One of the seminal artists driving the renewal of the Korean cinema that began in the 1970s and reached full flowering in the Korean New Wave of the late 1980s and 1990s, Lee Jang-ho (b.1945) is among the most influential filmmakers of his generation. A mentor to such luminary directors as Park Kwang-su and Jang Sun-woo, Lee received his formative training working as an assistant to the great Shin San-Ok. Lee's long and impressive career as rebellious spirit pushing always against the constraints of draconian government censorship and the dominant tradition of commercial genre formulas began in earnest in the mid-1970s when he banded with a group of like-minded artists and critics to helped launch Young Sang Shi Dae, Korea’s first authentic film art movement. Translated literally as "The Era of the Image," Young Sang Shi Dae, was the name Lee and the UCLA-educated director Ha Kil-chong gave to the influential film journal that began shortly after the group formed, publishing articles and editorials calling for a new brand of art film able to awaken the unrealized potential of the Korean cinema. Forging a tight network of young filmmakers, screenwriters and actors in their 20s and 30s, Young Sang Shi Dae also brought together performers and artists from the theater and art worlds, creating an unprecedentedly rich cross-pollination among the new generation who would not only witness but participate actively in the profound transformation of Korean cinema and culture after the fall of the military dictatorship.
In key films such as his visionary The Man With Three Coffins, Lee embraced a bold mode of free narrative, exploring as much an elusive mood as the haunting theme of dislocation and profound loneliness that informs the best films of the period. Largely unavailable and unseen in the US, the films of Lee Jang-ho remain difficult to see even in Korea due to complexities of copyright and prints, the vestiges of the upheaval that took place in the film industry in the Seventies and Eighties. In defiance of the obstacles placed in the way of a larger retrospective, the Harvard Film Archive offers a suite of three seminal films in Lee's oeuvre as an intervention, a tribute and an urgently needed introduction to one of the Korean cinema's most influential voices.
The Harvard Film Archive is proud to welcome Lee Jang-ho here for all three evenings.— Haden Guest
Co-sponsored by the Korea Institute, Harvard University. Special thanks: Susan Laurence, Jina Kim – Korea Institute, Harvard; Oh Sung-ji – Korean Film Archive
Directed by Lee Jang-ho. With Kim Myung-kon, Lee Bo-hee,
South Korea 1987, 35mm, color, 104 min. Korean with English subtitles
Lee's inimitable masterpiece is a hypnotic trance film and drifting road movie that follows a melancholy widower's journey back into his past as he travels to his dead wife's rural hometown to spread her ashes. Stylistically daring, The Man With Three Coffins uses a floating voice-over and avant-garde montage to evoke, with striking frankness, its anti-hero's sexually charged fears and stinging frustrations. Imbued with the heavy perfume of bitter memories and frustrated desires, The Man With Three Coffins is a work of raw emotional intensity that almost seems itself to be haunted by the same supernatural forces that so disquiet the film and are most powerfully embodied in the uncanny figure of a shaman in direct communication with the shadow world of the departed.
Directed by Lee Jang-ho. With Lee Bo-hee, Ahn Sung-ki, Park Won-suk
South Korea 1985, 35mm, color, 110 min. Korean with English subtitles
The new sexual freedom that swept into Korean cinema in the mid-1980s was, paradoxically, openly encouraged by the same government censorship bureau that had previously so carefully restricted sexual content, seeing erotic cinema now as a kind of release valve for a society in upheaval in the wake of the Kwang-ju Massacre and the intense political turbulence that followed. Lee seized upon this freedom to create a work with an extraordinary and politically directed erotic charge, giving the sultry star Lee Bo-hee one of her greatest roles as a woman who uses her magnetic sexual charms to bend men to her will and ways. Taking place amongst the dynastic infighting of the Chonsun dynasty, Lee uses the period film to openly critique political factionalism and the legacy of Confucianism, offering his headstrong and liberated heroine as an emblem of a defiant and individualism and feminism. Euodong's dizzying sexuality imbues its every image with the heady perfume of unleashed desire, brining an electric intensity to the lush color scheme and expressionist landscapes and interiors carefully choreographed by Lee and cinematographer Park Seung-bae.
Directed by Lee Jang-ho. With Ahn Sung-ki, Kim Seong-chan,
South Korea 1980, 35mm, color, 113 min. Korean with English subtitles
One of Lee's most politically confrontational films, Good Windy Day uses its intertwined narrative of three young men coming of age in 1980s Seoul to cut a pointed cross-section across a society undergoing painful and contradictory transition. Made at almost exactly the same time as the devastating 1980 Gwangju Massacre, Good Windy Day melds black comedy and melodrama to openly critique the rigid class hierarchies that erect cruel obstacles in the wayward paths of Lee's stumbling characters. Although little known in the US, Good Windy Day is celebrated as one of the seminal Korean films of the 1980s and an important first expression of the political urgency and artistic sophistication of the Korean New Wave.