The Coachman [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - South Korea - Korean Film Archive/Blue Kino
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (14th November 2021).
The Film

"The Coachman" <마부> (馬夫) (1961)

Chun-sam (played by Kim Seung-ho) is a middle aged father trying to make ends meet at the edge of poverty as a coachman, making deliveries by horse-drawn wagon. While the city is becoming more modernized with automobiles on the road, his job is outdated and slow with no hope for moving upwards in his work or in society. In addition, he is a widower and his four grown children are all struggling as well. His eldest son Su-eop (played by Shin Yeong-kyun) is a student who failed the bar exam twice so far. His eldest daughter Ok-rye (played by Jo Mi-ryeong) is married, but is subject to physical abuse by her husband (played by Choe Seong-ho) because she is mute. His second daughter Oh-hee (played by Um aeng-ran) is trying to escape poverty by posing as a rich girl to attract a rich husband. His second son Dae-eop is a petty thief, frequently chased and getting into fights. The only brightness in Chun-sam's life comes from Suwondaek (played by Hwang Jung-seun), a housemaid who works for his strict and rich boss Mr. Hwang (played by Joo Sun-tae), but could true happiness come for the people that are struggling to survive?

"The Coachman" is a snapshot of a changing period in South Korean history. The April Revolution in 1960 led to the end of President Syngman Rhee's corrupt government and a start to the Second Republic of Korea, in which a parliamentary government was in place. Due to the many burdens of the previous regime, the economy and well being of the people were at a low and the new government did very little to gain stability, which led to a coup that overthrew the government just over a year later in May of 1961. "The Coachman" was filmed and released during this time period - a time in which South Korea as a country was in the middle of a crossroads and was unsure where to turn. Postwar traumas from WWII and the Korean War were still strongly taking a foothold, the country was heavily reliant on aid from the United States, inflation was rising, and the people were not experiencing happiness all around. The film does not address the issues that were facing the government directly, nor does it have a major political leaning. In a sense, the story of a family struggling could have been made at anytime or anywhere else. But with many sequences being shot on location clearly showing the timeframe as the late winter of 1960/1961, there is no mistaking that the film depicted the exact period it was filmed in. The shanty houses of the opening sequences of the opening chase scene, The growing number of cars on the roads in comparison to carts, modern western cafes and fashion, these are all part of a changing landscape of a devastated region that suffered colonialism and two wars all within the last few decades.

With Chun-sam's struggles with his livelihood are heavy, the introduction of the lovely Suwondaek makes things tolerable for him. She is 36 years old, unmarried and always nice to the various coachmen that come to the boss' home, though the boss' treatment to her as well as the coachmen are less than ideal. Chun-sam frequently gets shy around her like a young teenager would with a crush, but she tries to keep things at a slight distance as she knows all too well that her job as a housekeeper as well as Chun-sam's job are more important than a relationship. The other coachmen know that he has feelings for her and tease him for it, and these scenes create a lighter mood in comparison to the heavier scenes that surround them. There is a charming scene in which the two of them go on date to see the film "The Love Story of Chun-hyang". Ironically, the scenes that show the film on the movie screen are in black and white, while the film itself was shot in CinemaScope and in color. (The film can be seen on the Korean Film Archive's YouTube channel for free, with burned-in Japanese subtitles and optional English subtitles.) On an interesting side note, Chunhyangjeon is one of the most famous folk stories in Korea and has been made several times in the cinematic form, from the silent era onwards. In 1961 there were two adaptations being released just a week apart, both in color and in CinemaScope. "The Love Story of Chun-hyang" was released first on January 18th, 1961, directed by Hong Seong-ki. "Seong Chunhyang", directed by Shin Sang-ok was released on January 28th, 1961 and was the more successful of the two films. Interestingly, the director of "The Coachman", Kang Dae-jin served as an assistant director of Shin, yet the film within the film here was of the rival adaptation. "Seong Chunhyanh" is also available to see for free on KOFA's YouTube in an unrestored version with English subtitles but in a squeezed aspect ratio, or the restored version without English subtitles in the correct aspect ratio, with reinstated footage.

Returning the the aspects of "The Coachman", the struggles the one family faces were as devastating as they come. The father being a war veteran but lacks respect from society by being stuck in the lower class, with no real hopes for finding stability with a job that is redundant and slow, who has the threat of losing his job at any time. Of course there is the fact that the city of Seoul was developing to the point that deliveries by horse-drawn wagon was becoming obsolete. In addition his boss Mr. Hwang is in a standpoint of not respecting his workers, more likely thinking about scenarios to eventually get rid of the horses and the workers for future efficiency. Kim Seung-ho plays the character wonderfully with drama and tragedy plus a touch of comedy for relief, as he was known for playing middle aged characters with heavy burdens at the time in his career. Born on July 13th, 1917, Kim debuted in the seminal post WWII 1946 film "Hurrah for Freedom", but really found his stride in success in the 1950s and 1960s, with titles such as "Yangsan Province" (1955), "The Wedding Day" (1956), "The Money" (1958), "A College Woman's Confession" (1958),"The Love Marriage" (1958), "Forever with You" (1958), "Dongshimcho" (1959), "Rhee Syngman and the Independence Movement" (1959), as well as director Kang's acclaimed film "Mr. Park" in 1960. He would give great performances in later films such as "A Bonanza" and "Bloodline", but unfortunately passed away on December 1st, 1968 at the age of 51. Suwondaek's portrayal of Hwang Jung-seun is great, but her time on screen is quite limited in comparison. Her role as the housekeeper shows some of the hardships and the struggles, but little is given in terms of her life outside work. She is only 36 but like Chun-sam is widowed, and while it seems like a stretch that Hwang would play a 36 year old woman, she was in fact 36 at the time of filming, looking much older and worn out compared to women of her same age. Born in 1925 and appearing in over 500 productions through her lengthy career until the 1980s, she appeared alongside Kim in works such as "The Money", "A College Woman's Confession", "Rhee Syngman and the Independence Movement", "Mr. Park", and more before their work together on screen in "The Coachman". She died in 2014. Her feelings become stronger during the course of the story, from their conversations and their eventual date, but as a somewhat spoiler, the fact that Chun-sam's children accepting her does seem a little far fetched since they have basically little interaction with her character in the storyline.

As for the children, the opening with the youngest son being chased for stealing is a great showcase of the realism the film was showcasing with real life slums and the people surrounding them. Apologies that I cannot find information on who played the role of Dae-eon, as the opening credits only list the actors names, and not their roles making the task of identifying actors very difficult, and this also goes for some of the other performers in the film. His role is the smallest of the children, and has the biggest consequences yet has very little punishment placed, most likely because he was a juvenile and would not have gone to jail at the time. There was a moment in which the police catch him, but he is let go with a warning. There could have been more drama if he was incarcerated for his actions, but that may have made the eldest daughter's story less important. To be fair For the character of Ok-rye, she is in an abusive marriage, in which her husband has left her with physical marks and frequently has affairs with other women. It is stated in dialogue that he and her father Chun-sam's relationship goes back to the war in which Chun-sam saved his life. In return, he married the mute daughter, but the communication issue has taken a toll for both households - a lowlife husband and for Ok-rye's frequent returns back to her father's home to take refuge, even though he does not want her there either. She is the most tragic figure in the story, and not being able to present her thought with words is a barrier. Jo Mi-ryeong does a fair job with the character but is quite limited with her range of expressions. The veteran actress, born in 1929 has appeared in nearly 200 films, including "The Wedding Day" (1956), "The Love Marriage" (1958), "A Female Boss" (1959), "Mr. Park" (1960), "A Bonanza" (1961) and more throughout into the 1960s. Oh-hee's role by Um Aeng-ran is a standout one, with a girl at the bottom of the social class wanting to escape from it with the easiest way possible. From learning how to sway her hips and use allure to attract well off men, she is learning the tricks of the trade but at the same time lying about her background to get ahead in the world. This is not a trend that is particular to the time period but is a common trend to this day through the likes of Instagram, Tinder, and other ways to appeal an image rather than showing her true self. Her world crumbles down heavily once her suitor finds out about her real life being very different from what he was told leads to a violent encounter as well. Her character she has wishful thinking, and is someone that audiences can easily sympathize with. Um has also had a lengthy career in Korean cinema. Born in 1936, she has played in over 200 films, including "Dongshimcho" (1959), "Rhee Syngman and the Independence Movement" (1959), "The Housemaid" (1960), "A Bonanza" (1961), and much more. As for the eldest son Su-eop, Shin Yeong-kyun plays the characer with the most heart, as a young man that is not willing to give up his dream of becoming a lawyer, even with the sadness and poverty surrounding his family. He is sympathetic to his father and siblings but is actually a bit frail due to his failures with the bar exam. But he still gives time to massage his father's back and do whatever he can to make everyone feel better. He is the last real hope for a better life for the family, and there is quite a burden to bear for his character. Shin has had an interesting career. Born in 1928, as an actor he has had a lengthy career with over 300 works, including "Under the Sky of Seoul" (1961) which also featured Kim Seung-ho, "Mother and a Guest" (1963), "Bloodline" (1963) and more until he entered politics from 1979. Leading with an aim for promoting film production and the arts at first, he eventually became an elected official in parliament and served until his retirement from politics in 2004, marking a return to acting on stage and on screen.

"The Coachman" was Kang Dae-jin's fourth feature film as a director and, which took the much loved genre of the melodrama, but took realism to a new level with a look at the state of the country during an uncertain period. As said before, the film was filmed in the streets of Seoul in many outdoor locations, with several landmarks making appearances in various sequences. It was also filmed in the dead of winter, around December 1960 and January 1961, as evidenced with the extreme cold breaths seen coming from the actors mouths in outdoor scenes, as well as the sequence of the two characters seeing "The Love Story of Chun-hyang" which opened in January 1961. It's pretty incredible to think that the film was released in South Korean cinemas on February 15th, 1961, showcasing how quickly films could be produced at that period, though this is an estimate through what is visually shown rather than actual records of the shoot. Being a wonderful showcase of what Seoul looked like during the extremely short Second Republic, there are some precious scenes all throughout, beautifully captured on film for future generations, though I'm sure the first intentions were to show them to a contemporary audience and not for generations to come. Regardless of how the production was approached, the story itself is timeless yet at the same time an exact footprint of a bygone era. Born in 1933, Kang had a lengthy list of films directed during the 1960s, but in the 1970s he looked toward the world of television dramas to further his career, while also making films sporadically. The 1987 film A Top Knot on Montmarte" which was shot on location in France unfortunately became his last film as he died from a sudden illness during post production. He was only 52 years old.

With over 150,000 admissions, the film was a fair hit but not a major one. In comparison, the aforementioned "Seong Chun-hyang" had 380,000 admissions. But a very significant attachment to "The Coachman" is that it was the first South Korean film to win an international award, with the film winning the Silver Berlin Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in June 1961. It would still take some time for South Korean cinema to receive more significant worldwide attention, but the award was still important nonetheless. But "The Coachman" is not without its flaws either. Some of the dramatic elements were not as strong as they could have been. Without getting into too many spoilers, the death scene and the aftermath didn't seem to pack an emotional punch as it could have been. Some of the backstories could have used more depth. The visuals were adequate though not necessarily creative with the use of the camera. But on the positive side, "The Coachman" benefits from characters to care about and the plight of the family at the bottom of the social ladder and how they cope with the situation in dire straits. The struggles between classes would be a popular theme in South Korean cinema for decades onward, and as seen with the incredible critical and commercial success of "Parasite" in 2019, there is much to owe to this early example of South Korean cinema influencing many more down the line.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray


The Korean Film Archive/Blue Kino presents the film in the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The original 35mm film negative which was acquired by KOFA in 1984 was digitally scanned at 2K resolution in 2012. Further restoration work was completed in 2021 by KOFA and Image Power Station. Like their earlier Blu-ray release of "The Flower of Hell" last year, the image is slightly windowboxed with thin black bars on the top and bottom of the screen, limiting the full resolution slightly. Color correction was applied for the 2012 restoration to balance the black and white levels. The greyscale looks very good for the most part, but on some sequences such as outdoors the faces can look a bit paler than indoor scenes with controlled lighting. For the further restoration, much work was applied to stabilize the image and remove damage marks. Telecine wobble and the warping of the image has been incredibly minimized for a smoother well balanced appearance. Damage such as scratches, dust, speckles, and other marks have been almost entirely eliminated for an absolutely clean looking image. Film grain is kept intact though grain reduction has been applied for a cleaner look for the restoration. Another very good restoration and transfer from the Korean Film Archive.

KOFA also notes that there were two credits sequences created for the film. One used Korean text for the opening credits for the titles and names of the cast and crew. Another had traditional Chinese text. It is unknown which version was used for theatrical screenings since there are no copies of theatrical prints in existence anymore. Both credit sequences were preserved on master positive film, and there are no notes or records as to which reel is truly the "original". For the restoration, the Korean language credits version has been used. Interestingly, the other credits sequence is not even here as an extra on the disc.

The film's runtime is 98:48, including restoration information.


Korean LPCM 1.0
The original mono track is presented uncompressed. Like the image, the sound was also restored from the original materials. The track has been cleaned significantly as well, with hiss, pops, crackle, and other damage removed. As the sound was synched in post production, there are some minor issues with mouth movements not being exactly synchronized but this is due to the conditions of the production and not the restoration. Some high pitched sounds can have a little hiss, but nothing too distracting. Music and effects are also well balanced throughout. Another very satisfactory sound restoration from KOFA.

There are optional English, Japanese, Korean subtitles for the main feature in a white font. The subtitles are well timed and easy to read, with only one instance of an odd spelling error around the 35 minute mark, where Ok-hee says her father is a "Couchman". To get the title of the film wrong within the subtitles...


Audio commentary with film director Kim Hong-joon and film journalist Kim Hyung-seok
This newly recorded commentary features filmmaker and commissioner of the Korean Film Commission Kim Hong-joon alongside journalist Kim Hyung-seok. Unfortunately this follows a growing trend of KOFA commentaries lacking English subtitles.
in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Digital Restoration: Before/After" featurette (3:15)
A split screen before & after comparison short of the 2012 scan and the 2021 restoration, without sound or narration.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

Image Gallery
A manual gallery featuring nine black and white film stills plus one of the color theatrical poster.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

A 64 page bilingual Korean and English booklet is included. First are the film credits and the synopsis. This is followed by a director's filmography, detailed restoration notes, and a director's biography written by Cho Junghyoung (senior researcher for KOFA). There is also a review of the film written by Cho, entitled "For the Things That Have Disappeared" focusing on the unique timeframe the film was made in and reflected and the themes the film explored. There is also a fascinating essay with illustrated film stills entitled "Th Features of Seoul 60 Years Ago in Films: Seoul in 1961 as Featured in The Coachman" by Kim Youngjoon, a PhD student in the department of engineering at the University of Tokyo, comparing the locations shown in the film and how the landscape has changed over the years.

Considering that KOFA used to frequently subtitle their extras including commentaries, here's yet another disappointing instance of the main extra being left unsubbed for non-Korean speakers. The commentary is very chatty between the men and there is a lot being spoken about, so it is a missed opportunity, especially since they put in the extra work on many of their past DVD and Blu-ray releases.


The Blu-ray is housed in a standard clear keep case, which also holds 3 postcards with stills from the film. The case and the booklet are housed in a slip box. The box is labeled #23 as this is the twenty-third Blu-ray release by the Korean Film Archive.


"The Coachman" may have some flaws but is still a wonderful melodrama about class struggles. Great performances and memorable characters, the film's themes are universal and timeless. The Korean Film Archive's restoration transfer is top notch as presented here on its first ever Blu-ray release. Very recommended.

Note the film is also available to watch for free on the Korean Film Archive YouTube Channel, which is not the 2021 restoration found on this Blu-ray, but of the 2012 2K scan.

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


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