The Devil's Stairway (Ma-ui gyedan) (1964)|
Director : Lee Man-Hee
Production Company : Seki Trading Co.
Date of Rate : 1964-07-10
Running Time : 108 min.
Opening Theater : Myeong Bo Theater
Genre : Mystery
Screenplay(Adaptation) : Lee Jong-Taek
Producer : Wu Ki-Dong
Executive Producer : Kim Han-Il
Director of PhotoGraphy : Seo Jeong-Min
Gaffer : Kim Yeon
Music : Jeon Jeong-Keun
Art Director : Hong Seong-Chil
Editor : Kim Hee-Su
Moon Jeong-Suk, Kim Jin-Kyu, Bang Seong-Ja
Chief of Surgery Hyeon Gwang-ho (Kim Jin-kyu) has long been conducting an affair with nurse Nam Jin-suk (Moon Jeong-suk) without much emotional involvement. Driven by his ambition to become the Chief of Medicine at the hospital, Gwang-ho decides to become engaged to Gwang-ja (Bang Seong-ja), the daughter of the current Chief (Choi Nam-hyeon), and callously dumps Jin-suk. But Jin-suk is unable to give him up easily, and demands that he continue to see her. Afraid that she will pose an obstacle to his marriage, Gwang-ho pushes Jin-suk down the hospital stairs. He continues to feel threatened by her existence, so he feeds her some sleeping pills as she lies in her hospital bed and drowns her in the pond. After her death, Gwang-ho gets his wish and marries the Chief's daughter. However, he is tormented by visions of the dead Jin-suk and begins to lose his mind. Feeling endangered by her husband's irrational behavior, Gwang-ja goes to consult a psychiatrist without Gwang-ho's knowledge, only to run into him at the hospital. He pushes her down the same stairs where he had pushed Jin-suk. In his injured wife's operating room, he is stricken with terror when he encounters Jin-suk, whom he had thought dead. Meanwhile, an old man comes to the police station and confesses that he sold his daughter's body from the hospital morgue. His confession reveals the truth behind the entire case: the body found in the pond was not Jin-suk's but that of the old man's daughter. The old man had been paid by a nurse friend of Jin-suk's in exchange for giving up his daughter's body.
"A bold film that raised the bar for Korean mystery movies" (Dong-A Ilbo, July 9, 1964)
Although it was promoted as a mystery or thriller at the time, The Devil's Stairway adopts many of the conventions of the horror film. In fact, it may well be considered the first Korean horror movie to boast a certain level of sophistication. It is difficult to judge definitively, considering the lack of films (with the sole exception of war movies) that still survive from the director's early career, but The Devil's Stairway showed in full-fledged form the distinctive mis-en-scene and further, the distinctive cinematic world of Lee Man-hee. The eye of the camera, which moves through the narrow hospital corridors with a life of its own, somewhat recalls the films of Hitchcock, but the level of cinematography on the whole is astounding for its time. The visual style of director Lee Man-hee, adept at arranging space in manifold ways, also shines through in the framing of individual scenes. The eponymous "stairway"is primarily a space in which the central events of the plot take place, but on a metaphorical level it functions as a space that emblematizes the desire to ascend the social hierarchy. Together with various spaces, such props as the crutch, the watch, the necklace, and the photograph add to the generation of suspense and terror in the film. Above all, the ambiguity of the characters played by Kim Jin-kyu, Moon Jeong-suk, and Jeong Ae-ran effectively expresses the duality and inner diabolism of human beings.
Director Bio: Lee Man-hee (1931-1975)
Director Lee Man-hee was born in Hawangsimni-dong Seoul, in 1931, the youngest of 8 children. He participated in the Korean War deciphering enemy codes and duringthe years between 1956 and 1961, he worked as an assistant director under the directors Ahn Jong-hwa, Park Gu and Kim Myeong-je. He made his directorial debut in 1961 with Kaleidoscope (Jumadeung) with the support of Kim Seung-ho, one of the most famous actors of the era. Afterward, he proved that he could make movies that were commercially successful with Call 112(112reul Dollyeora) (1962). He opened a new age of Korean noir and horror with Black Hair (Geomeun Meori) (1964) and The Devil's Stairway (Mauigyedan) (1964). He also opened up new possibilities in Korean art films with Full Autumn (Manchu) (1966)and continued on this stylistic path with Homebound (Gwiro) (1967) and Holiday (Hyuil). With the decline of the Korean movie industry in the 1970s, he received fewer and fewer opportunities to make movies and this coincided with a deterioration of his health and financial situation. He died of liver cirrhosis as he was finishing his film, A Road to Sampo (Sampoganeun gil) (1975).