A Beauty [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - South Korea - Beatball Music Group
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (12th August 2018).
The Film

"A Beauty" <미인> <美人> (1975)

The three piece rock band Yup Juns are having a rough time as musicians. Comprised of the lovestruck guitarist and vocalist Hyun (played by Shin Joong-hyun), bassist Kkong-chi (played by Lee Nam-yi) whose and long face and mustache is given the nickname "Mackerel", and fit drummer Dong-ho (played by Kwon Yong-nam), the trio's psychedelic funk is angering their landlord (played by Lee Ill-woong) with the loudness and getting no gigs at local venues. There is one person that is fond of their music and their drive and that is a beautiful girl (played by Kim Mi-yeong) who lives in the same building. A college girl, she offers the band members money for rent they cannot pay, cooks food for them, and quietly gives them support. The band is ready to give up, but while at a restaurant a few college kids working part time offer the band a gig to play music at the establishment as a house band, bringing in a youthful crowd and eventually leading to interest from record executives. But with newfound fame comes a distance from their roots, as well as Hyun's infatuation with the beautiful girl becoming a further and further dream...

Musician Shin Joong-hyun pioneered the South Korean music scene by introducing a local brand of rock music with his band Add4 from 1962 and continuing through the decade and into the 1970s. He formed the psychedelic trio Shin Jung Hyun & Yup Juns in the early 1970s that caused a bit of a ruckus with the government with their anti-establishment themes placed in their music, leading to government bans of their songs, including the 1974 hit "A Beauty" <미인>, from their million-selling debut album. Though the song itself was not in particular critical or political, the government banned it for "undesirable social influence", along with 45 other popular songs for other differing reasons. But even with the ban, it didn't stop the group from delving into a new step in media - through cinema with a deal with filmmaker Shin Sang-ok's Shin Productions. Films such as The Beatles' "Help!", The Monkees' "Head", and The Folk Crusaders' "Three Resurrected Drunkards" showcased rock bands playing semi-fictionalized versions of themselves on screen (although it can be argued The Monkees were already a fictionalized band in the first place), all to the delight of music fans and introducing rock and visuals in a new form other than a concert film, in the days before MTV.

"A Beauty" was an extremely rushed project with only a three month production schedule and the band having little if no input for the script, written by Kim Ha-lim. Filled with dream sequences, a fairly non-sensical narrative of the band's simple rags to riches story with silly humor, but also including some social issues such as class struggles and generational conflict. The story itself is a weak point, as there are some too^good to be true elements and points that do not have consequential value. How did the band look to support themselves all the time before the beginning of the film? No day jobs to support themselves at all? Dong-ho's mother appears in one scene to lure him to return home, but suddenly as he walks away it turns into a bizarre yet hilarious Kung Fu sequence showcasing the drummer's real martial arts skills. Was there any particular purpose for mother to appear in one scene that does not move the plot forward? The dialogue itself is plain, simple, and yes very seemingly rushed with little effort into lyrical poetry as one would expect from musicians. And to add to that, the acting by musicians do not add to much in terms of greatness, though they are not bad. Just not able to execute a broad range compared to the other actors in the production. Though on the plus side the songs itself have the lyrical poetry expected for some scenes, as half of the musical segments are psychedelic instrumentals. Other fun moments include parodies (or inspiration...?) from films such as "The Graduate" which also uses (or steals?) the theme song "The Sound of Silence" in a dream sequence and the numerous music performance scenes by Yup Juns with the direction courtesy of director Lee Hyoung-pyo uses skewed camera angles, lens flares, rapid editing, and bold colors for great psychedelic effect not seen in the average feature film at the time. It is definitely a visual delight to watch for the film's use of colors and cinematography.

"A Beauty" took the name from the band's hit song but ironically it was not included in the finished feature due to the government ban. The film is critical of the gap between the youth culture as seen with the band's struggles to fame and acceptance plus the violent acts by the neighboring "old" establishments. Most of the film is comprised of a fairly young cast and the scenes of older people are ones separating the youth or destroying what the youth are putting together. An interesting indirect jab at the military led strict government of President Park Chung-hee while also a look at the ever changing South Korean culture. But it is not only about generations. In one scene a girl is beat up by college girls her age, as they find out she is not an actual student but only posing as one. As at the time only a small percentage of women attended college it was looked at as an unfair for a person to be part of the "elite" college educated women at the time. The social issues are prevalent in the narrative but they are not the central force. Here it is all about the music and the Yup Juns truly shine in their one and only appearance in a feature film.

On August 30th 1975 the film premiered at the Scala Theater in Seoul where it played to less than stellar results. Just over 4,100 tickets were sold and only played at a single theater for its theatrical run. At a time when hit films sold hundreds of thousands of tickets, "A Beauty" was little more than a forgotten blip on the radar of South Korean cinemagoers. Shin Jung Hyun & Yup Juns success would also see an end with Shin's arrest in December of 1975 for marijuana possession, led in a string of raids against many counterculture artists of the day. The band broke up and Shin's music would not be heard for over a decade, but with a musical renaissance in the 1990s led to the rediscovery of Shin's music as well as other counterculture bands, leading Shin to once again perform into the new millennium. The Yup Juns' records were reissued on CD for the first time in South Korea in 1994 and in 2012 the albums were pressed in America on CD and LP for the first time. In 2010, he received a Fender Custom Shop Tribute Series guitar, being only the sixth musician and the first Asian musician to receive the honor. While the music has been readily available, the film of "A Beauty" hasn't. This 2018 Blu-ray release presents the film for the first time on a digital format.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray

Video

Beatball Music Group presents the film in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The original 35mm camera negative held at the Korean Film Archive was the source of the transfer. Although it states that the film has "digitally restoration", one must wonder how bad the film looked before the supposed restoration took place. The film is filled with scratches, specs, splice marks, and a lot of other issues that are usually fixed or at least cleaned up in a restoration process. What seems to be presented is a raw image of the original negative, and in that case it does actually present positives. The colors are exceptional with the bright and bold psychedelic colors popping from the screen. Detail is present and as no filters or noise reduction has been applied so the image is truly film like - albeit like one from a grindhouse theater. Not every shot looks terrible. Some scenes look especially clean, such as the kung fu scene with almost no specs or scratches on the frame. In addition the framing is correctly in the theatrical 2.35:1 ratio. Overall it is a questionable transfer with little work done, but it certainly is authentic and probably will not hinder viewing pleasure.

The film’s runtime is 86:01

Audio

Korean LPCM 2.0 mono
The original mono track is presented lossless, but like the film image this has also not gone through a remastering process. There is constant hiss, pops, and distortion in the track. Some of the music scenes are almost unbearable with cymbal sounds drowning out all other elements including the vocals. Dialogue which was post synced has its usual issues of Korean production of the time with high end sounds being fuzzy and distorted, but overall is fairly well balanced with the music. The music is the most important element, and while some of the sounds are truly great, it is hindered by weak elements.

There are optional English subtitles for the main feature. They are in a thin white font and have no issues with spelling or grammar.

Extras

Trailer (3:17)
The trailer comes from a weaker standard definition source, with distorted music and narration. There is no text accompaniment so this may be an unfinished trailer rather than a theatrical screened one.
in 1080i 60hz AVC MPEG-4, in 2.35:1, in Korean LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Booklet
The 56 page booklet is in Korean and English which includes a cast and crew listing, essay, and technical information. First is the multi part essay "In Search of "A Beauty" in an Unbeautiful World" by film critic Kim Bong-seok, broken down into six sections. In the lengthy essay, discussed are musicians moving into cinema, the Korean film industry at the time, the political and social setting, and in comparison to other world films of the era. "Restoration of a Precious Cultural Record that Faced Erasure in the Mid 1970s" by music critic Song Myeong-ha is another multi part essay, breaking down the significance of Shin's music, the road from the song "A Beauty" into a film and the banning of the tune, and additional notes on the music. The essays are well written and well translated into English for the package and gives significant information considering the lack of digital extras on the disc.


Unfortunately there are no interviews with the band members or other extras available, nor is the original soundtrack as a CD, which would have been incredibly worthwhile. It should be noted the soundtrack album from the film has never been available on any format.

Packaging

The disc is housed in a Criterion-sized Scanavo keep case which also holds five black and white postcards with stills from the film. The case is packaged in a slip box along with the booklet.
This is a limited edition of 1500 copies.
The promotional image from Beatball Music Group makes it look like a poster is included, but in fact there is none.
In addition, the package incorrectly states region A only, while this is a region ALL disc.

Overall

"A Beauty" is a fascinating and sometimes silly look at the pioneering South Korean rock band Yup Juns in their first and only film. While it does not win any acting awards with its leads or writing for its rushed production, it is a visual and aural delight to see the long forgotten film. The presentation not being remastered at all with its video and audio and few extras make it a hard recommendation, but there are merits to be found in the raw presentation.

The Film: B- Video: C Audio: C- Extras: C Overall: C

 


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