Goryeojang [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - South Korea - Korean Film Archive/Blue Kino
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (8th December 2019).
The Film

"Goryeojang" <高麗葬> <고려장> (1963)

Taking place in a poor mountain village, widowed mother Geum (played by Ju Jeung-nyeo) marries Chilbong (played by Choe Sam), a villager who already has ten sons from four previous marriages. Jealousy sets in by the ten boys with the inclusion of her and her son Guryong (played by Kim Jin-kyu), leading to an incident where the boy is crippled by a snakebite. The village shaman (played by Jeon Ok) gives a grave prophecy that one day Guryong will have his revenge and kill all ten brothers, which frightens the family, leading to Geum and Guryong living in a separate property owned by Chilbong. Will the Shaman's prophecy ring true or will there be defiance in time?

Taking place over a 35 year period, the story of "Goryeojang" is probably best known for the near end sequence with the son Guryong carrying his elderly mother Geum on his back in an act of senicide - abandoning his elderly mother on a mountaintop for her to die. The custom has no historical case in Korea, with the story being based on the ancient Japanese folklore of "ubasute", of abandoning the elderly on a mountain. The title makes it seem like the film takes place in the Goryeo period of Korean history, as the title literally means "Goryeo Funeral" Filmmaker Kim Ki-young) saw the 1958 Japanese film "The Ballad of Narayama", which showed the custom of ubasute, and wrote a script around the idea while also having an original story centering the story around family, social hardships, and a dangerous prophecy. Structurally the film is in a linear form and starts from Guryong's childhood, followed by twenty years later with his marriage, and another 15 years later with the return of his first love Gannan (played by Kim Bo-ae). Shot entirely on a soundstage, the poor mountain village is very artificial, with the background landscapes being painted, and with the cinemascope widescreen framing, the production is closer to that of a kabuki stage play rather than being grounded in reality, again taking inspiration from visual style of "Narayama".

"Goryeojang" is a story based on cruelty. No one is particularly happy in the setting and the lives of the villagers over the course of the years are living in a state of distrust for one another, within a drought where water and food is in short supply, an overpopulation issue, and a governing head that is doing little to help the people. The character of the shaman shown sacrificing people including children, making prophecies and scaring the villagers with the acts of the "Divine Spirit" is not only a representation of a controlling religious extremist, but also a metaphor for the government in the post Korean War. South Korea's economic boom was not happening yet, and the country was quite poor with the lower class suffering. Even though the film takes place hundreds of years prior, Kim was making it quite clear that people in the modern day were also suffering from the fates of politics and religion taking control of the people. Though the cruelty shown in the film is much worse than what South Koreans were facing at the time, it was still a harsh reminder of the effects of a post war society. The character of Chilbong has ten children under his roof. Later when Gannan returns to the village she comes with a dying husband and a hoard of children. Everyone in the village is poor, in desperation, yet they listen to the words of the shaman without a choice. As seen with others entering the village from other places in search of water and food, one must wonder how terrible it is on the outside.

There are quite a few disturbing scenes in "Goryeonjang" one is the rape of Guryong's newlywed wife, who is mute by three of his step brothers. There is a lot to be said about the sequence, which was supposed to be a kidnapping but escalated too far. But the most disturbing part is how the film survives today. With two reels of the negative completely lost and only the soundtrack element remaining, one of the sequences that was unfortunately lost is the rape sequence. Only the sounds can be heard in its current state, with the wife trying to sound off her pain while the audience envisions in their minds the agony, which is far more harrowing than having it shown on screen. Another scene that is quite hard is when Guryong's step-daughter Yeon (nicknamed Pock-Face) decides to sacrifice herself to the shaman to end the drought, as she is stabbed and encased. The final sequence of the vengeance prophecy is also one that deserves a mention, but the first two with the innocent women are many times harsher, while the final sequence is something that is expected and in some ways satisfying. What does get in the way of the final sequence of the murderous rampage is the editing being in an inconsistent pacing. Possibly because of censorship issues, the pacing is not very consistent, with some of the more bloody shots only lasting for extremely brief edits. This and some other action sequences are the weaker aspects of the film, but they do not distract from the well constructed narrative.

"Goryeojang" is ripe for discussion, but there are a lot of things the film never answers. The character of Chilbong is getting married for the fifth time but whatever happened to the previous wives? Why don't the villagers try to find a better life outside the drought ridden area? How do they survive for so long with little if any rain for all the years? Is the shaman really a prophet or is everything she says done to control power over the people at all costs? The sequence where it finally rains hard is in fact something she claimed would happen. Others such as Yeon's death meant nothing. With the cruel nature of the situation and characters that have very little likability, It's a story of the outsiders looking in at a time and place that doesn't exist, but surely reflects the darker side of ourselves, and as a filmmaker, Kim frequently showed them through films such as "Housemaid", "The Insect Woman", "Ieodo", among others, where sexuality, violence, and bizarreness all collide.

The film was released on March 15th 1963 by Korean Art Films. It won three awards at the 7th Buil Film Awards, with Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Art Director. Like many Korean films of the era, it was not well preserved, and it was not until 1982 that the film negative was acquired by the Korean Film Archive. Unfortunately, it was incomplete with two reels missing and no projected film prints known to survive. The film was given a special screening in 2008 for the 10th anniversary commemoration of Kim's death, followed by a DVD release by the Korean Film Archive, reaching an international home video audience, and screened at various festivals and retrospectives around the world years later. In 2019, a 4K restoration by the Korean Film Archive was completed. Two versions were made - a festival version and an archival version. For the festival version which was first screened at the Il Cinema Ritrovato Festival, for the missing 25 minutes, the sound was removed and some explanatory English text was written on the screen. The archival version keeps the sound-only 25 minutes with a black screen with some explanatory Korean text pointing out the situation or location. This Blu-ray from the Korean Film Archive/Blue Kino is the first home video release of the 4K restored version of the archival version.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray

Video

Korean Film Archive/Blue Kino presents the film in 2.80:1 in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The original film negative and sound negative were acquired by the archive in 1982 and in 2019 restored in 4K. Unfortunately, the third and sixth reels have been lost, and with no other prints of the film surviving, approximately 25 minutes of the film's image is considered lost. The sound negative was completely intact and therefore only the sound remains for those reels. The remaining reels were in fairly good shape, and for the digital restoration, the usual speckles, dust, scratches, and other debris were removed, keeping with a very clean image. Film grain was left intact and there are some very minor damage marks remaining, but a very nice black and white image has been preserved. As the film was set mostly on a soundstage with low lighting, the image overall is fairly dark, but as stated in the restoration notes, the varying brightness and darkness was balanced for natural transitions from scene to scene, but some sequences remain slightly darker than others. The film was previously released on DVD as part of the Kim Ki-young Collection in 2008. While that version came from the same source, it was not restored, having very unreadable blown out opening film credits, unbalanced black and white, scratches and debris, and worst of all, the image not being properly stretched. Shot with anamorphic lenses, the DVD transfer noticeably looked odd in sequences with faces being super thin for characters on the edge of the frame. For the 4K restoration, the image has been properly stretched, with characters in the frame having a much more natural look without distortion. This is an excellent restoration and the Blu-ray transfer is top notch.

The film's runtime is 110:15 including the opening restoration remarks. Between 21:07 and 32:46 and between 55:30 and 67:40 are the sequences with the image missing.

Audio

Korean LPCM 1.0
The original mono track has also been restored for this release. As stated before, the original sound element was not missing anything and was fully intact. Korean films of this period were shot entirely in post production, and sometimes the unsynched mouths can be noticeable, but in this film and this restored version it feels rather natural. Dialogue is very clear with each character, there is almost no distortion to be heard, and the music score and effects are well balanced with the dialogue. In comparison to the older DVD which had hisses, pops, and crackle with high pitched tones becoming distorted, this restored track is again a revelation. In addition the older DVD had an issue in which the 2.0 mono track suddenly becomes unbalanced around the 75 minute mark, having the sound come slanted towards the left speaker. The Blu-ray's 1.0 track has no issue with the balance.

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

For the previous DVD edition, the scenes with the image missing were completely black on screen with only the sound heard and accompanying subtitles. As a supplement the booklet also included script notes and dialogue for the missing scenes in both Korean and English for the viewer to follow along, to show who was talking and where the scene was taking place. For the 4K restoration it was decided that the scenes with missing picture would have burned-in Korean text explaining the situation and setting, coming from the original script notes. The optional English and Japanese subtitles fully translated these comments along with the dialogue in the subtitle tracks.

Extras

Audio commentary by film critic Chung Sung-ill
In this newly recorded commentary track, Chung analyzes the film by asking many questions and bringing many theories rather than giving specific information on the production. From when and where the film takes place, the filmmakers that Kim was most inspired by, the analysis of each character and their actions, and more are discussed, while he also offers some insight about "The Ballad of Narayama", senicide in various cultures, parallels to South Korea in 1963 and what the film depicts, censorship of the period, and comparisons to other Korean films released the same year. It's a good commentary track, though it lacks information such as biographies of the cast and crew or about the filming of the sequences.
in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English, Korean subtitles

"I Am a Truck" 1953 documentary short by Kim Ki-young (17:31)
Kim started as a documentary filmmaker, and in this documentary short, it shows a truck used in the war being disassembled into scrap and its parts being reused. Instead of the usual narration of what is happening, the narration is interestingly in the perspective of a truck, saying “I’m having my tires removed” and explaining what is happening, giving the short a more personal feel rather than a standard explanatory film. Note this was previously on the Korean Film Archive Blu-ray of "Housemaid" as an extra, though on that Blu-ray the film was in 480i MPEG-2 with Dolby Digital audio. For this release it may be in 1080p with LPCM audio, but make no mistake it is an upscaled transfer from a standard definition source and has not been remastered. It looks and sounds almost entirely identical to the previous release.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in Korean LPCM 2.0 with optional English, Korean subtitles

"Digital Restoration: Before & After" featurette (1:39)
This short featurette shows some sequences before and after restoration with explanatory text.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, with English and Korean text

Kim Ki-young Movie Trailers for "Woman Chasing the Butterfly of Death", "Beasts of Prey", "Hunting of Fools", "Woman of Fire '82", "Ieodo", "Free Woman", "Water Lady" (26:29)
The menu states “Kim Ki-young Movie Trailer”, but is in fact a trailer reel of some the director’s works. Thankfully, all the trailers have been mastered in HD and are not upscaled video masters. Coming from vintage archival prints, there are scratches and debris, some incomplete with the footage as expected. On the better side, colors look very good as is detail and depth. Of these transfer, so far "Woman Chasing the Butterfly of Death" and "Ieodo" have been released on Blu-ray.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. In Korean LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Image Gallery
A series of ten stills, from the film itself as well as photos of the director from various years.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

Book
A 48 page bilingual Korean and English booklet has been included. There are film credits, a synopsis of the film, a biography and filmography of Kim, notes on the restoration, an essay, credits and stills. Professor Kim Young-jin's essay "Fishing Humanity out of the Animal World: Kim Ki-young's Cinematic World and Goryeojang" gives some insight into the film, as well as recollections of the professor when he was young being able to meet Kim years ago for an interview.

Complete Screenplay
A 140 page book is also included - a reproduction of the script, with annotations and notes, entirely in Korean.

Kim Ki-young Biography
Also included is a 168 page Kim Ki-young biography in Korean, as part of the "FilmStory" series. There are also stills, film posters, and film information included.


As stated before, the film had a DVD release eleven years ago, but not all the extras have been ported over. The audio commentary by film critic Lee Yeon-ho and film director Kim Dae-seung has been replaced with a new one which is unfortunate. For the Blu-ray of "Ieodo" a new commentary and the old commentary were both included on the Blu-ray and it's strange that they didn't offer the same choice for this new release for "Goryeojang". The DVD also included the "Directors on Kim Ki-young" documentary but that documentary is available on the Blu-ray for "Housemaid". It seems like they didn't want to recycle the documentary again, but then why did they decide to include "I Am a Truck" on both that release and this one? The DVD box also included the “Kim Ki-young Talks on Kim Ki-young” documentary on the disc for "The Insect Woman" and the “Documentary Series of Filmmakers: Kim Ki-young” documentary on the "Promise of the Flesh" disc, and neither have been included on any Blu-ray set so far. Though it is nice that a new scholarly commentary was included, It seems rather strange that more was not included.

Packaging

The Blu-ray is housed in a standard clear keepcase, which also holds 3 postcards with stills from the film. The standard blue keep case, the book, and the screenplay are housed in a slip box. The box is labeled #17 as this is the seventeenth Blu-ray release by the Korean Film Archive.

Overall

"Goryeojang" is yet another masterpiece from filmmaker Kim Ki-young, a layered vengeance piece and social commentary that truly is an original piece of work and one of the greatest Korean films ever made. Even though the film is incomplete with the missing image for 25 minute and only sound remaining, it is still an effective film and only makes audience lament the fragility of cinema. The Korean Film Archive/Blue Kino release has an excellent transfer of the 4K restored version with a nice selection of extras including the new commentary. One of the best releases of the year.

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

 


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