Scen.: Kim Ki-young. F.: Kim Deok-jin. M.: Kim Ki-young. Scgf.: Kim Hyeon-gyun, Park Seok-in. Mus.: Han Sang-ki. Int.: Kim Jin-kyu (Gu-ryeong), Ju Jeung-ryu (la vedova), Kim Bo-ae (Gat-nan). Prod.: Korean Arts Film Co.. DCP 4K. D.: 87’. Bn.
Goryeojang is a term used to describe the mythical custom of abandoning one’s parents in the mountains once they reach old age. Kim Ki-young’s 1963 film of the same name is set in a famine ravaged village that practices this custom; the film explores a variety of characters and their struggle for survival. Throughout the film Kim scrutinises the limits of what is deemed acceptable by society when its members are perched on the edge of starvation. Where established ethical and rational practices begin to break down, people turn to the shamanistic and supernatural.
The central character of the film is Gu-ryeong (Hanyeo’s Kim Jin-kyu). Permanently injured as the result of a childhood accident, he endures ceaseless insults and ostracism. This makes for uncomfortable viewing for a contemporary audience, yet Kim does not shy away from the brutal and grotesque side of human nature, but rather embraces it with typical black humour. Despite the epic scale, most scenes were shot on set, capturing the claustrophobic atmosphere of village life with its strict rules and customs. Although Goryeojang appears to us as a window into a remote past, the film also works as an allegory for societal turmoil. In interviews, Kim has pointed out how the eventual restructuring of society that we witness at the end of the film refers obliquely to the April Revolution of 1960.
In celebration of the centenary of Kim Ki-young’s birth, the Korean Film Archive has restored the film for its world premiere at Il Cinema Ritrovato. Unfortunately, for two of the reels – the third and sixth – only the sound survives. However, the original screenplay has been utilised to provide a textual description of the missing scenes. Despite its regrettable incompleteness, Goryeojang stands alongside Hanyeo as a prime example of Kim Ki-young’s unique and bold filmmaking, driven by an almost anatomical desire to get under the skin of humanity and expose the truth beneath.
Cho Hyun Jin