The Korean Film Archive channel is filled with movies taking place in secluded areas, like villages in the mountains and remote islands. "The Seashore Village" is definitely among the best, as it implements a different approach, focusing, almost exclusively, on women, who, as we are about to see, were much less bound by the "rules" of social conduct than their mainland counterparts. Let us take things from the beginning, though.
The seashore village of the title is situated in a remote island, whose population deals almost exclusively with fishing, the men on boats, and the women diving, at least the ones who are not "burdened" exclusively with the house chores. Hae-soon is a newly married, very beautiful woman who leaves in the household of her husband, along with his brother and the mother of the two men. Unfortunately, her husband dies during a fishing trip, and Hae-soon has to experience the fate of the many widows in the island. These women, and the ones married for that matter, function as a team, always helping and encouraging each other, while the talk of men and sex frequently dominates their conversation, even in the open (the difference from the ones in the mainland I mentioned before), while the search for companion even leads them to Sapphic relationships. Instigated by their words, Hae-soon decides to follow her heart and sleep with Sang-soo, a young coal miner who pursued her since she became a widow, annoying, at the same time, her brother-in-law, who was hoping she would end up with him, with both of them remaining in their household. When Sang-soo spreads word about their affair, the couple has to face social prejudice, although her mother-in-law, in a rather bold move, helps the two to get away from the island, despite the difficulties this will bring to her household. The couple ends up in a mining site, but Hae-soon's beauty creates more problems.
Kim Soo-yong directs a film that functions in two levels, one directed to entertainment through the romance and the melodrama, and an underlying one, which presents his comments about life in the island villages and particularly the one of women, and the struggle between the rules of social conduct and human will.
The first seems somewhat generic, but the way the two end up together is rather unique, as are their "adventures'. The tragedy that concludes falls under the melodramatic aspect, but at the same time stresses the "Calling" people who have grown up near the sea feel for the water. Additionally, it seems to state that the people who have no regard for the rules (mostly referring to the "obligations" of a widow) will eventually be punished, rather harshly. Despite this comment though, the film ends with a rather optimistic note, again resulting from the comradeship of the women mentioned before.
On a secondary level applying, Kim suggests that love can make people forget their restrictions.
The second level functions in documentary-like realism, as life in the seaside village is presented with accuracy, particularly regarding the poorness of the people, again with the focus being on women. This realism benefits the most from Jeon Jo-myeong's cinematography who presents the setting with precision, not neglecting to present a number of images of extreme beauty. The fact that the women living in such places, where the authoritative hand of the law could not reach, experience much more freedom with their conduct is one of the central comments, although Kim seems to suggest that if one takes this freedom too far, he/she will be punished. On another secondary level, Kim suggests that women can be slaves to their appearance, with the concept presented through a number of episodes through the story.
The acting in the film is on a very high level. Ko Eun-ah-I as Hae-soon is excellent in presenting a woman who struggles between abiding to the rules and following her heart, in a combination of innocence and sensualism that also benefits the most from her looks. Shin Young-kyun as Sang-soo is also quite good as a man who knows what he wants and how far he is willing to reach to get it. Hwang Jung-soon is great as Hae-soon's mother-in-law, in a rather dramatic role that has her decide between the will of her son and of her daughter-in-law, all the while suffering the loss of her other son and a sense of despair about her future.
All of the above are presented in a rather fast pace, with Yu Jae-won's editing implementing very frequent cuts that intensify the entertainment aspect of the film.
"The Seashore Village" is another masterpiece of Korean cinema, a film that manages to provide food for thought, to entertain and to inform at the same time.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[Guest Film Review] "The Seashore Village""
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