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The Guests of the Last Train

Directed by Yoo Hyeon-mok
24 May 2013

Yoo Hyeon-mok, described by some as the most intellectual filmmaker of Korea’s Golden Age, adapted The Guests of the Last Train from a noted short story by Hong Seong-won. As the title obliquely suggests, this film concentrates on a group of people who have trouble adjusting to mainstream society. From a woman running away from her previous life, to a man with a terminal disease, to a pop artist misunderstood by his contemporaries, the film looks on with sympathy and compassionate humour on a set of people who, for whatever reason, just do not fit in

Director Yoo presents his group of characters in an objective fashion, without focusing too closely on any one person. The characters are linked together in various ways, with their relationships all affected in some way by issues of money. An accomplished filmmaker, Yoo is also very careful about his mise-en-scene, with inanimate objects often giving us clues about the character of the heroes. Each scene is carefully composed with regard to colour as well, resulting in understated but at times striking visuals. The most outstanding stylistic aspects of this film are its dialectical montages and the use of sound.

This film features two of the most popular actresses of the era. The part of Bo-young, a woman who moves in with a stranger and gradually falls in love with him, is played by Moon Hee, a beautiful and much sought-after actress who formed a member of the famous "troika" of young actresses who debuted in the mid-1960s. Nam Jung-im, another member of the troika, takes the role of Se-jung and the final member of the troika Yoon Jung-hee, also features in this film. In an interview, the director stated, "I thought it rather interesting to present a theme characterized by a repeated process of loss and the restoration of humanity through each of the three main characters. They are people who are one step behind others in society; they are the passengers who hurry gasping onto the last train."

Yoo Hyeon-mok (July 2, 1925 – June 28, 2009) was one of the most famous directors of Korea’s Golden Age of cinema. Born in Sariwon, North Hwanghae, Korea (North Korea today), he made his film debut in 1956 with Gyocharo (Crossroads). His 1961 film Obaltan has repeatedly been voted the best Korean film of all time in local critics’ polls for its empathetic approach and rich characterization.

His dedication to the intellectual side of film and interest in using film to deal with social and political issues led to difficulties both with box-office-oriented producers and with Korea’s military government during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Korean critics have said his directing style is "in the tradition of the Italian Neorealists," yet "the terms 'modernist' or 'expressionistic' [are] just as applicable to his works.

Besides directing films, Yoo Hyeon-mok taught film and made a significant contribution to Korean animation by producing Kim Cheong-gi’s 1976 animated film, Robot Taekwon V. A retrospective of Yoo Hyeon-mok’s remarkable career was held at the 4th Pusan International Film Festival in Korea in 1999.

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