The greatest free streaming service for cinephiles is the Korean Film Archive’s YouTube channel. It hosts an ever-expanding assortment of restored and subtitled movies which have been chosen for his or her excellent high quality and their significance to the historical past of Korean cinema. Imagine a free US movie archive that made out there Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Gone With The Wind and The Godfather, in addition to 100 different classics, and also you begin to see what a present KOFA’s YouTube channel is to the world.
Among the numerous nice movies it presents, one stands out above all of them: Obaltan, Yu Hyun-mok’s 1961 masterpiece about life in Seoul within the aftermath of the Korean conflict. The greatest technique to perceive the distinction between how Obaltan is regarded in South Korea and the way it’s regarded within the west is to think about the outcomes of three polls.
In a ballot of film-makers held in 1999 by the South Korean newspaper the Chosun Ilbo, Obaltan was voted the very best Korean film ever made. In a 2014 ballot of consultants organised by the Korean Film Archive itself, the title of biggest Korean movie was shared by three films. They had been Ha Gil-jong’s bittersweet campus comedy The March of Fools; Kim Ki-young’s satirical horror film The Housemaid (which is a favorite of Martin Scorsese’s and the acknowledged inspiration for Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning Parasite); and, as soon as once more, Obaltan.
In distinction, when the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound journal held the 2012 version of its prestigious Greatest Films of All Time ballot, Obaltan didn’t obtain a single vote from any of the 846 contributors. Other Korean classics obtained votes. Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space obtained a vote. But Obaltan obtained none. Clearly, this can be a movie that the majority audiences within the Anglosphere have but to find.
And what a movie they are going to discover once they do. Obaltan – typically translated as “Stray Bullet” or, maybe extra precisely, as “Aimless Bullet” – is as desolate and atmospheric as any American movie noir. It sits alongside The Third Man and among the main classics of Italian neorealism as one of many nice movies about peacetime in a metropolis nonetheless disfigured by conflict.
The brilliance of Obaltan’s narrative is that the movie focuses on whichever character is most vital to the motion for so long as they continue to be vital to the motion, after which withdraws from them nearly utterly. Consequently, it takes some time to work out which is the central character.
At first, it appears as if it could possibly be Gyeongsik (Yoon Il-bong), a disabled veteran who now walks with crutches and feels he has misplaced his place on the earth as absolutely as if he had by no means returned from the conflict. Then it seems to be Gyeongsik’s former military comrade, Yeongho (Choi Moo-ryong), who’s discovering it equally tough to suit into civilian society.
Eventually, we see that the character round whom all of the others are in orbit is actually Yeongho’s brother, Cheolho (Kim Jin-kyu), a quiet, devoted accountant on whose small wage a complete prolonged household relies upon. The household lives in Haebangchon (“Liberation Village”), a hillside shanty city crammed with households that misplaced their houses within the conflict and / or defected from North Korea.
Cheolho’s spouse is 9 months pregnant. His brother is a legal responsibility. His sister is quickly to be arrested for prostitution. And his bedridden mom, who has post-traumatic stress dysfunction or dementia or each, believes bombs are nonetheless dropping and repeatedly moans “Let’s go!” or “Let’s get out of here!” – by far essentially the most well-known traces within the script – to family members who’ve nowhere to go and no means of getting there in the event that they did.
On high of that, he has an incessant toothache he can’t afford to repair. Kim Jin-kyu’s efficiency is so efficient that the ache seeps out of Cheolho’s enamel and into our personal. Watching occasions put on him down is like watching waves relentlessly eroding a precarious cliff.
The most haunting picture in Obaltan is among the most haunting photos I’ve ever seen. Driven to crime, Yeongho botches a financial institution theft. Chased by the police, he flees by way of a sewer, the place he hears a child’s cry. The child, he sees, is sure to its mom’s again. The mom has hanged herself. Yeongho runs on. So do the cops. The child continues crying.
The shot of the useless mom’s dangling physique is as fleeting, and as unforgettable, as our first glimpse of Orson Welles in The Third Man. Seeing it, we realise – if we haven’t realised already – that the wretched lives we’ve been following within the movie usually are not uncommon. Everyone in post-war Seoul has a narrative of struggling, and the town is detached to all of them.