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[HanCinema's Film Review] "Descendants of Cain" + Full Movie

There is propaganda and then there is "Descendants of Cain". By 1968, when the film was shot, the anti-communist (essentially anti-North) sentiment was at its apogee, with the present movie, whose portrayal of the communists borders on the comical, highlights the fact in the best fashion. Even more so since it won the Blue Dragon for Best Film in the particular year and was S. Korea's official submission to the Oscars.


Adapted from a novel by Hwang Sun-won, the film begins in a village, where a celebration is going on for Korea's recent liberation from the Japanese. Amidst drinking and dancing, the gossip and the petty rivalries always associated with small societies are revealed but everything is soon interrupted by the arrival of the communists of the Workers' Party, who almost immediately take over the administration of the village. Even more surprising for the locals, is that one of the newcomers is Choi, a "child of the village" who has been away for six years, and husband to Oh Jak-nyeo, a maid who has developed an affection for her boss, the nephew of the local landlord, Park  Hoon. The " intruders " show their colors from the beginning, as they immediately start to talk about land reform, closing down the school Park  Hoon opened to educate the locals and appropriating it as their base. Furthermore, a drunken Choi proceeds on beating his wife severely, thinking that he has been cheating him with the teacher, although the fact is that, despite having feelings for each other, the two were too "noble" to start a relationship while the girl was still married.

As time passes, the communist rule becomes more and more sinister, with them exploiting every rivalry in order to take the locals on their side, while exercising violence towards the landlords when they are unwilling to give up their land. Dog Hair, the security chief of the communists, emerges as the mastermind behind all that is happening, while the constantly drunken Choi continues to cause trouble, without anyone bothering him due to his role in the Party. Oh's father, Elder Do almost immediately sides with the newcomers, even beating up his daughter when she does not go along with their orders and the awful events keep coming one after the other, until violence is almost inevitable.

As mentioned in the prologue, the portrayal of the two "opposing" groups here is so polarized that it ends up being comical. The three main advocates of communism set the tone quite eloquently. Dog Hair is cruel, cunning and in general willing to do anything to achieve his goals, with the closing down of the school being a prime example of his tactics. Choi is a drunken, violent womanizer while Elder Do's attitude moves somewhere between senility and buffoonery. On the other hand, their advocates of the past ruling class are essentially all virtuous, despite the fact that they were landowners. This applies to both Park  Hoon, the hero of the movie, who manages to stay calm and composed despite the constant challenges, and his family, who are portrayed as benevolent landowners for generations. Furthermore, that Oh Jak-nyeo is as virtuous and heroic as she is victimized also moves into the same direction, in her case trying to draw sympathy for the anti-communist group through her plight, in distinct, melodramatic terms. At the same time though, her story can be perceived as a comment about the place of women at the time, a concept that is also presented through Choi's attitude towards them.

Talking about melodrama, Yu Hyun-mok had a specific goal of drawing audiences in order to present his comments, and in that fashion, including much melodrama was a must. He did not stop there though, as some humor is also interspersed throughout the movie, although frequently in bad taste, while the last part of the film becomes more action-oriented, as the good guys are finally forced to fight the bad ones, and you can probably guess the ending.

Apart from the rather evident propagandistic elements, the movie is quite good in all other aspects. Yu Hyun-mok's presentation of the many episodes involved is rather entertaining, with him building both the story and his characters in great fashion, assisted by the excellent editing by Ree Kyoung-ja, who induces the movie with a very fitting, relatively fast pace. Lee Seok-chul's cinematography captures all the aspects of the rural setting with artistry, with the moment when the "two suitors" meet on their own in a setting that could easily be described as dystopian, being one of the apogees of his work. The same applies to the action scenes, where direction, cinematography and editing all come together in the best fashion.

The acting is also on a very high level. Kim Jin-kyu as Park Hoon gives a very pleasant, measured performance, while Moon Hee is rather convincing as both the victim and the apple of discord as Oh Jak-nyeo. The ones who steal the show, however, are the three " villains ", with Park Nou-sik as Elder Do, Jang Dong-hwi as Dog Hair and Choi Bong as Choi being rather entertaining in the renditions of the characters, even if they are excessive on occasion.

The propaganda in "Descendants of Cain" is as dominant as possible, but if one was to look beyond that, they would find a rather well-directed, well-shot and well-acted film that is quite entertaining from beginning to end.


"Descendants of Cain" is directed by Yu Hyun-mok, and features Kim Jin-kyu, Moon Hee, Park Nou-sik, Jang Dong-hwi, Jeong Min, Choi Bong. Release date in Korea: 1968/06/01.

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