Korea’s greatest living writer, Hwang Sok-yong, published his much-loved story ‘The Road to Sampo’ in 1973. It is only one of his literary works to evoke the hard lives of the low-paid itinerant workforce, men and women, whose hands, shovels, picks, bodies bore the weight of Park Chung-hee regime of forced economic modernization.
Lee Man-hee did not usually turn to literary texts for inspiration. His imagination was most often ignited by cinematic genres and the challenges of creating something new and compellingly visual out of familiar narrative frameworks. He had become famous with The Marines Who Never Return (1963), the classic Korean War film whose superficial nods to official anti-communism are far outweighed by its anti-war message. The very next year he made a Hitchcock-like noir thriller The Devil’s Stairway and followed it immediately with Black Hair, a dark-beyond-noir crime film: both are classics of chiaroscuro photography. Lee had several run-ins with authority. Zealous red-hunting censors savaged a later war film, one which included scenes of North Korean soldiers protecting a group of South Korean nurses. Lee was dragged through the courts and gaoled; years later his attempt to make a state-sponsored war film was a disaster. Producers began to shun him. Lee always had the recognition of his peers, but a fairly messy personal life and heavy drinking and harassment from state security goons all began to wear him down.
He did not live to see the debut of The Road to Sampo. From twenty or so pages of Hwang Sok-yong Lee Man-hee had managed to spin out a visually powerful, deeply human if uneven tale of three ordinary people lost in a Korea looking for its own future.
This film was digitally restored in 4K in 2021. The original film used for the restoration was the 35mm original negative film and the 17.5mm sound negative film both of which were collected in 1982. This event will be moderated by Young Jin Eric Choi from Korean Film Archive. Following the screening, Young Jin Eric Choi will respond to questions from the audience about the Korean Film Archive and Lee Man-hee’s films.
Young Jin Eric Choi is a film curator and archivist at the Korean Film Archive. His primary work for five years has been uncovering the whereabouts of lost Korean films scattered around the world and arranging for their restitution. He is now a programmer for the CinemathequeKOFA and KMDb VOD. He was also a guest co-editor of Nang Magazine Issue #5 and frequent contributor to the Yeonghwa Cheonguk Magazine.