Jagko [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - South Korea - Korean Film Archive/Blue Kino
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (2nd September 2018).
The Film

"Jagko" <짝코> (1980)

Song Gi-yeon (played by Choi Yoon-seok) is an aging homeless man that is picked up by the police and brought to the a rehabilitation and detention center where he reunites with a man he has been chasing for decades. A former riot police officer during the Korean War, he captured the communist guerrilla leader Baek Gong-san nicknamed "Jagko" (played by Kim Hee-ra) who escaped due to Song's negligence. While all the other detainees laugh at the notion that the sickly Baek could be a communist leader and label the newbie as crazy. But Song is certain of the identity, and Jagko remembers who Song is exactly.

Through flashbacks the story of Song in his earlier years as a loving father and husband and a determined officer is uncovered, as is Jagko's deeds as an opposition leader with the two men's intertwining encounters of the years led to each of their downfalls . But with the men in a prison environment and no one to help one another, are they able to find common ground or are they to face inevitable lonely lives leading nowhere?

"Jagko" marked the 74th film in director Im Kwon-taek's lengthy filmography, following many acclaimed and successful films during the 1970s. But this would be the first time that the director would fully challenge the topic of the Korean War which broke out while Im was in middle school. The screenplay was written by Song Gil-han, adapted from a short story by Kim Jung-hui which was unlike many of the anti-communist films made in Korea after the war. The government encouraged anti-communist films and anti-communist messages within films with even awards for the best works that featured them. While films such as "The Marines Who Never Returned" or "Five Marines" directly taking place in war, "Jagko" takes place more that 25 years afterwards, but shown and told only in flashback segments, like "Rashomon". And like "Rashomon", the characters and their backgrounds unfold slowly to show that not all is as simple black and white. Song is not always righteous and Baek is not entirely evil.

The flashbacks of "Jagko" slowly changes the main characters from both perspectives. There are scenes with Jagko with Jeomsun (played by Bang Hee) who is his partner in love and in combat which paint the communist character with a human touch which was not the norm for South Korean films. The flashbacks of Song show him deteriorating physically and mentally after chasing Jagko for so many years with many near misses, but with results of injuring others including losing his wife and child due to emotional detachment. Who actually is the protagonist and who is the antagonist in the film? The film can leave the morality vague but this is actually due to the fact that the script went through censorship by the government before production and a pivotal sequence was deleted. There was to be a scene of the men at the center watching a television program about the Korean War, and an American officer would give a thorough explanation that it was not about the division of North and South but the race for power between the United States and the Soviet Union, with Korea being caught in the crossfire. It would have shown that neither side of the Koreans were at fault and it was basically the war that was the ultimate crime, rather than the individuals. This did not sit well with government censors who looked at the script as a film of morality and heroism with determination. But without the scene the morality actually became more ambiguous and raised more of a grey area. The completed film of "Jagko" showed negligence and morally unjust decisions made by both main characters with also redeeming qualities. It is fascinating to see the characters' differing journeys through flashbacks to see how they became so broken, and most likely would never have happened if war had never came.

The two leads played by Choi Yoon-seok and Kim Hee-ra both play their roles extremely well, with heavy make-up to showcase their transformations over the years. Both men were only in their thirties playing men in their sixties in the modern scenes with fairly good make-up effects, and Kim had to always wear a prosthetic nose for his character. Their performances as young men on the battlefront and the elderly sickly men are portrayed with excellence and are the obvious standouts in the production. Im's direction is also excellent, with the attention to detail in the settings chosen both indoors and outdoors, and the standout chase sequence with the train and the taxi is very well done with the action cinematography.

Although the film was a winner at the 19th Grand Bell Awards picking up Best Adapted Screenplay and ironically the Best Anti-Communist Picture awards as well as another special award at the 20th Grand Bell Awards (again for Anti-Communist Picture), the film was not necessarily a hit as compared to Im's other films of the period. It was only after retrospectives and a change in government policies that the film was placed in a more positive light. It was not anti-communist but anti-war. It was a film about determination, risks of losing all that is important, and the short sightedness of the men and country in wartime. At the same time it was truly a work of art and ranked as one of the best in Im's lengthy filmography - which as of 2018 is 102 films directed. "Jagko" was previously released on DVD by the Korean Film Archive in 2012 as part of the 4 film "Im Kwon-taek Collection". KOFA has now restored the film and upgraded it to Blu-ray.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray

Video

The Korean Film Archive/Blue Kino presents the film in the 2.77:1 aspect ratio in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. This is an unusual and extremely wide ratio shot on anamorphic lenses, much wider than the standard 2.35:1 Cinemascope ratio. But the framing seems accurate as faces in center frame seem have no distortion of stretching, though as expected with anamorphically shot films there is a slight curvature on the left and right sides of the frame. This seems to use the entire frame which is actually more than what the previous DVD showed, with more information on the sides of the frames. The previous DVD edition had a 2.64:1 aspect ratio (though on the disc itself it was incorrectly labeled 2.40:1) and the Blu-ray is a little wider for the remastered edition. As for the remaster, KOFA has done a fairly admirable job on this title. Dust, specs, cuts, scratches that were prevalent on the DVD edition have mostly been removed and cleaned for a pristine image on most scenes. A good amount of film grain has also been retained leaving a natural looking image with no instances of unnatural digital anomalies. But on the other hand there are some damage marks in some scenes that were not removed. There are vertical scratches, some blotches of damage that are still visible, but they are not the most prevalent and do not hinder the viewing pleasure at all. Colors are also wonderful with the skin tones seemingly natural, filters used when necessary, and no major color correction problems. While imperfect this is a very good restoration by the Korean Film Archive and much stronger than the previous DVD edition by a long shot.

The film's runtime is 103:28, which also includes about 30 seconds of black after the film due to one of the commentary tracks going overtime.

Audio

Korean LPCM 2.0 mono
The original Korean audio track is offered in lossless mono. As with almost all South Korean productions of the period, the dialogue is post synced and it is sometimes very noticeable with the mouths not matching directly and it is not the fault of the transfer. The audio track has also been remastered, removing pops and hiss that was noticeable on the DVD edition. It has become a clean though fairly flat audio track, with dialogue, effects, and music being well balanced, though at some points the higher pitched sounds can sound a little distorted. Overall it is a very pleasing track

There are optional English, Japanese, and Korean subtitles in a white font for the main feature. The English subtitles are well timed, easy to read and free of spelling errors.

Extras

Audio commentary by filmmaker Kim Dae-seung and editor of Cine21 Ju Sung-chul
In this newly recorded commentary from filmmaker Kim Dae-seung who served as an assistant to Im Kwon-taek from "Sopyonje" onward along with journalist Ju Song-chul, it is a chatty affair with the two talking about the film, the director, and its impact. They also discuss the use of traditional music, point out some of the bad dubbing, how it relates to other films in the director's filmography and more. There are a few minor spelling errors on the English subtitle track.
in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English and Korean subtitles

Audio commentary by director Im Kwon-taek and film critic Huh Moon-yung
In this audio commentary from the DVD edition, the director is moderated by the film critic as they talk about the Korean War and the aftermath, the impact it had on cinema in Korea, the production, about the performers, and more. Unfortunately the Blu-ray does not offer any subtitles on this extra, even though it had English and Korean subtitles on the DVD edition.
in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Audio commentary by screenwriter Song Gil-han and film critic and director Kim Hong-joon
In this audio commentary from the DVD edition, the screenwriter is moderated by the film critic/director as they discuss about Song's career, relations to his other works, the screenwriting process, the start with collaborating with Im for the fist time with "Jagko" and his other later collaborations with Im. Again, the Blu-ray does not offer any subtitles on this extra, even though it had English and Korean subtitles on the DVD edition.
in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Digital Restoration: Before/After" featurette (1:53)
A short before and after extra is offered with side by side comparisons with the restored and unrestored film. There is no narration or explanation with the details on the restoration process.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 2.77:1

Image Gallery
10 behind the scenes stills are offered.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

Book
A 52 page booklet is included, with writing in Korean and repeated in English. Printed is a cast/crew listing, a synopsis, an awards listing, a statement from the director, a biography and filmography of Im Kwon-taek, stills, and an essay. Film critic and professor Park Yuhee provides the lengthy four part essay entitled "Jagko: Opening a New Chapter of Korean Division Film".

Packaging

The Blu-ray is housed in a standard clear keepcase, which also holds 3 postcards with stills from the film. The keep case and the bookare housed in a slip box. The box is labeled #12 as this is the twelfth Blu-ray release by the Korean Film Archive.

Overall

"Jagko" is one of Im Kwon-taek's most celebrated films and a unique film in South Korean cinema that shows the madness of men in postwar. The Korean Film Archive Blu-ray release is a fine upgrade from the DVD edition from six years ago with an additional commentary that is exclusive to this release. It's unfortunate the English subtitles for the other commentaries were not ported over, but the release still comes as recommended.

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

 


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