Korea’s oldest silent film goes to Berlinale

By Claire Lee

Live-narration performance of ‘Crossroads of Youth’ to be featured in Berlin

  • Published : Jan 28, 2013 - 19:34
  • Updated : Jan 28, 2013 - 19:34

Korea’s oldest surviving silent film will be screened accompanied by live narration and a music performance at the upcoming Berlin International Film Festival.

The 1934 film, titled “Crossroads of Youth,” was directed by filmmaker Ahn Jong-hwa. The film, which deals with struggling young men and women in 1930s colonial Korea, was discovered in 2007 by the state-run Korean Film Archive.

Back in the 1920s and ’30s, local film viewers saw and heard a “byeonsa,” or silent-film narrator, “performing” each and every action of the silent films in movie theaters. The upcoming screening of “Crossroads of Youth” will be done all in the 1930s style, with a byeonsa and a live music performance by a four-member band.
Actor Cho Hee-bong (left), the narrator of Korea’s oldest extant silent film “Crossroads of Youth” (1934), performs along to the silent movie accompanied by live music. (Korean Film Archive)

Though Ahn had left a very brief summary of the silent movie, there was no surviving script. Filmmaker Kim Tae-yong (“Late Autumn,” “Family Ties”) re-directed the film into a byeonsa performance in 2008. Television and film actor Cho Hee-bong joined Kim as the byeonsa for the performance, and together they wrote a new script for the film after watching it countless times.

The duo’s byeonsa performance of the film premiered in 2008 at the Korean Film Archive in celebration of the institution’s opening of the current Sangam-dong office building. The show was also invited to the New York Film Festival in 2009 and Mexico’s Guwahati International Film Festival in 2011. Last year, it was performed at the old Seoul Station building, now officially renamed “Culture Station Seoul 284,” where many scenes of the film were shot back in the 1930s.

The byeonsa performance of the film will take place at Delphi Filmpalast Theater in Berlin on Feb. 10.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)