Monday, June 9, 2008

The Daughters of Kim's Pharmacy

Sunday night, after watching the men's final of the French Open, I was flipping through the channels when I came across an old Korean film on EBS, the educational channel.

The film was shot in black-and-white and 'Scope, and the dialogue was post-synced. I placed it somewhere between the mid-1950s and late 60s, although I didn't know enough about Korean cinema to say for certain. It crossed my mind that it might've been made as recently as the mid-70s.

I'm even less certain of the period in which it was set. Many of the characters wear traditional Korean clothing, but one man (I think he's a sailor) wears overalls in every scene in which he appears. Others even wear western-style suits. At the earliest I would guess the late nineteenth century when Korea first established trade relations with the U.S., and at the latest the mid-twentieth towards the end of Japanese colonial rule.

I didn't get any of plot which involves a large cast of characters with no apparent single protagonist. I did catch the occassional "Abeoji" (Father), and in one scene, an old woman accompanying a reluctant younger woman through the woods at night says "Ka ja" (Let's go) no fewer than a dozen times.

The film's director is evidently a metteur-en-scène. Favoring long shots over close-ups, s/he does an impressive of moving his/her actors around the set. That said, one can't simply follow the images and expect to understand what's happening. The few visual clues we do get aren't of much help. In one shot we see some one--their face isn't visible in the frame--putting on a pair of men's pants in the foreground while a small boy sleeps behind him.

Another obstacle to understanding the plot is the condition of the film itself. In an early scene we see a young woman and man walking through the forest. A jump cut later they're both on the ground, but I wouldn't rush to any conclusions: they're both still fully dressed.

The style initially seems realistic, but as the story takes on supernatural elements, the director begins to introduce tilted angles, and the acting ranges wildly from naturalistic to theatrical.

Every so often the film's title would flash on screen: 김약국의 달들 (Kimyakgukeui Daldeul). The English title, according to IMDb, is The Daughters of Kim's Pharmacy (1963), and the director is Hyun Mok Yoo. If you know where I can find a subtitled DVD in Busan, I'd much appreciate it.

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