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Lee Jang-ho, movie director of everlasting youth

2006/07/19 | 1221 views | Permalink | Source

Director Lee Jang-ho made his debut in the movie community triumphantly with the movie "Stars' Home" in 1974. He will turn 61 next year. He was born in May 15, 1945, the year Korea was liberated from Japan's colonial rule. He underwent many hardships during the tumultuous history of modern Korea, and is poised to commemorate his 61st birthday soon.
Movie director representing Korea in the 1980s

No one would deny that he is the most important figure among those who spearheaded changes in the Korean movie industry in the 1980s. Of course, there are several other directors who are senior to Lee and just as experienced who played important roles. But Lee stood out conspicuously because he represented the sentiment of young people during the time of greatest fluctuations in Korea's history, while making his name in Chungmuro, the mecca of the Korean movie industry. He produced 19 movies through the dark age in Korean society to modern times, ending his film directing career with his last work "Declaration of Geniuses" in 1995.
Career movie man

Born in May 15, 1945 in Seoul, Lee studied architecture at Hongik University. He had dreamed of working in the movie industry while he was growing up, though he was unsure which specific area he wanted to work in. Then, he had an opportunity to meet the legendary movie director Shin Sang-ok together with his father, who served as a movie industry regulator. That event made Lee decide to become a movie director, because he became angry and envious to see Shin behaving somewhat arrogantly.

He experienced the hardships facing the Korean movie community while learning movie production under the mentorship of Shin. At first he wanted to become an actor, not a director. He understood what actors did but was completely ignorant of a movie director's role. He went to Shin's office because he wanted to become an actor affiliated with Shin Films, which was the breeding ground of top stars during that time, including Kim Seung-ho-I, Shin Young-kyun, Namkoong Won, and Shin's wife Choi Eun-hee. His first encounter with Shin immediately broke down in failure, and he started work as a staff member on Shin's directing team, which he continued over the next eight years.

Lee would also be criticized and verbally abused by Shin around that time, but Shin remained his icon. Lee says he still cannot forget the moment when Shin called him by his name "Jang-ho" for the first time in four years. While Lee was undergoing such tough times, Lee's father offered Lee every possible support. Lee came to realize what movies were all about thanks to the all-out support of his father, whom he says he still misses very much. Then, relying on his competitive spirit, he made his debut with the movie "Stars' Home (1974)". Fortunately, the work proved a huge success, drawing massive attention.

Lee's movies are neither straight-talking nor provocative. Together with his friends, including novelist Choi In-ho, he tried to laud freedom through movies in an era of oppression and control by authorities. Although he did not talk explicitly about social issues in his movies, he would implicitly raise issues with injustice which most educated people adequately grasped. After "Stars' Home", he produced a series of movies depicting problems in Korean society and works that linked audiences with reality. These include "Windy But Pleasant Day" (1980), "Sons of Darkness (1981)", "Take the Humble Path", "Declaration of Fools(1983)" and "Widow's Dance (1983)".

"Windy but Pleasant Day", through which Lee made a type of "re-debut" as a movie director, shows the original form of the Korean movie community, which was making a fresh start in the 1980s. One can realize from the movie that Korean movies were not using the conventional method found in Western drama films at that time, but rather comprised an integration of rough images that were unrefined in style. Government inspection and regulation posed the biggest obstacle to movie production during that period. There were only 24 movie production companies that were certified by the authoritarian government, and they all collaborated with the national security agency. It was not long before Lee made the list of persona-non-grata for movie producers. He was forced into cooperation and ended up complying with the authorities to survive. Around this period, he produced such movies as "Between Knees (1984)", and "Eoudong (1986)".

These movies appeared to be successes at box offices, but he faced harsh criticism by his colleagues, and critics blasted him for the loss of his critical eye, and he regretted his conversion. But one must note that he was an artist and movie producer all at once. He established a movie production company that would produce funny and bizarre movies. Yet in his own fashion, he pursued the most efficient method of movie production that effectively preempted funding companies and investors' attempts to control production. He looked poised to enjoy a second zenith in his movie career thanks to the success of two consecutive movies. But he had to stop directing movies after his next five movies from 1987 onward proved to be commercial failures.
Resumption of movie career through PIFan

Then, one day he found himself a senior member of the Korean movie community. Currently, he is serving as the chief of the Jeonju Video Art Committee, and a professor of the play and movie department at Jeonju University. Lee also took the post of chief organizer of the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, also known as PIFan. Having just resumed the same work nine years after serving as the festival's first chief organizer, Lee is determined to restore the PIFan, which has undergone hard times over the past years.

Commenting on the recent brisk growth of the Korean movie industry, Lee said that Korean movies have developed to a level comparable to foreign moves as an industry and as entertainment, with their quality making great strides relative to production costs. However, he was quick to point out that Korean movies lost a sense of morality and social responsibility, with weakened recognition of social issues reflected in films amid the improved production environment. He also said that young people learning movie production these days lack interest in issues other than movies themselves, and he cautiously expressed his hope that the movie community will cultivate more talented personnel with far-reaching insight into diverse fields.

Lee says he is about to restart his life as he enters his 60s. He is now busy preparing to produce another movie and taking steps to launch a musical version of "Stars' Home" on stage in November next year.

1965 Associate director
1974 Makes debut as director with "Stars' Home"
1996 Director, Korea Films Institute
Grand prize and the best movie award of the Baeksang Arts Awards
Masterpiece award at the Chicago International Film Festival
1997 International Films Critics Association Award at the Tokyo International Films Festival
2002 Seoul Metropolitan City Culture Award (Movie category)
Currently professor of the video and art college, Jeonju University,
Chief organizer of the 10th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

Major works

"Alien Baseball Team" (1986)
"Declaration of Fools" (1983)
"Windy but Pleasant Day" (1980)
"Stars' Home" (1974)
and others

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