original print are still visible like light fingerprint marks or dust on the cells. For positives, the colors are stable and beautiful especially in forest scenes with deep greens and clothes standing out. One unfortunate point is that the original negative of the film did not include the original credits. The opening where the text was to be overlayed is missing, so the film’s first minute is a static shot with music only. If the subtitle key is turned on, the credits will appear in subtitle form.

The runtime for ”Hopi and Chadol Bawi” is (74:38).











Audio

Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Both films have the original Korean mono track and they sound good, though imperfect. Hisses, pops, and cracks have been removed but due to the recording process and fidelity issues, there is some distortion heard in certain dialogue scenes. Music and effects sound clear, and there are no missing elements. Unfortunately the Japanese dubbed soundtrack of the first film is not available on the set, nor is it available anywhere else.

Both films include optional English, Japanese, Korean subtitles in a white font. The subtitles are able to be changed by subtitle remote button during playback. The English subtitles are well translated but there were some two or three errors in spelling found such as “Someone calle Long Beard”. The subtitles translated all dialogue, title cards, and credits. As stated with the missing credits in the second film, the missing credits are available only with the subtitles on.

Extras

The ”Shin Dong-hun Animation Collection” is a two disc set and is divided as follows:

DISC ONE
* "A Story of Hong Gil-dong" (67:11)

Audio commentary by filmmaker Yeon Sang-ho and animation critic Na Ho-won
Yeon Sang-ho, the director of animated features such as “The King of Pigs” (2011) and “Seoul Station” (2016) talks with critic Na Ho-won about the landmark film. The two discuss about the rediscovery of the Japanese prints, the differences between the original comic and the film, and the varying animation styles used.
in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English and Korean subtitles

"The General's Mustache" animation sequence directed by Shin Dong-hun (3:04)
"The General's Mustache" was a live action film directed by Lee Seong-gu in 1968. One narrated sequence of the film was animated by Shin Dong-hun and is presented here in full. The sequence is slightly blurry in shots, but colors look good, and there are minimal dust and specs. Compared with the transfer of the full length film in the Lee Seong-gu Collection, it looks identical.
in anamorphic 2.35:1, in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 mono with optional English and Korean subtitles

Image Gallery
A gallery of stills of sequences from the film. There are no posters, no photos of the crew, no promotional goods.

DISC TWO

* "Hopi and Chadol Bawi" (74:38)

Interview with director Shin Dong-hun (72:10)
This feature length interview film was made over the course of four meetings between May 20th and June 16th 2008 with the director by the Korean Film Archive. The director talks about his family life such as being the 5th brother in a family of 7 brothers, his father being a calligrapher, and being interested in illustration. He happened to be classmates with influential film director Shin Sang-ok in middle school and he has many interesting stories about Shin Sang-ok as a troubling student. He also gets into his life as an illustrator, artist, and eventually animator working on advertisements and then on the features. He shares a lot of information on the animation process, the troubles in production, and how he became disillusioned with the feature film business altogether. A very fascinating talk.
in non-anamorphic 1.33:1, in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English and Korean subtitles.

Image Gallery
This gallery has one theatrical poster along with character art stills.

36 Page Booklet
As with all Korean Film Archive titles, there is a bilingual Korean and English booklet. Included are cast & crew listings, synopsis for both films, information about the rediscovery of the first film and the restoration process, plus three essays. First is ”Director of South Korea’s First Feature-Length Color Animation, Shin Dong-hun” by film historian Sim Hyekyong, ”One Man’s Adventure to Reclaim His Father, and South Korea’s First Feature-Length Animation: A Story of Hong Gil-dong” by animation museum director Han Seung-tae, and ”Director Shin Dong-hun’s Second Feature Animation: Hopi and Chadol Bawi”. The third essay is uncredited.

The content included in the set is absolutely a great treasure trove of history with great supplemental content but there are some things missing. Director Shin’s animated opening credits sequence in ”Horse Year Bride” (1966) is not included here, and neither are the mentioned commercials made for Jinro and other companies. The commercials may not be in the KOFA archives, but the ”Horse Year Bride” is available on DVD from the Korean Film Archive in the Kim Kee-duk Collection.

Packaging

The two discs are housed in a digi-pack case. The digi-pack and 36 page booklet are housed in a hard slipbox. Very stylish.

Overall

The Korean Film Archive should be highly commended for releasing the ”Shin Dong-hun Animation Collection” and their work done to preserve these landmark animated films. The transfers are excellent, the extras are plentiful and fully subtitled in English, plus the films are a lot of fun. Highly recommended. As of this writing, neither film is currently available on the Korean Film Archive YouTube Channel.

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

 


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