Madame Freedom (Ja-yu bu-in) (1956)|
Director : Han Hyeong-Mo
Production Company : SamSeong Film
Date of Theatrical Release : 1956-06-09
Running Time : 125 min.
Opening Theater : Sudo Theater
Genre : Melodrama
Writer : Jeong Bi-Seok
Producer : Bang Dae-Hun
Screenplay(Adaptation) : Kim Seong-Min
Executive Producer : Yeom Mun-Keun
Director of PhotoGraphy : Lee Seong-Hwi
Gaffer : Lee Han-Chan
Music : Kim Yong-Hwan
Art Director : Lee Bong-Seon
Editor : Han Hyeong-Mo
Sound/Recording : Lee Kyeong-Sun
Park Am,Kim Jeong-Rim,Yang Mi-Hee,Lee Min,Kim Dong-Won
College professor Jang Tae-yun (Park Am) and his wife Oh Seon-yeong (Kim Jeong-rim) live with their son Gyenog-su. To help the family's financial situation, Seon-yeong gets a job at a Western-style clothing store. One day, she runs into an old friend from school, Choi Yun-ju (No Kyung-hee), on the street and ends up going to a dance party with her. Yun-ju, who insists that women should hold economic rights and know how to enjoy themselves,uses the funds collected through a private money pool among her friends to get in on a business involving contrabands. Seon-yeong becomes interested in her young neighbor Shin Chun-ho (Lee Min) and begins to learn dancing from him. Professor Jang finds himself attracted to typist Miss Park (Yang Mi-hee), whom he has been teaching to write in Korean, but decides to stop seeing her in order to preserve his family. Meanwhile, the owner of the clothing store, Han Tae-seok (Kim Dong-won), approaches Seon-yeong with illicit intentions, and his wife sends Professor Jang a letter instructing him to keep Seon-yeong under lock and key. Yun-ju, who is married to a well-known society figure, has been carrying on an affair with a con man named Baek Gwang-jin (Joo Seon-tae). But when he is prosecuted by the police on fraud charges and reporters flock to cover his story, taking photographs and exposing the couple's past activities, she resorts to suicide. Seon-yeong, who had invested in Yun-ju's venture, loses all her money. While locked in Han Tae-seok's embrace in a hotel room, his wife barges in and slaps her, and Seon-yeong runs out into the street. She regrets her mistake and returns home, but Professor Jang refuses to open the door. When he finally relents and opens the door at his son Gyeong-su's request, the boy runs into Seon-yeong's arms. Weeping, she professes that everything is her fault and repents.
"The most controversial film in Korean cinematic history, which made sensational waves throughout post-liberation society by portraying the transgressive sexuality of a college professor's wife and her advancement into the public sphere"
After liberation from Japanese rule, Korean society underwent rapid changes caused by modernization and the influx of capitalism and Western culture. Amid such changes, Madame Freedom caused huge waves through its depiction of women's sexuality and advancement into the public sphere. It was adapted from Jeong Bi-seok's popular serial novel Madame Freedom (Ja-yu bu-in), which took as its subject such topical issues of the time as the dancing fad, private money pools (known as "gye"in Korean), and indulgence in luxury. Due to the impoverished conditions of the period, women began to make actual inroads into the public realm aspart of the work force. No longer confined to the home, women became, on the one hand, objects of desire for men other than their own husbands and, on the other, agents of consumption and desire in their own right. As Shin Chun-ho's camera captures the moment when Oh Seon-yeong crosses the threshold of her home to go and find employment at the clothing store, the scene reveals what it means for a woman to venture into the public sphere. The film shows us how the patriarchal society of the time reacted to this change. Western commodities, described as "the very best,"and the mass culture introduced to Korea through American soldiers are both represented as something excessive that are attractive yet must be resisted. Westernization, modernization, and women's sexuality become mutually aligned as elements that threaten existing patriarchal values and cause social insecurity. Once Seon-yeong begins working at the clothing store and dressing in Western attire, she begins to actively express her desires. In other words, women's advancement into the public arena is directly associated with extravagance, uncritical Westernization, and sexual debauchery, and thus represented as that which must be punished. Choi Yun-ju, who most obviously flaunts her financial independence and sexual desire, is utterly destroyed by the film's end.
By contrast, as indicated by the movie's promotional copy at the time ("If you were Professor Jang Tae-yun, what decision would you make regarding your wife?"), the man retains his moral superiority by packaging his own adulterous position as a productive and spiritual relationship. This leads to the film's narrative conclusion, which is geared toward "re-taming" womeni.e. re-incorporating into the existing patriarchal structure those women who have infiltrated the public sphere and become agents of labor and consumption. Accordingly, Seon-yeong ultimately "repents her sins" and returns to the home, where her maternity is re-affirmed.
Nevertheless, Madam Freedom reveals at its depths an ambivalent sense of fascination and apprehension vis-a-vis modernity and female sexuality. It is this consideration that is prompting contemporary critics to re-evaluate Madame Freedom as a rare exception among films made in the social milieu of the 1950s for its active portrayal of women's sexual desire.
Besides such thematic aspects, Madame Freedom figures importantly in the technological development of Korean cinema. Madame Freedom was the first Korean movie to be shot using proper cranes and dollys. What made this possible was the fact that one of the partners at Samseong Film was a man who made machinery in Cheonggyecheon. Director Han Hyung-mo, who frequently went to Cheonggyecheon get his cameras repaired, persuaded a machine builder with an interest in producing movies to participate in the project. According to accounts, the new partner built the dolly and the crane himself in just one week, based on the sketches made by Han Hyung-mo. The dolly's wheels were reportedly converted from four helicopter wheels obtained through a U.S. military unit in Korea.
- The original novel, Jeong Bi-seok's Madame Freedom (Ja-yu bu-in), was serialized over 215 installments in Seoul Daily News from January 1 to August 6, 1954, and enjoyed unprecedented popularity during its run.
- The film opened at Sudo Theatre and topped the box office in 1956 by drawing an audience of 108,000 in Seoul alone.
- It caused great controversy in 1950s Korean society because of the explicitness of its kiss scenes and love scenes, and because of its story line involving a college professor's wife and her dancing fling with a young man.
- Madame Freedom spawned numerous sequels and remakes from its release through the 1990s.
Director Bio: Han Hyeong-mo (1917-1999)
Director Han Hyeong-mo was born in Uiju, Pyeonganbuk-do and studied art at the Shingyeong Art School. He first entered the movie business when he did the art work for his brother's friend, director Choi In-kyu in the movie, Homeless Angel (Jib-eobsneun cheonsa) (1941). Afterward, he gained employment at the Dongbo Film Studios in Japan with the help of Choi In-kyu and learned film techniques. After the Korean Independence, he worked as a director of photography and made his directorial debut in the anticommunist film, Breaking the Wall (Seongbyeog-eul ttulhgo) (1949). During the Korean War he was put in charge of making propaganda films for the Korean military and it was during this time that he honed his craft in photography and directing. After the war, he directed The Hand of Destiny (Unmyeong-ui son) (1954), showing his ability as a genre director. He directed a movie based on Jeong Bi-seok's novel Madame Freedom which caused much social controversy at that time, showing his own special brand of mise-en -scene. Director Han Hyeong-mo began his life in movies as an art director and director of photography. And through his continued interest in mise-en-scene and the technical aspect of films, he created a well-made genre of films, establishing himself as a major director of the 50s. His other works include Hyperbolae of Youth (Double Curve of Youth / Cheongchunssanggogseon) (1956), The Pure Love (Sun-aebo) (1957), The Devil (Ma-in) (1957), I am Alone (Na honjaman-i) (1958), A female boss (Yeosajang) (1959), and My Sister Is a Hussy (Eonni-neun Malgwallyang-i) (1961).