A classic returns -- with words, color

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A classic returns -- with words, color

North Korea’s Kim Jong-il is human, after all. While crafting nuclear arms, he needs time to relax. Mr. Kim is noted for being a cinephile and one of his recent viewings was the South Korean production “2003 Arirang.”
The Dear Leader was said to be deeply moved by the film and with his blessing, “2003 Arirang” became the first movie to open simultaneously in South and North.
In Seoul, “2003 Arirang” is also the only film to open squarely against “The Matrix: Reloaded,” a much-anticipated American production, on May 23.
“2003 Arirang” happens to be a remake of the legendary 1926 film “Arirang” by Na Wun-gyu, a talented filmmaker and pro-independence activist during the Japanese colonial era until his premature death in 1937, whose philosophy was reflected in his films.
“Arirang” was no exception, as it pitted Korean grassroots activists against their Japanese overlords. The protagonist, Yeong-jin, is a college student who goes berserk after being tortured for his involvement in the independence movement. At this time, Gi-ho, a puppet of the Japanese, hounds Yeong-jin’s sister, Yeong-hee.
The son of a well-off and evil landlord, Gi-ho threatens to make Yeong-hee his mistress. Yeong-hee, on the other hand, pines for Yeong-jin’s friend.
After learning of his rival, Gi-ho attempts to defile Yeong-hee but just in time, Yeong-jin regains his sanity and stabs Gi-ho to death. The films ends with Yeong-jin’s execution, and the tearful villagers singing “Arirang,” a folk song.
When it first showed in 1926, at the peak of the colonial period, the film saw unprecedented success. The 2003 version, meanwhile, was born from veteran director Lee Doo-yong, whose best days were in the 1970s and the 1980s. Mr. Lee tried to stay true to the original, which is a silent, black-and-white film.
As a result, “2003 Arirang” features a background narrator. Mr. Lee also pursued the old-fashioned 18 frame film method. At a press conference Tuesday, Mr. Lee said, “I wanted to pursue a harmony between a topic from the past and the sensitivity of the present,” as represented in the scene where Yeong-jin comes to, and Mr. Lee switches from black-and-white to color.
Lee Chul-min, the film’s producer, said he had entertained hopes for showing the film in North Korea from the get-go. Last October, with filming completed, Mr. Lee brought the film to Pyeongyang, where it was well received.
“I observed the North Koreans crying and laughing during the film,” Mr. Lee said.
The film will open at two theaters in Pyeongyang, at no cost to cinema-goers. Only one line found disfavor with the North Koreans, when the narrator says, “The haves as well as the have-nots can enjoy the film.” North Korean authorities asked the production staff to erase it, but otherwise the film is intact, according to Mr. Lee, the producer.
“2003 Arirang” opens at the Pyeongyang and the Arc de Triomphe movie theaters in North Korea along with 70 other theaters in the South.


by Chun Su-jin
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