A Day Off [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - South Korea - Korean Film Archive/Blue Kino
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (31st August 2019).
The Film

"A Day Off" <휴일> (1968)

Taking place on a normal Sunday in Seoul, Huh Wook (played by Shin Seong-il) wanders around town waiting for his girlfriend Ji-youn (played by Jeon Ji-youn) to arrive for their date. But she has some unfortunate news to tell him. She reveals that she is pregnant with his child and neither are in a positive state to continue a relationship with a child emotionally or financially. A doctor's visit also reveals physical complications with Ji-youn and an abortion is recommended for her safety. Huh Wook is in no stable financial situation himself and so he sets out to find some way to pay for the procedure, but the day's unfortunate start is only the beginning, as his personal demons cross paths with temptation and danger at various places...

In comparison with love stories and melodramas popular in South Korea in the 1950s and 1960s, director Lee Man-hee's "A Day Off" took an extremely bleak turn. While other films included comical moments and romantic situations, there are none to be found here, as from start to finish the downward spiral never has a glint of hope. In comparison to other date films taking place one day such as "L'atalante" (1934) and "One Wonderful Sunday" (1947), there are various ups and downs by the poor couples finding more about themselves and each other. "A Day Off" is told through the male protagonist's point of view entirely, and the decisions he makes are some of the worst of the worst decisions possible. While there are the implied notions of having unprotected sex with a person he was not romantically putting his heart into and while in a dire financial status, the happenings on this particular Sunday are terrible to say the least. Leaving Ji-youn alone in the hospital, stealing cash from his well off friend (played by Kim Sun-cheol), drinking and smoking heavily, and picking up a new girl to sleep with. Morals are completely out the window for him and thematically the film is closer to the early neo-realist works of Roberto Rossellini or Vittorio de Sica, showcasing the difficulties of life in modern times for the less fortunate. At the same time it evokes the works of Alain Resnais or Michaelangelo Antonioni with the flowing story and visuals.

In the Post Korean War era, South Korea was both prospering but also repressed. The middle class was rising and consumers were buying cars, televisions, and other commodities that were impossible to acquire in the past. But the government was under a dictatorship with President Park Chung-hee who became the leader after a military coup, from 1963 until his assassination in 1979. The government was much in control of media and entertainment with strict censorship rules and regulations, stunting true creativity from artists with many having to conform under pressure or have their works silenced. The divide between the lower class and everyone else was gaining, but media would not particularly cover the issues, therefore entertainment such as films did not depict or show the realities many faced. With the characters of Huh Wook and Ji-youn, not much is known about their lives outside what happens on Sunday. How long they had known each other, how long the relationship had been continuing, what their daily lives were like, etc. There is a scene with Ji-youn's father so there is some insight into her family life yet nothing is seen with Huh Wook as he is always seen as a loner. The only friend seen of his is the well off Gyu-je, who is financially in a very good position, so his connection to Huh Wook is not very clear though it seems to be one from some time, with possibly one being a better worker than the other. One clear point is how Huh Wook is never on a singular path for prosperity. Whatever quick fix is in his way, he will gravitate toward that and whether it's spending money on booze or having his dick lead the way with women, he suffers from bad karma and the consequences evident.

In the original screenplay written by Baek Gyeol, he stated that as bleak as it was, the original structure was even bleaker. An opening and closing that was filmed but unused featured a bookending format that basically opened with the ending of the film, and the protagonist narrating what had happened through flashbacks. This will contain spoilers! Similar to "Sunset Boulevard", the protagonist is dead from the start of the story and the audience is made to look back on the happenings that led to the unfortunate end. With government censorship already an issue, the scenes were discarded and instead the character of Huh Wook killing himself were implied. The film was completed in 1968 and submitted for government approval by the censorship board and the results were to change the bleakness to the end. Instead of the Huh Wook's severe depression and suicide implications, they suggested that he would have a revelation to turn his life around by getting a haircut and joining the military. Lee was completely against the notion to make changes and due to circumstances the film was not given any changes by the production company Yeon Hap Films, being shelved indefinitely. As the film received no proper release at the time and the only people that knew of its existence were the makers and the government censorship board, there were no records of the film existing to film scholars or the public. That changed with the discovery of the fully intact film in the early 2000s, nearly forty years after being made. It was finally made available to the public in 2005 with retrospective screenings of Lee's films commemorating the 30th anniversary of his passing at the young age of 43. The Korean Film Archive released the Lee Man-hee Collection, a four disc film set which included "A Day Off", being the first time the film was made available on home video.

Though Lee died at an early age due to cirrhosis of the liver, he left an incredible body of film work with more than 50 productions during his lifetime. Ranging from war dramas, comedies, suspense, film noir, as well as action films, many of his work were not fully appreciated during his lifetime as the South Korean film market was not thinking about future preservation and his older films were lost over time. "Full Autumn" ("Late Autumn") from 1966 which critics declared at the time was a masterpiece of Korean cinema, is sadly one of those lost films though the reputation still stands. it took a few decades until the film critics and public could get to experience Lee's lost film of "A Day Off" and to be able to rank it with his other works and the consensus was unanimous. It was a lost masterpiece and an eyeopening film that differs from its contemporaries. The depressing tone was very shocking but at the same time the structure and the visuals were highly praised, as well as Lee's non-conforming ways to create his own piece without interference. In 2017 the film was given a new restoration from the original materials, and that restored version is finally available on Blu-ray thanks to the Korean Film Archive.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray

Video

The Korean Film Archive/Blue Kino present the film in the 2.50:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. This is certainly a slightly wider transfer than usual, with the full negative space being seen on the sides. Compared to the older DVD transfer which was in 2.33:1, there is more information seen on the sides as well as more natural looking faces, as the older DVD looked slightly squeezed. This 2017 restoration was made from the original negative materials and supervised by cinematographer Lee Seok-gi. Considering the film was basically untouched for decades, it looks very good for the mos part. Detail is very strong with crisp grey levels in the black and white image. There is very little to no wobble in the telecine transfer, and for damage there is very little as well. Scratches, speckles, dust, and other damage has been cleaned with a healthy amount of film grain still visible in the image. Not all is perfect though. When Huh Wook and Ji-youn first meet it looks like the screen is filled with black spots like negative snow, and though there was effort to lessen the damage, it still remains. It's not the only scene as a few others also have this issue, such as when the couple meet again around the 37 minute mark. Possibly an issue with the negative itself from during the time of shooting. This was also an issue on the older DVD edition. Though it is on a single layer Blu-ray, the relatively short runtime and giving a healthy 18GB to the main feature, there is enough breathing room with no compression artifacts in the image. Overall, it is a very strong restoration and transfer from KOFA.

The film's runtime is 73:11.

Audio

Korean LPCM 1.0
The original mono track is offered in a remastered form uncompressed. Like all Korean films of the period, everything was recorded in post synchronization, so there are some minor times the mouths don't match or the sound effects being louder than they should be. Fidelity is an issue at times with hard S or T sounds being slightly distorted. Music comes in fairly clear and there are no major issues with pops or cracks in the track. Some moments are a bit on the hissy side but not too distracting.

There are optional English, Japanese, Korean subtitles for the main feature, all in a white font. They are well timed, easy to read and no major spelling or grammar errors to speak of.

Extras

Audio commentary by film critic Chung Sung-ill
In this audio commentary, Chung talks about the history of the film from its making and its loss over the years, as well as the visual motifs like the use of props, the cinematography and how coincidentally the 2005 film "Tale of Cinema" has similarities, though it was basically impossible for filmmaker Hong Sang-soo to have seen "A Day Off" at that time. This was recorded for the DVD edition from 2005. The subtitles on the track are good, though there are some spelling errors such as "Eeven" rather than "Even".
in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English and Korean subtitles

Audio commentary by screenwriter Baek Gyeol and film critic Huh Moon-yung
In this new commentary, the screenwriter of the film discusses the making of the film and his relationship to Lee Man-hee during their years in the filmmaking business. Collaborating together on works such as "Homebound" (1967), "Oblivion" (1967), and "A Miracle" (1967), Baek talks about Lee's filmmaking process, his respect for the written word by changing very little from the script, but also there is time for some criticism. He talks about the imperfections of the film such as the music cues and some of the slower scenes. The English subtitles are fine for the most part but there are a few errors such as "Intrinsic" being spelled "Intrinscic".
in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English and Korean subtitles

"Digital Restoration: Before & After" featurette (0:58)
A side by side montage of comparisons of before and after remastering, which is much too short in length.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, with English and Korean text

"GV Clip with film critic Huh Moon-yung" lecture (53:36)
Presented here is a lecture from Huh Moon-yung that took place on May 7th, 2015. Unfortunately it is in Korean only without foreign language subtitles.
in 1080i 60hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Image Gallery
Eleven stills from various Lee Man-hee productions are presented here.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

Book
A 48 page dual language booklet is included, with the first half in Korean and the second half in English. There are a full cast and crew credits listing, a synopsis, critics quotes, and a director's biography and filmography. There is also an essay, "A Day Off: Authenticity of Shame" written by Professor Oh Young-sook on the film and its history. Last there are various stills from the film, stills from the commentary recording sessions, plus disc credits.

Packaging

Packaged in a standard size clear Blu-ray keep case, it is housed in a sturdy slipcase which holds the keep case and the 48-page booklet along with three artcards. The slipcase, is labeled "014" on the spine as the 14th Blu-ray release from KOFA.

Overall

"A Day Off" is one of the darkest and bleakest melodramas available, and while it was unfortunate that the film was never given a screening at the time of its making, thankfully the masterwork can be seen by modern audiences decades later thanks to the Korean Film Archive and the rediscovery of the negative. The restoration looks great and the extras are very informative, making this release very recommended. In addition, the film is available to watch on the Korean Film Archive YouTube channel, featuring both the restoration version and the 2005 version.

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

 


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