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Directed by Kim Soo Yong
28 June 2013

An atmospheric and finely-crafted work by a talented filmmaker, Mist has taken its place as one of the highlights of 1960s Korean cinema. Based on a 1964 novel by Kim Seung-ok titled Trip to Mujin, Kim Soo-yong’s film tells the story of a middle-class office worker in Seoul named Gi-joon who takes a trip to his rural hometown Mujin. As he revisits the place of his youth, familiar locations and people trigger flashbacks of his troubled past. At the same time, he meets a beautiful young schoolteacher In-suk, who yearns to escape from her confined life in Mujin. As the two grow closer, Gi-joon also feels a yearning for escape from his wife, whom he married for money, and from the dreariness of modern life. However, he receives a telegram from his wife telling him to return to Seoul immediately as he has been promoted. Gi-joon sets off from Mujin without saying a word to In-suk.

A resonant and intimate portrait of its young heroes, Mist stands for its aesthetic achievement. Kim Soo Yong experiments with sound and montage to give the film a self-consciously modernist feel. The story remains within Gi-joon’s perspective, but the flashbacks and structure of the plot have a stream-of-consciousness element to it as well. As the story progresses, the past and present selves of Gi-joon start to carry out a dialogue and he starts to look at his life again from a new perspective.

Mist is widely regarded as landmark film in the history of Korean modernist cinema. It was so successful in adapting the lexicon of European modernist filmmaking to Korean sensibilities that it earned director Kim Soo-yong the nickname of "the Antonioni of Korea." Mist reflects the weariness and psychological division that the process of modernization has inflicted on male subjects. It is based on Kim Seung-ok’s A Journey to Mujin, which was recognized as a "revolution in sensibility" in Korean literary history. The movie contrasts protagonist Gi-joon’s "journey" by way of two antithetical settings: the opposition between Seoul and Mujin is mapped onto the binaries of city / country, development / underdevelopment, modern / pre-modern, and present / past. Further, this binary opposition is embodied by Gi-joon’s wife, the daughter of a bourgeois who gave Gi-joon the opportunity for success and the poor music teacher Ha In-suk, whom Gi-joon meets in Mujin. Gi-joon, who has achieved success in Seoul, gets a chance for self-reflection when he travels to his hometown of Mujin. There, he meets characters who can be seen as his alter-egos including In-suk, who longs to go to Seoul, and his friend Cho, who longs for success. The film exposes the self-repression and psychological crisis that the male subjects had to experience in order to incorporate themselves into modern society. It aptly uses various techniques of modernist filmmaking to achieve this purpose: a narrative that departs from causal or linear progression, flashbacks that constantly invoke the past into the present, long shots that emphasize spaces rather than characters, and the clash between sounds and images, to name a few.

Kim Soo Yong was born in Anseong, Gyeonggi-do, in 1929. He graduated from Seoul National University of Education and made his directorial debut with the black and white film, A Henpecked Husband (1958). Kim Soo-yong is not a director that can be easily classified or categorized. During the 60s and 70s when he was most active, he experimented with formality and adopted novels and plays, receiving acclaim for these ‘Literature Films’ which have since been recognized as some of the greatest films in Korean cinematic history. In The Seashore Village (1965) and Flame in the Valley (1967), he explored themes of human ambition and society. And through Mist (1967), Night Journey (1977), and A Splendid Outing (1977), he displayed his modernist side by breaking existing notions of genre and attempting formal experimentation. He retired as an act of protest when his film, Jung-kwang’s Nonsense (1986), was censored in 10 different places. He made a comeback with The Apocalypse of Love (1995) and Scent of Love (1999), but has not directed any films since.

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