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Ko - production in Busan
  • by Pierce Conran /  Apr 14, 2020

  • 1961103 MINDrama, Romance
    CAST CHOI Eun-hee, KIM Jin-gyu, JEON Young-sun, DO Kum-bong
    CONTACT Korean Film Archive (KOFA)
    Tel +82 2 3153 2001
    Fax +82 2 3153 2080 

    Often cited as one of the greatest Korean cinema classics, SHIN Sang-ok’s Mother And A Guest (1961), in addition to perhaps being Director SHIN’s masterpiece, may well be the definitive ‘literary film’, a term reserved for elegant adaptations of respected literature, in this case, JU Yo-seop’s 1930s novel of the same name. Affording us an unfettered view of a conflicted contemporaneous society through the eyes of a young child, SHIN’s timeless work evinces the shifting values of a post-War Korea torn between the obligations of tradition and the attractive pull of modernity.

    Ok-hee (JEON Young-sun) is a young girl who lives with her grandmother (on her late father’s side), her mother (CHOI Eun-hee) and their housekeeper (DO Kum-bong) in what has been dubbed the ‘widow house’. One day Mr. Han (KIM Jin-gyu), an old friend of her father’s, rents the vacant room in the house. Ok-hee grows fond of him and before long notices an unspoken attraction between him and her widowed mother, who is bound by her role as a widow and is careful not to express her desires. At the same time, the housekeeper enters into a relationship with a local egg seller and soon after an unfortunate misunderstanding causes a scandal in the household.

    Mother and a Guest takes place neither in the countryside or the big city, but rather the smaller town of Suwon (these days a major satellite city) within striking distance of Seoul. The adult women of this story, all widows living under the same cottage roof, wear traditional clothes while the male guest wears a western suit. Particularly striking is the mother in her hanbok playing Chopin tunes at her piano, an image that effectively highlights her aspirations without her ever needing to express what she desires in words.

    What separates SHIN’s film from other socially-minded melodramas of the time is its steadfast simplicity and its precocious young protagonist, two elements which go hand-in-hand and serve to amplify the tale’s social ambitions. Much like Pather Panchali (1955), the first film in Satyjit Ray’s celebrated ‘Apu Trilogy’ and just as fellow Korean cineaste YOON Ga-eun would excel at decades later in her acclaimed independent films The World of Us (2016) and The House of Us (2019), SHIN’s work shows us the world of adults through the eyes of a young child, a technique which, when done successfully, allows the hypocrisies that suffocate the adult world to be clearly reflected back to us.

    SHIN’s classic reunites stars CHOI Eun-hee (the director’s wife in real life) and KIM Jin-gyu, who had already starred together in seven of SHIN’s films, including that year’s smash hit Seong Chun-HyangMother And A Guest was restored last year by the Korean Film Archive (KOFA) with support from Korean portal site giant Naver and is currently available to view for free on their Youtube channel ( and was also recently published on Blu-ray.
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