A genre film whose straightforward nature is engaging
This film is a Corean oldie, dating from the mid-1960's. It's always astonishing to see the country of my parents' youth as it would be like in their actual youth. Despite the distance in time, I was surprised by just how familiar everything seemed. Granted, this film was released but a decade after the conclusion of the Corean War. In this setting, there is a military regime controlling the peninsula and limiting the freedom of expression. One thing that I noticed by a number (but not a majority) of films from this era in Corean history is that there was a potent segment of neo-realist film-making, that reminded me of Italian neo-realist cinema after World War II.
This film is not a neo-realist work. Rather than focusing on the past, it weaves a tale of two lovers separated by their class. Our protagonist is Dusu, a gangster with a strong streak of honor, who meets and saves an upper-class Corean woman, Joanna (that's right, an English name), from a bunch of thugs. A romance soon forms between the two of them and there is some interchange of their respective worlds, but these things never turn out well, especially in Corean films and their respective worlds threaten to tear them apart.
Like many films from this era, the technical aspects of the film are lacking polish, but the acting is natural and the directing even takes a few stabs beyond the straightforward style by including some interesting quick cuts as well as using framing and mis-en-scene to build symbolism. (One of my favorite moments involves a kiss and a windowpane.) Sure, it can be a little heavy handed, but I found it amusing nonetheless.
The story is rather straightforward, detailing the lives of the two lovers and the forces around them that push them to their conclusion. What I found liking about it is how clean and simple it all is. There's no unnecessary distraction, there's nothing that seems added in to hype the drama, and it's surprising how limited the melodrama is in a film culture steeped in melodrama.
The coda seems a little unnecessary and the voice work is a little over-codified, reminding me of early sound pictures from Hollywood. While the story doesn't hit any spectacular highs and it takes a little time to get off the ground, it's clean and straightforward nature is surprisingly easy to like. From what I can tell via internet research, Barefoot Youth is an example of youth films that were popular during the era and I can see the appeal. While not a moving masterwork of any sort, Barefoot Youth has enough going for it that those interested in watching it will find something likable about it. 7/10.
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