[HanCinema's Film Review] "Under the Sky of Seoul" + Full Movie
By Panos Kotzathanasis | Published on
The concept of the "neighborhood drama" is one of the most appealing through the years in cinema, with the usual abundance of characters living in the same setting offering directors an opportunity for episodes of both drama and comedy, frequently resulting in rather entertaining movies. Lee Hyung-pyo offers his own version of the subcategory.
Kim Hak-gyoo is a practitioner of oriental medicine, and a really troublesome patriarch who frequently causes troubles for his kids with his egoistic, stubborn behaviour. He is frequently nasty to his wife, Jo Geum-soon, who also had to suffer for his adulterous behaviour through the years. His daughter, Hyeon-ok, is a widow who own a hair salon, and shares a sympathy with a local western medicine doctor, Choi Doo-yeol. Hak-gyoo, however, considers him his archenemy, and will have none of that. His son, Hyeon-goo, dates Jeom-rye, the daughter of a local bar owner, who eventually gets pregnant, with the unknowing Hak-gyoo being actually the one doing the diagnosis, in one of the funniest scenes in the movie. However, when he finds out that the baby is his son's, he kicks him out of the house, since he considers the girl's family of a lower social status. Hak-gyoo frequently gets drunk with his two friends, Park Joo-sa, a physiognomist and No Mong-hyeon, a failing real estate agent. The former however, has his own shenanigans, frequently flirting with Jeom-rye's mom, to the frustration of his wife.
The last drop in Hak-gyoo behaviour comes during the local elections, when, after learning that Doo-yeol is running, decides to also run himself, causing a rift with his daughter, even though his adversary takes the high road.
Lee Hyung-pyo directs a delightful movie, filled with rather entertaining episodes, most of which move towards the comedy. The shenanigans of the three old men and particularly the prima donna behaviour of Hak-gyoo provide a number of hilarious moments, with the scene where he pretends to commit suicide only to have his legs tickled by Doo-yeol to the bursting laughter of the whole family is one of the most memorable. Joo-sa's mischievous actions also move towards the same path, while the movie also includes a number of minor others, like the couple who always puts Besame Mucho on as loud as possible when they are fighting.
At the same time, the neighborhood functions as a portrait of the then Korean society, where the various social "clashes", between the previous and the new generation, the traditional and the modern, the occidental and the oriental where part of the culture essentially. This aspect is also implemented for comedic reasons, but is also the main source of drama, as Lee uses Hak-gyoo in order to criticize the previous generation, for not adapting to the changes of the modern Korean society, essentially becoming a burden to their children with their dated belief system and stubborn behaviour. The failure of Hak-gyoo in all fronts, as the story progresses, and the way he gets out of the binge he has put himself in is a rather eloquent comment about the whole concept.
The movie benefits immensely by the acting, with the frequent protagonist of the industry at the time giving some of their best performances. Kim Seung-ho-I is impressive as Hak-gyoo, a man who cannot help himself being obnoxious, while his interactions with Heo Jang-kang as Joo-sa and Kim Hee-kap as Mong-hyeon highlight their great chemistry. Kim Jin-kyu as Choi Doo-yeol is quite convincing in showing understanding which occasionally borders on condescension towards Hak-gyoo and for the way he portrays his feelings for Hyeon-ok, with Choi Eun-hee giving another great, and rather vocal this time, performance. Hwang Jung-soon as the bar owner is also great as much as Han Eun-jin as Geum-soon.
The production values, particularly after the restoration the movie underwent, which was commissioned by Busan International Film Festival, are also on a very high level. Choe Su-yeong's cinematography captures the narrow streets, small houses, and shops of the area through a combination of artistry and realism that also has contextual value. Kim Young-hee implements the episodic nature of the narrative through a rather fast pace that adds much to the entertainment the film offers.
"Under the Sky of Seoul" is one of the most entertaining movies of the 60s, a testament to the director and cast's prowess and a title that has stood the test of time in the best way.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
"Under the Sky of Seoul" is directed by Lee Hyung-pyo, and features Kim Seung-ho-I, Heo Jang-kang, Kim Hee-kap, Kim Jin-kyu, Shin Young-kyun, Choi Eun-hee. Release date in Korea: 1961/12/15.
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.