95. “Sopyonje”, Im Kwon-Taek (1993)

Part of the 100 Greatest Films I’ve Ever Seen list.


Sopyonje aka 서편제

dir. Im Kwon-Taek (1993) scr. Kim Myung-gon cin. Jeong Il-Seong with Oh Jeong-hae, Kim Myung-gon, Kim Kyu-chul

In 100 words: In a national cinema that has confronted its turbulent past, none wrestle with history quite as achingly as Sopyonje, a moving allegory of a transitioning country. Part musical, part family drama, and part history lesson, the film’s powerful emotional expressions revolve around the rawness of pansori. At the same time, the film’s visual and sound designs suggest a director mourning a vanishing world: they capture the inherent tension between past and present that foregrounds Korea’s rapid modernization, as his itinerant performers are slowly becoming obsolete, along with the culture and values that once represented the soul of the Korean people.

Other Movies for Context: Im Kwon Taek has made so many films, some of which depict the tension between the past and present. Among the ones I’ve seen, several are fitting companions to Sopyonje: His film Chi-hwa-seon (2001) won him the Best Director award at Cannes, and portrays a painter who has gone insane. Chunhyang (2000) visualizes a traditional pansori song while using the artform’s recitation as narration. And Festival (1996) portrays Korean traditions as viewed from a modern lens.

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