A Single Spark (1995)
"Jeon tae-il" (original title)

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The film intercuts two stories, one in black and white, one in color. From 1965 to 1970, we follow Jeon Tae-Il, a poor young man who quits street vending to work in a garment factory. Amid ... See full summary »


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Credited cast:
Kyoung-In Hong
Bo-kyeong Kim
Sun-Jae Kim
Seong-kun Mun
Yong-soo Park


The film intercuts two stories, one in black and white, one in color. From 1965 to 1970, we follow Jeon Tae-Il, a poor young man who quits street vending to work in a garment factory. Amid appalling work conditions, he buys a law book, seeks government help, forms an association, talks to reporters. When conditions don't change, he takes a dire step. Five years later, a young couple follow Tae-Il's path: pregnant Shin Jung-Soon tries to organize a union in her garment factory. She's harassed, then beaten. Her husband, Kim Yong-Su, an intellectual in hiding from Park Chung Hee's repressive regime, is writing Tae-Il's story. Can he elude capture to complete the book? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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Release Date:

18 November 1995 (South Korea)  »

Also Known As:

A Single Spark  »

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Did You Know?


To make this political film, 7,646 individuals contributed money. All of their names appear in the credits. See more »

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User Reviews

The best political film I've ever seen
1 March 2004 | by (New England) – See all my reviews

Jeon tae-il a/k/a A Single Spark (PARK Kwang-su, 1996)

Without any ifs and or buts, simply the best "political film" I've ever seen.

JEON Tae-il is one of Korea's two leading martyrs in the creation of labor unions in Korea. A poor young tailor, who was appalled at the abuses of the workers (mainly young girls) in sewing sweat-shops -- and struggled through legal code (written in old-fashioned Chinese characters, rather than in the alphabet most Koreans learned to read) to find the provisions that guarded the rights of such workers. He (with his friends) succeeded in getting the press to pay attention (briefly) to both the abuses of employers and governmental neglect of its regulatory duty. But once the press got bored, scornful labor department officials told them they were unpatriotic for complaining and the employers simply cracked down harder. To try to get greater attention, JEON set his copy of the legal code, and himself, on fire -- and ran through the streets of downtown Seoul shouting "We are not machines, enforce the labor code". His death apparently mobilized other young workers, leading to the creation of unions powerful enough to get a hearing on the issue of workers' rights.

None of the above should be viewed as a spoiler. The film maker assumed his audience would know (at least vaguely) the historical facts. Park takes the story of JEON (set in 1965-1970 -- filmed stunningly with some of the best black and white cinematography I've seen) and interweaves this with the fictional (and told in color) story of KIM Young-su (and his pregnant girl friend Shin Jung-sun), set in 1975 (during one of the most repressive periods of military dictatorship). Young-su is a young law school graduate who is now on the run, trying to write a book on Jeon Tae-il. Jung-sun is leading a drive to unionize her own workplace.

HONG Kyeong-in is extraordinary as Tae-il -- and MOON Keung-soon is very fine as Young-su. The script by director Park, LEE Chang-dong and Hur Jin-ho (who was also an assistant director) and others is first-rate. The cinematography is excellent (at least). The film ends with several minutes of scrolling names -- supposedly 7,000 in all. These, it turns out, are the names of the working men and women who contributed what they could to the making of this film. Their investment was well-spent. A masterpiece.

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