Newsletter Vol. 35 | Special Screening: Nakdong River, Heals the Wound of the Korean War

  • 2022. 09. 30  21:29
#BIFF2022 #NakdongRiver
Newsletter Vol. 35 | 2022.09.30
Special Screening: Nakdong River,

A Symphonic Poem That Heals

the Wound of the Korean War

[Captured Still from Nakdong River] (Source: Korean Film Archives)

Nakdong River (Jeon Chang-keun, 1952), which was produced during the Korean War, will be unveiled to public for the first time at the 27th Busan International Film Festival.  A total of fourteen feature films are known to have been produced during the Korea War, which continued from 1950 to 1953, yet all the film prints of them were considered to have been lost until ten years ago. The Korean Film Archive discovered and presented The Street of Sun (Min Kyoung-sik, 1952) in 2013, and A Bouquet of Thirty Million People (Shin Kyeong-gyun) in 2020, strengthening the desire that we might finally be able to fill out the blank of the filmography that covers the war period. Nakdong River is the third film in this collection. The format of the print that KOFA discovered is the 16mm original negative — the very original print used during the film’s production. Nakdong River was originally miscategorized as a documentary film, and its print was placed into the vault at the Korean Film Archive without any production details attached. When it was rediscovered during an inspection later, it was found to be a narrative film made in 1952, and was immediately classified for remastering into 4K digital format. Unlike the two films that were previously open to public, Nakdong River (44 minutes 45 seconds long) remained intact showing no signs of sound or image loss, which makes it highly valuable both as a work of art, and as a document of the time.

This film was produced by Moomyung Film Institute founded by a photographer Kim Jae-moon and the Folk Culture Research Association organized by the artists based in Busan city with the support of Gyeongnam Provincial Government in 1951. It was completed with the post-production support of Daehan Collaborative Film Studio located in Jinhae-eup, Gyeongsangnam-do. The film was directed by Jeon Chang-keun, an actor and director who represented Korean cinema during the Japanese colonial time and the liberation period afterward with such artists as Lee Eun-sang, Yun I-sang, and Jo Yong-ja readily participating. The film is not only an amazing testament to what filmmakers were able to accomplish during the turbulence of the war, but also a historically noteworthy document in that it was officially released in theaters in the refugee cities including Busan and Daegu. Record shows that it had a preview screening at the Busan Cultural Theater in February in 1952 before it officially opened at the Bumin Hall and continued to be screened in the Liberty Cinema in April in Daegu city to comfort the people who were in tremendous pain of war.

The film is based on the poem, Nakdong River, written by Lee Eun-sang, and consists of three parts: Nakdong River of Tradition, Nakdong River of Victory, and Nakdong River of Hope. It is presented in the form of a semi-documentary, symphonizing the acting sequences in which actors Lee Taek-gyun and Choe Ji-ae appear and the real documentary footages of the scenic Nakdong River and the war. The films made during the war often mixed fictional sequences and recorded footages so that they could inform the audience in the refugee cities of the ongoing war situations and increase a sense of reality. The uncommon reality of being in a war was something that could not simply be portrayed with directed images, so the insertion of real footages was more important than anything. In the case of Nakdong River, both documentary and staged footage were used together to bring a battle scene to the screen where people in a village near Nakdong River dig up trenches themselves and fight in a reenactment of the true Nakdong River Battle that took place from August 1st to September 24th in 1950. In addition, the child actor in the role of Jang-song, a character who gets sacrificed in a battle, was a real orphan from Aerinwon, the first orphanage that opened in Busan city.  
Just as important as the images is the music used in this film. It includes a choral performance, entitled Nakdong River, composed by Yun I-sang, a contemporary music composer, along with other musical pieces. According to Yun I-sang specialist Kim Won-chul of the Tongyeong International Music Foundation, the main melody used in the film score is similar to that of the first and second movements of the Poem of Nakdong-River, which was Yun I-sang’s unrevealed symphonic music. Rediscovered in 2017, the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth, the Poem of Nakdong-River had its world premiere performance at the Tongyeong Concert Hall in 2018. Yun I-sang began composing the work in Korea and completed it in 1956 while studying in Paris. It became the basis of the music score of the film made in 1952. The choir, titled Nakdong River, that plays both at the beginning and the end of the film, adapts Lee Eun-sang’s poem as lyrics and completes the film in the form of a grand symphonic poem. The film Nakdong River is a critical text in modern Korean history that shows the miserable tragedy of war can be transcended to total work of art with the passion and spirit of the artists. We are now just beginning to introduce and share the value of this film.
Chonghwa Chung (Head of Research & Curation, Korean Film Archive)

뼚 The 27th Busan International Film Festival: Oct 5 (Wed) – Oct 14 (Fri)

뼚 The 17th Asian Contents & Film Market: Oct 8 (Sat) – Oct 11 (Tues)

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