This event caught my eye because I love Korean cinema and have a penchant for old films. Advertised as an authentic screening of Korea’s oldest silent movie still in existence, I was expecting a crackling, black and white relic. Little did I know that this would be a loud, 4-D interactive show, and be equally touching and entertaining.
As the day at the Thames Festival neared its close, a large crowd of keen cine-fans flocked to the Korea Calling area in anticipation. Surprisingly, the ‘film’ opened with two live performers taking to the stage: a male and a female singing a ballad, together, in Korean. Following this was an emphatic and fun-sounding introduction to the film given by a narrator sitting at the side of stage. Again, this was in Korean.
At this point, I wondered what was going on, and began to worry slightly. The appeal of a silent film was that I didn’t have to worry about my Korean not being that good! Yet so far there was no film to speak of, and instead a very lively soundtrack, just out of reach. Would I have to get up and leave, embarrassed and let down by my below-par language skills?
I breathed a sigh of relief as the black and white images filled the screen, and English subtitles popped up to accompany the narrator’s potent commentary. In retrospect, this had been a perfect introduction to set the tone for the rest of the film.
The movie told a familiar story of youngsters in love, with goodies striving to make their way against the baddies. The acting was captivating, the visuals quirky the narrative affecting. This wasn’t the usual film-watching experience though.
The subtitles added a level of comedy, with ‘meta’ references to the characters’ make-up and the screen itself. It was clear that these were a modern and very clever interpretation of the movie, and they were so appropriate and fitting for the context of the screening.
The narrator also played an integral role, again to very funny effect. His intonation was erratic and song-like, and any ‘Konglish’ words were delivered in an over-exaggerated accent, which went down extremely well with the primarily English-speaking audience.
For me, the best part of the film by far was the climactic and violence-fuelled ending, followed by a reappearance of the singing couple, who we knew this time to represent the two main characters from the film. Their clean-cut appearance and wholesome voices juxtaposed the cheekily sexy lyrics that were, this time, subtitled on the screen.
It struck me that the themes covered in Crossroads of Youth-suffering, vengeance, family loyalty-are engrained ones that recur in today’s Korean movies. I realised just how influential this film has been.
Overall, Crossroads of Youth at Korea Calling was the high point of the weekend. Not only did it combine an insight into the early Korean cinema experience with the genius and hilarity of modern entertainment, it also provided all festival goers with a truly unique and memorable evening.