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Ko - production in Busan
  • by Pierce Conran /  Aug 27, 2019

  • 1967 | 73 MIN | Drama
    DIRECTOR LEE Man-hee
    CAST SHIN Seong-il, JEON Ji-youn, KIM Seong-ok, KIM Sun-cheol
    CONTACT Korean Film Archive
    Tel +82 2 3153 2001
    Fax +82 2 3153 2080

    One of the towering figures of Korean cinema, LEE Man-hee passed away in 1975 at the age of 44, during which time he made 51 films, though only half of those remain in circulation. Among his many classic works, A Day Off, one of four films he made in 1968, is often singled out as his greatest achievement, even though censorship woes meant it only became available to the public for the first time in 2005. A modernist masterpiece, A Day Off presents a bleak look at life in Seoul in the late 1960s.

    Huh-wook (SHIN Seong-il) starts off his Sunday by getting his fortune told by a woman and her bird, who tell him that he should steer clear of women today. The problem is that every Sunday he goes to meet his girlfriend Jee-youn (JEON Jee-youn). Without a penny between them for so much as a coffee, the pair wander the Namsan hills. There, Jee-youn tells Huh-wook that she has fallen pregnant. They decide to get an abortion and so Huh-wook delves back into the city to try and scrounge money of his friends, which proves complicated.

    Replete as it is with agonized histrionics as Huh-wook and Jee-youn despair over their lot in life against the barren winter landscape of Namsan Mountain, A Day Off offers a truly Korean take on modernism. With this existentialist melodrama, Director LEE presents a simple story that drifts over the course of a brief 73-minute running time, but the film’s true power arises from its evocation of mood. LEE Seok-gi’s stark black and white compositions, the striking use of locations, which include an empty construction site at night that seems to express the inner chaos in Huh-wook’s mind when he finds himself at his lowest point, or the judicious use of sound, such as the church bells that briefly snap him back to reality towards the climax, all come together to create a bleak yet terribly affecting tone poem that is quite unlike any other Korean film that emerged at the time.

    The film was originally banned by censors when Director LEE, together with the writer and producer of the film, wouldn’t kowtow to requested changes regarding the film’s ending, which was considered far too bleak for audiences. Thus, after the film languished in a canister for decades and was finally unveiled to the people to a completely different generation in 2005, it proved to be a rare frank and unmolested view of Korean society in the late 1960s.

    A Day Off also features one of the most memorable performances by the great SHIN Seong-il, the classic Korean films titan who passed away just last year after having appeared in over 500 films throughout his lengthy career.
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