[HanCinema's Film Review] "A Man and a Gisaeng" + Full Movie
By Panos Kotzathanasis | Published on
By the end of the 60s, the advance of TV, the extreme Westernization, and the intense censorship did not leave much space for artistic expression to local filmmakers. The result was a plethora of subpar films that aimed exclusively to entertain the audience, frequently by imitating Hollywood production. Expectedly, Shin Sang-ok was a big part of the wave, and "A Man And a Gisaeng", which was co-directed by Shim Wu-seob, is a distinct sample, although the directors did manage to make some interesting comments in the middle of all the slapstickness here.
Tae-ho is fired from his office job for being unmanly, by his boss Mr. Heo, a man who frequents the gisaeng houses. As luck has it, after one of his fights with one of the girls, she is fired and the manager of the parlor, Pung-san is desperate to find another girl to take his place. In comes Tae-ho, who is convinced by Do-jin, Mr Heo's son who is also seeing his sister, taekwondo master Tae-sook, to dress up as a gisaeng and take the place of the fired woman. Tae-ho reluctantly agrees, since he needs the money, but soon finds himself becoming quite popular among the patrons, including Mr Heo. Things become even more complicated when the latter invites his newfound "pet" to an excursion and Tae-ho is forced to go.
Evidently, the comical elements here fill the narrative, without any particular logic, especially in the way all protagonists end up being connected. At the same time, Shim Wu-seob implements the omnipresent episodic approach to his narrative, which is filled with events and characters, in the style almost every Shin Sang-ok's movie ever had. The aim is definitely to make the audience laugh, with Tae-ho's appeal being quite funny, particularly with the way he looks as a woman, while Heo's constantly embarrassing demeanor and Tae-sook's tomboyish ways, which inevitably include a skirmish with thugs, cement this element in the most amusing, but also cliched fashion. The Western-like music, including Korean editions of rock n roll tracks also moves in the same crowd pleasing path, in a style though, that can also be perceived as a comment on Westernization.
What can definitely be perceived as a remark, however, is the decline of the concept of gisaeng by that time, with the difficulties both them and their managers faced as Korea was changing significantly, being a subtle, but also pointed one. The same applies to the homosexual elements here, that begin with Tae-ho's firing and continue with his later attitude, although considering the censorship of the era, having him eventually in a romantic heterosexual relationship was inevitable. Lastly, a comment of how 'men' and the rich ruled the world can also be found throughout the movie.
Again as usually with the films Shin Sang-ok was involved in, "A Man And a Gisaeng" is quite well shot. Kim Jong-rae's cinematography captures the various settings the episodes take place in, from gisaeng parlors, to poor houses, to rich houses, to the country, to the office, with artistry and realism, in a style that also adds to the comedy. The same applies to O Seong-hwan's editing, whose occasionally sudden cuts induce the movie with a relatively fast pace that suits the episodic style of the narrative.
Koo Bong-seo is quite funny as Tae-ho, both as a man and a woman, with an excessiveness that fits the style of the movie. Kim Cheong-ja and her taekwondo ways as Tae-sook are also funny to watch, although the one who steals the show is Heo Jang-kang as President Heo, whose shenanigans are the main source of episodes here, in a style that essentially dictates that of the whole movie.
"A Man And a Gisaeng" has its merits, particularly regarding the aforementioned comments, but in the end, it has not stood the test of time, with its comedy appearing mostly distasteful, and the whole film just another title in Shin Sang-ok's production factory.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
"A Man And a Gisaeng" is directed by Shim Wu-seob, and features Koo Bong-seo, Do Kum-bong, Kim Cheong-ja, Heo Jang-kang, Yang Hun, Lee Bin-hwa. Release date in Korea: 1969/01/01.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.