A Hometown in Heart [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - South Korea - Korean Film Archive/Blue Kino
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (15th September 2023).
The Film

"A Hometown in Heart" <마음의故郷> (1949)

In a Buddhist temple in the mountains, 12 year old boy Do-seung (played by Yu Min) lives his life as a monk in training. Memorizing sutras, ringing the bell, cleaning the temple, and helping the older monks are his daily rituals, though they are not what he longs for. Do-seung waits every day for his mother to return to the temple. He doesn’t remember her, but misses her deeply. The moustached temple worker (played by Oh Heon-yong) tells the young boy that the mother was a beautiful woman and that he shouldn’t give up hope of meeting her. The chief monk (played by Byun Ki-jong) and the other monks of the temple are preparing a ceremony for Lady Ahn (played by Seok Geum-seong) and her widowed daughter (played by Choi Eun-hee) arriving from Seoul. The widowed daughter lost her husband 6 years ago, just before the birth of their first child, and to make matters more devastating, the temple’s ceremony is for her son - a funeral.

Do-seung is in awe of the widow, imagining that his mother must be similar to her in beauty. Not only is she beautiful, but she is very kind to Do-seung, seeing him as a surrogate son. The widow expresses to her mother and to the chief monk that she would like to adopt Do-seung and bring him up in Seoul, in which both are against. Her mother feels that while still young, she should be looking for a new husband instead. The head monk feels that Do-seung lacks discipline and must continue to stay at the temple. But as the widow states from the bottom of her heart that Do-seung needs a motherly figure in his life and she is willing to provide for him, the mother and chief monk decide to think about the decision. But when suddenly Do-seung’s real mother (played by Kim Seon-yeong) returns to the temple on the day of the ceremony, it causes everyone to reconsider Do-seung’s fate…

During World War II, the Korean film industry was under the microscope of the Imperial Japanese occupying government, producing propaganda films and implementing the Japanese language as the spoken language. In the post-war period of the late 1940’s, anti-Japanese liberation films were being produced, with “Hurrah for Freedom” (1946) being one of the first and most influential. “A Hometown in Heart” was produced in 1949, which was not an anti-Japanese film, not an anti-war film, not a North/South political divide film but one about family and religion. The story, based on the play “The Little Monk” focuses on a child’s longing to meet his birth mother someday while living and training at a Buddhist temple, and a young widow coping with the loss of her son to the measles. The film version and original play are almost entirely the same with very little deviation. There are a few minor changes such as the Do-seung hunting for birds in the film rather than rabbits in the play, and the film version giving more screen time for the birth mother. Interesting is that neither the play nor the film sets the time in any certain era. This could be pre-war Korea. This could be post-war Korea. This could even be a hundred years ago. The timelessness of the story gives it a quality that separates it from the rest of the cinematic works of liberated Korea in the late 40’s. “A Hometown in Heart” may not be post-war propaganda but it does share qualities of the post war time period. The orphaned boy represents the fate of many children that suffered during the war. The widowed wife who also loses her only child represents the many wives whose husbands or children sent off to the battlefront and never returned. The religious aspect of taking place at a Buddhist temple signifies hope and comfort for the future through something ancient and traditional. These qualities are also points foreshadowed by the Korean War which broke out only a year later.

As for the performances by the actors, some are quite good, and some are quite stale. Yu Min being only 12 years old is a typical child actor, who just doesn’t carry the film with his acting chops. The supporting cast is really important in this film, with the Byun Ki-jong as the chief monk and Oh Heon-yong as the moustached worker being standouts to support the emotional sides for the boy, one being strict and one being playful. Choi Eun-hee’s performance as the grief stricken widow is not as grieving as one would expect. She is quite strong willed and very polite with her ways, which doesn’t seem to fit the character’s supposedly broken character very well. There are no outbursts of sadness, no tears, and no frustrating moments to be shown on screen. Was she that content with life that both her husband and son were gone forever? For direction the locations are wonderful with the mountains, trees, and the temple. Though don’t expect this to be “Rashomon”, as this is not a film with camera movement but almost entirely filmed with static shots and cuts. Although there are many beautiful shots are in the film, some look terribly out of focus. Close-ups and medium shots look pin-clear but there are occasional long shots that look blurry, but supposedly it was due to the old cameras being used and not the transfer.

Director Yun Yon-gyu made his directorial debut with “A Hometown in Heart” and won critical praise for his work. Previously he had done assistant directing work both in Japan and in Korea, including work on director Shiro Toyoda’s films in the early 1940’s. Following the completion of “A Hometown in Heart”, Yun decided to move to the North side during the Korean War, leaving behind his family, and supposedly continued as a filmmaker there. It is unknown how many films he made in North Korea, though he was supposedly acclaimed for his North Korean period dramas. "People Who Guard Their Homeland" (1952), "Legend of Chunhyang" (1959), and “The Tale of Chun Hyang” (1980) are a handful of the confirmed North Korean films with his name as director. “A Hometown in Heart” was the third film that starred newcomer Choi Eun-hee playing the young widow. During the Korean War in which there were almost no films being produced, she married filmmaker Shin Sang-ok in 1953, and continued acting in many of the director’s films including “The Flower in Hell”, “A College Woman’s Confession” (both in 1958), “Rhee Syngman and the Independence Movement”, and “Dongsimcho” (both in 1959). Her career as an actress continued through the 1960’s and 1970’s, but due to her husband’s infidelity, they divorced in 1976. Two years later while in Hong Kong, Choi was kidnapped by North Korean spies. Her former husband Shin was under suspicion, so he went to Hong Kong to investigate, where he was also abducted and both were brought to North Korea under the orders of Kim Jong-il. The two were ordered to create films for North Korea, and were also ordered to remarry, which they did in 1983. The two were able to flee from North Korean officials while visiting Austria for a film festival, found asylum in the United States and eventually returned to South Korea in 1994. Seok Geum-seong who played Lady Ahn was quite a veteran, starting in the silent era. Seok also appeared in films such as “The Love Marriage” (1958), “A Female Boss” (1959), “Goryeojang” (1963), “The Daughters of Kim’s Pharmacy” (1963), and “Confession of an Actress” (1967). She was mostly retired from cinema after 1969, though she did make an appearance in Shin Sang-ok’s 1990 film “Mayumi”, his first film directed after escaping from North Korea.

“A Hometown in Heart” was the first Korean film made as a cultural exchange with a foreign country - being France. The film “La voix du rêve” (The Voice of Dreams) was to be screened in Korea and “A Hometown in Heart” in France. Prior to the scheduled French screening in 1950, the film played for special limited engagements in June 1949 in Korea before the French screenings. Initial reviews were quite positive by critics praising the fresh heartwarming nature of the film, the locations, and the director, though it was something that couldn’t be shared with the masses, as it only played for a short 5 days in one theater in Korea . It seems silly in hindsight, but Dong-Seo Productions sent their prints to France, did not keep any for their own archive, and the exported prints were never returned. In addition, with director Yun Yon-gyu and some other members of the film defecting to North Korea during the war, films such as "A Hometown in Heart" were basically erased from the South Korean public, with films being vaulted or even cut to remove the scenes featuring defected actors. For years the best surviving film print for "A Hometown in Heart" was a 16mm personal copy that was donated to the Korean Film Archive by executive producer Lee Gang-su in 1993. Miraculously in 2005, a 35mm master positive struck from the original negative was found by the National Film Center in Tokyo, Japan, and a copy was made and sent to the Korean Film Archive for their preservation purpose. In 2011, the Korean Film Archive released the film on the DVD format. A little over a decade later, KOFA has revisited the film, this time on the Blu-ray format with a 4K restoration.

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 35mm master positive and a release print were the basis for a 4K restoration, which began in 2019 with the scanning of the elements and the digital restoration was completed in 2022. The image restoration by KOFA and Image Power Station here is quite exceptional, though there are noticeable imperfections due to the source material as expected. The black and white image has been cleaned, stabilized, color corrected, and had meticulous digitally automated and manual restoration techniques applied. Damage marks such as scratches and speckles that were noticeable on the previous DVD release have been eliminated almost entirely, yet still keeping film grain fully intact and not having any digital or waxy appearances. Grey level has been well balanced and is consistent throughout for a pleasing image without any fluctuation or weaving of greys. As stated, there are some weak shots that are found in the film that are incredibly blurry, not due to degradation, but due to the original filming with the handcranked Parvo camera. Most shots look wonderful, while it would suddenly cut to a shot that is blurred. The restoration could not fix these moments and are kept intact as is. There are still moments of subtle flickering and speckle marks being visible, but overall it is quite a splendid experience. An odd choice with the transfer is KOFA's decision to slightly windowbox the film, so there are thin black bars on the top and bottom of the frame, like KOFA's Blu-ray releases of "The Flower in Hell" and "The Coachman". Overall, this is another excellent restoration from KOFA and a significant upgrade from the previous DVD release.

The film's runtime is 78:01, which includes restoration text notes at the start.


Korean LPCM 1.0
The original Korean audio track is presented uncompressed. The 35mm master positive and a 16mm release print were used for the audio restoration. Like all Korean productions of the period and in subsequent years, the dialogue was not recorded on set and was post-synchronized. The original materials had issues with frequent noise, pops, crackle, and dropouts which were corrected through digitally automated and manual techniques. While the overall track sounds quite clear without errors, the dialogue is quite weak, with limited range and depth. Certain scenes sound better that others, with some portions having the dialogue quite muted. This is not particularly the fault of the restoration but more with the original recording process and the elements preserved. Again, compared to the previous DVD release which had no major restoration applied, the restored track is quite an upgrade.

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


Audio commentary by film critic and filmmaker Chung Sung-ill
A newly recorded commentary by Chung who has frequently appeared on various KOFA commentaries returns here, though unfortunately it follows the trend of KOFA no longer providing English subtitles for their commentary tracks.
in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Digital Restoration: Before & After" featurette (3:06)
Presented are a side by side comparison of various sequences from the film with restoration tools applied. Although the captions say "restored", it basically only showcases the image restoration with the removal of scratches, stains, and other debris, while not showing color correction or framing, which was another process altogether. The featurette clearly shows the effort done to bring the film back to a clean state.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, with English & Korean text

Image Gallery
A series of stills from the film which are basically taken from the film itself, along with one still of the cast and crew together.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

A 56 page bilingual booklet is included in Korean and English. First are the film credits and a synopsis. This is followed by restoration notes for the film. The first essay is "Director Yun Yong-gyu, Who Has Left Only One Film as a Masterpiece in the History of Korean Cinema" by Chung Chonghwa, the head of research and curation at KOFA, which discussed about Yun's very limited biography. Yun's birth and life in Korea, when he went to Japan to study, and his life after defecting to North Korea are all based on speculation, so what is left is through the one feature he made in Korea as well as the few assistant director credits in a few Japanese features. Discussed about are the companies he worked for, and the making-of and reception of "A Hometown in Heart". Next is a review of the film, again written by Chung entitled "A Masterpiece with Beatiful Mise-en-scene, During the Liberation Period: A Hometown in Heart". This is a more in-depth look at the film with its making, themes, and it's fate and restoration. There are also stills and booklet credits included. A unique inclusion for this booklet is in the middle section, with 12 pages entitled "Photo Story". Here are various stills from the film in chronological order with Korean and English captions to narrate the story from beginning to end with spoilers. The English translations here are not as good as the rest of the booklet, which doesn't quite flow as well as it should.

The previous DVD release from KOFA only included the stills gallery which is ported to the Blu-ray. The booklet that was included was shorter, though it had some differing written materials.


This is spine #30 in KOFA's Blu-ray series. The disc is packaged in a clear keep case which also holds three postcards, featuring three black & white stills. The keep case and booklet are housed in a slipbox.


“A Hometown in Heart” is a timeless heartwarming and heartbreaking film, being a precursor to the late 1950’s and 1960’s melodramas that filled the South Korean cinemas to large crowds. It’s a shame due to the exchange muck-up and also due to the Korean War that it never found an audience in its home country at the time, but thankfully KOFA's recovery and restoration has brought this back to the light. The Blu-ray release has a great transfer of the 4K restoration, though it's still an unfortunate trend that they are no longer subtitling their audio commentaries for international audiences. Still comes as recommended.

Note the film is also available to watch for free on Korean Film Archive's YouTube channel, in an unrestored form.

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


Rewind DVDCompare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, amazon.de, amazon.it and amazon.es . As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.