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Indiana University

Outreach

Video Lending Library

Korea

Program Title: the coachman
EASC Code: KC-04
Series Title:
Region/Country: Korea
Language: Korean
Subtitles: Japanese, English
Subject: Fiction
Program Type: Feature
Media Type: DVD
Director: Kang Dae-jin
Producer: Hwaseong Film Co.
Release Date: 1961
Running Time: 98 min.
Color or BW: BW
Program Abstract: A single father with two sons and two daughters makes a living by operating a horse-drawn cart. However, in a city that is modernizing after the destruction of the Korean War, automobiles are making such carts obsolete, and he struggles to make ends meet.

The family's younger generation is also experiencing difficulties. The eldest son hopes to pass the bar exam to become a lawyer, but he has flunked twice already and is feeling pessimistic about his third try. The eldest daughter, who is mute, is married to an abusive husband. The younger daughter tries to move up in life by posing as a rich university student, while the youngest son has a penchant for petty theft.

At its heart, Kang Dae-jin's The Coachman ("Mabu") is a drama told with warmth and sympathy about a family trying to lift its way out of poverty and into the middle class. The challenges they face would have been familiar to many of its viewers in 1961, from the cruel and dismissive attitude of the upper classes to the pressure to pay back debts. The character of the father, played by the iconic Kim Seung-ho, also represents the situation faced by many older residents of the time, in not being able to cope with the quickly changing face of Korean society. Tellingly (and in patriarchal fashion), all hopes for the family's future are placed on the eldest son.

Perhaps the film's biggest strength is to highlight the frustration of having motivation and hard work matter much less than connections and money. The film walks a fine line between optimism and pessimism, but in its darker moments it offers a harsh critique of the economic foundations of society. Hope comes in the form of human generosity, whether from the understanding son of the family's creditor or the middle-aged housemaid who becomes romantically involved with the father. (A date that the older couple takes to a movie theater to see Chunhyang-jeon is one of the film's most fondly-remembered scenes)

The Coachman was the first Korean film to win a major overseas award, taking home the Silver Bear (Special Jury Prize) from the 1961 Berlin International Film Festival. It has since become recognized as one of the classics of Golden Age Korean cinema. Although somewhat overshadowed by the achievements of its contemporaries The Housemaid (1960) and Obaltan (1961), The Coachman remains a crowd-pleaser and a touching portrait of a society in transition. (Darcy Paquet)

Data Entry Date: 8/17/2005