Shijibganeun Nal (1956)

In English, The Wedding Day. Also known (ironically, as it turns out) as A Happy Event in the Maeng Family.

I’ve been watching a lot of (relatively new) Korean films—most of them frothy romances and romcoms—over the past several weeks. They reminded me that I’d never reviewed a Korean film on this blog, and they also reminded me that the first Korean film I ever saw was a romantic one; or what I could remember of it was romantic. The film was shown on Doordarshan, India’s sole television channel back in the early 80s. Doordarshan, back then, showed an interesting mix of foreign cinema: all the way from films like Red Sorghum (which my parents should probably not have let an impressionable 12-year old watch) to Fedora, which bored me to tears. And a Korean historical about a wedding in a family.

The Wedding DayFor years, I kept wondering which film that was. I didn’t remember the name; all I knew was that it was a historical, didn’t feature martial arts, and was in colour. Some hectic Googling, a huge dollop of luck, and I arrived at the answer: the film was a 1978 one named Shijibganeun Nal or The Wedding Day. More to my delight, I also discovered that it was a remake of a 1956 film of the same name. Directed by Lee Byeong-Il, The Wedding Day (1956) was the first Korean film to receive an award at a film festival overseas—it won the Comedy Award at the Asian Film Festival.

So, without further ado, what the film is all about.

The wedding, of course. The bride in question is the very pretty Gapbun (Kim Yoo-seon), daughter of Maeng Jinsa (Kim Seung-ho). The Maeng family lives in the countryside and are the epitome of provincial gentry: very aware of the difference in status between themselves and the villagers who serve them, condescending and occasionally imperious, but mostly rather benevolent.

At the Maeng house
A glimpse of this surface benevolence shines through in the very first scene of the film, where we see Gapbun with her friend Ipbun (Cho Mi-ryung). Here, in this scene, with Gapbun’s cheerful calling out to Ipbun, and Ipbun’s equally enthusiastic response—followed by the two girls’ excited chatting—it seems as if they are just two very dear friends. It takes a while for the truth to emerge: Ipbun (who is never shown to have any parents or other relatives) is a servant of the household.

Gapbun and Ipbun
Right now, though, the focus of all the attention is Gapbun. Because Gapbun’s father has returned from a successful mission to the noble Kim Panseo of Bellflower Valley. Kim Panseo’s family is very highly esteemed, and Gapbun’s father had hoped to arrange a marriage between Kim Panseo’s son Mieon (Choi Hyun) and Gapbun. Not with much hope, since there’s a huge gap between the relative status and wealth of the two families—but, to his own surprise, the offer has been accepted!

There is much rejoicing and excitement. Gapbun’s father and mother (Seok  Keum-seong) are delighted, as is her nanny (Kim Jeong-ok).

Gapbun's father shares the good news with his wife and with Gapbun's nanny
Gapbun’s old grandfather, the Maeng family patriarch (Song Hae-chun), is rather befuddled by age and so is not quite able to comprehend exactly what the news is all about (Who is Gapbun, he wants to know. And Kim Panseo? Isn’t Kim Panseo rather too old to be getting married? Oh, it’s not Kim Panseo this Gapbun—whoever she is—is marrying, but his son? So is his son old enough to be married?) Gapbun’s father gives up after a while.

... and, with little success, with his father
Other relatives, more sagacious and aware, nitpick. Gapbun’s uncle takes Maeng Jinsa to task when he discovers that the man hasn’t even seen his prospective son-in-law. The entire wedding has been fixed without meeting Mieon.

Amidst all the excitement of Gapbun’s upcoming wedding, there’s also an irritant for Ipbun: Samdol (Hwang Nam), a fellow servant. Samdol has been in love with Ipbun for a long time now and has been pestering her to marry him. Ipbun doesn’t care for Samdol at all and has told him that in so many words, but Samdol’s not listening.

Samdol once again proposes to Ipbun
Then—back to Gapbun and her wedding—a contingent arrives from Bellflower Valley, bearing gifts for the Maengs. The official who accompanies the procession of gift-bearers ceremonially hands over the list of gifts to Gapbun’s father, whose eyes goggle at the sight of the things listed here: gold, silver, white jade, Chinese silk, cotton… there’s a veritable treasure here. He can barely think straight at the thought of how prosperous his little girl is going to be.

Maeng Jinsa reads the list of gifts sent by Kim Panseo
The ladies—Gapbun, her mother, her nanny, and Ipbun—are busy admiring all the pretty presents that have arrived. Ipbun, reaching out a tentative hand to caress a gift, is snubbed by Madam Maeng, who tells her to remember her place: she’s a mere servant. Ipbun, as always docile and quiet, immediately backs off. She does, however, make one request (which she’s made earlier to Gapbun too, who has agreed): can she please accompany Gapbun as her maid when Gapbun gets married and moves to her husband’s household?

Ipbun is reprimanded
But Gapbun’s mother refuses. Gapbun’s nanny will be going with her. Ipbun has to stay here. Ipbun looks unhappy, but says nothing and goes quietly back to her work.

Meanwhile, preparations continue for the wedding. Maeng Jinsa decides to update the family tree (and ruefully remarks to his father that it’s a very humble genealogical table, isn’t it? Maeng Jinsa himself is the first person in the family to qualify to be an official). Daddy remarks gleefully that it was a good idea for Maeng to have bought that office.
Now Maeng Jinsa gets ready to add Mieon’s name—ah, such a worthy addition that will be, certainly lifting the entire family a few notches—to the chart.

Maeng Jinsa sets about updating the family tree
Just then, the family servant Park Chambong (Ha Ji-man) comes to deliver a message. A stranger, who introduces himself as a scholar, has arrived and seeks shelter for two days. May he be allowed in?
Maeng Jinsa refuses. He knows this sort; he’ll come in, loll about, eat Maeng Jisna’s rice, and waste his money. No, he tells Park Chambong. Tell the man we can’t have him here.

A servant reports the coming of a guest
Which Park Chambong duly does, and then just as dutifully goes back and reports to Maeng Jinsa. In passing, Park Chambong also mentions that the stranger was a little anxious, wondering if he’d be able to make it back home to Bellflower Valley before sunset…
Maeng Jinsa realises, in a sudden rush of worry, that he might be guilty of a faux pas. This scholar is from Bellflower Valley? He may report to Kim Panseo that he was turned away from the Maeng household! What then?

So Maeng Jinsa has Park Chambong fetch the man back, and personally apologises to the stranger. This man introduces himself as Kim Myung-jeong, and says he’s a student of Confucianism, at Bellflower Valley. When questioned (gently and somewhat obsequiously) by Maeng Jinsa, he admits, too, that he knows Kim Panseo.

Maeng Jinsa talks to the scholar
Maeng Jinsa, now that he’s been able to offer his hospitality to this scholar, is relieved.

…unaware that all hell is about to break loose.

Because, the next morning, the servant Samdol (Ipbun’s unwanted admirer), while washing the scholar’s feet, starts chatting with him. Does he know Mieon, Kim Panseo’s son? Is he as accomplished, as wise and as fine a calligrapher as he’s touted to be? Yes, yes, and yes, says the scholar. He is perfection itself. If only, he adds, shaking his head sadly, it weren’t for Mieon’s leg.
Samdol is surprised. What’s that?

Samdol asks the scholar about Mieon
And the scholar reveals a secret (unaware, perhaps, that the Maeng family doesn’t know): Mieon, for all his wealth and wisdom and honour and everything, is a cripple. One leg is shorter than the other. He limps very badly.

Samdol goes racing off to tell Maeng Jinsa, who then (besides nearly having a heart attack) has to cope with his family members. Old Daddy can’t understand who’s the cripple, and why that should affect the Maeng family. Madam Maeng is acerbic in her condemnation of her husband’s abilities at finding a groom for his only child.

Maeng Jinsa gets told off by his wife
And Gabpun herself flatly refuses to marry a cripple. She’ll sooner kill herself than do anything of the sort.

There is, understandably, mayhem. What will they do? The Maeng menfolk go into a conclave to try and figure out a solution. They can’t now stop the wedding; it would be a huge blow to the honour of both the Maeng family as well as Kim Panseo’s. And yet, Maeng Jinsa loves his daughter too much to burden her with a crippled husband.
Then, a brainwave. Ipbun! They will pass Ipbun off as Gapbun, and have her marry Mieon instead.

A conference is held
So, Gapbun is surreptitiously whisked away by a back door to her uncle’s home (which is a fair distance away). And Ipbun is told that she will, from now on, be Gapbun. She will call Maeng Jinsa Father, and she will marry Mieon.
And meek little Ipbun can’t even summon up the courage to say that no, she’d rather not, thank you. Partly because she is meek, but also because she feels sorry for this man, whom she’s never seen, but whose hopes of a marriage might be dashed because of his disability.

Ipbun tries to come to terms with her changed situation
What lies ahead? For Ipbun, for Gapbun, for the yet-to-be-introduced Mieon?

What I liked about this film:

No; let me reword that. What I loved about this film. Because ‘liked’ is a mild word for the emotion The Wedding Day evoked in me. This was a charming, delightful, very sweet little film (actually little—it’s only 77 minutes long). It’s a simple, uncomplicated story with not too many characters, a straightforward plot, and people that I could relate to.

The relatability (and likeability) of its characters is one thing that especially endeared this film to me. The Wedding Day, while peopled with less-than-perfect characters (the supercilious Madam Maeng and Gapbun’s nanny; the selfish Maeng Jinsa; the shallow and immature Gapbun among them), never lets its characters become one-dimensional. For instance, Madam Maeng doesn’t get melodramatically cruel towards Ipbun, and both she and her husband are kind to Ipbun (perhaps a result of feeling guilty?) when they’ve made her agree to marry Mieon. Gapbun, too, is never really spiteful towards Ipbun: insensitive in an immature and self-centred way, but not intentionally nasty.

Ipbun with Gapbun
Also, what makes The Wedding Day a particularly likeable film is the fact that it could have been set in just about any place. Here, the setting is medieval Korea; it could well have been played out in medieval Europe or India, or any other place: a simple story of a meek maid being bullied into marrying a wealthy cripple to help her master save face.

And yes, while it’s not laugh-out-loud funny through all those 77 minutes, there’s a good bit of subtle (and not-so-subtle), often satirical humour all through it. The very greediness of Maeng Jinsa is comic.

What I didn’t like (or, actually—some more of what I did like):

What I didn’t like—nothing, because I was able to adjust to a time and place different from today.

But those who can see society (even in fiction) conforming only to what is considered ‘liberated’ or ‘correct’ in contemporary society may find Ipbun’s submissiveness unacceptable. For me, Ipbun, while not a flag-bearer of feminism, is redeemed from being a complete pushover by small, telling gestures. The way, for instance, she quietly but firmly tells Samdol she doesn’t want to marry him. Or the way she scolds Gapbun’s so-called friends, who’ve been teasing Gapbun mercilessly (and to tears) about the cripple she’s going to marry.

And, frankly, for me Ipbun’s gentleness and the very fact that she’s willing to marry Mieon because she can empathise with a cripple… well, that is enough for me to like her. Not all heroines need be Joans of Arc; some can, occasionally, be Ipbuns too, sensitive to other people’s feelings, gentle and kind.

Ipbun, the unwilling bride
Note:

The Wedding Day is available for viewing, with English subtitles, on Youtube, here. Do watch!

Advertisements

23 thoughts on “Shijibganeun Nal (1956)

  1. DAEBAK! Korean reviews now too, and ones I might like to watch. Most modern Korean films are either horror films or graphically violent thrillers etc, it seems, not my cup of kimchi at all. Thanks for a review of one that sounds right up my alley

    • Yes, Stuart. I thought it was about time I started on some old Korean films, since I’ve been watching so many new ones recently. I do think you might like this one, it’s a very pleasant cup of kimchi indeed! (which reminds me: one of the more recent Korean films I’ve liked has been Le Grand Chef 2: Kimchi Battle).

  2. Sounds fantastic! Your review moved me to tears, Madhu. (And I can’t figure out why – the movie doesn’t even sound very sad.) I shall look for this. Perhaps Netflix may have it. I’ve watched very few Korean films, so this will go towards filling that lack.

    Not all heroines need be Joans of Arc; some can, occasionally, be Ipbuns too, sensitive to other people’s feelings, gentle and kind.

    Ah. I wish I could get this point across to the more militant feminists of my acquaintance. “Regressive” is a word that often pops up in such discussions; followed by how I’m selling out by not disliking such movies/boks/characters. Sigh.

    • No, the movie isn’t sad, Anu. Not eventually, at any rate. (And, since I did remember – from my childhood viewing of its remake – the end, I knew all was going to be well). It’s a lovely film, very heartwarming and sweet. If you can’t find it on Netflix, watch it off Youtube. Since it’s only 77 minutes long, that isn’t too much of a problem.

      ” “Regressive” is a word that often pops up in such discussions; followed by how I’m selling out by not disliking such movies/books/characters.

      I think a lot of people – militant feminists, rather – seem to think that in order to assert your feminity, you have to be assertive all the time. But that’s not how society works, does it? Compromises have to be made at every turn, and if it isn’t a woman always making the compromises and the sacrifices, I don’t see the harm in it. I think I’m a fairly strong-willed and independent woman too, but, when I know it will make someone happy, or it will be for the best, I do submit, often willingly. Doesn’t make me any less of a woman.

  3. Sucha beautiful review!
    Make sme like the film, sounds so much like apna Bimal Roy’s film, doesn’t it? Where characters are so human with their good and bad sides.
    Thank you for the recommendation!

    BTW, when i read the film title on FB, I thought it is a Punjabi film! Nal and all! :D

    • Thank you, Harvey! I’m glad you liked this review. And yes, it does remind me of one of Bimal Roy’s films – the same quiet, nuanced feel to it, with people having shades of grey.

      BTW, when i read the film title on FB, I thought it is a Punjabi film! Nal and all! :D

      LOL! Harvey! Didn’t you think, then, that Andha Naal (the Tamil movie that I reviewed last year) was also Punjabi? :-D

  4. I am once again away from the city and I am typing this from my hotel room. I was busy all day and was feeling a bit tired, all the same I was also curious to see which film you had reviewed. When I saw it is a Korean film I thought, I will just scan through it and read it later. I read a few words and then I was hooked and well….. let me borrow your style of writing — now, now do not accuse me of plagiarism, I can’t help but copy you— so here goes
    What I liked about the review:
    The straight forward way of narrating the story, without playing around with words, so much so that I forgot how tired I was and found myself keenly reading each word.
    What I did not like about this review:
    You have now made me want to see this film, as it is I am always short of time, is it there on you tube?
    Spoiler Ahead:
    You did not like Fedora, I loved it, maybe because I have seen a few Fedoras in my life, perhaps not to the extreme of sacrificing their own daughters but nonetheless not very different.
    Disclaimer:
    This writer has not copied the style of Dustedoff but has been inspired by her.

    • Shilpi, you’re brilliant! That’s so creative – it really made me grin when I read it. I’m so glad you enjoyed the review! And yes, the film is there on Youtube (I’ve given the link in the last line of the post). Here:

      Do watch it. It’s a lovely film, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

      As for Fedora, it’s very likely that my not liking it or finding it very boring was because I was far too young to understand it. It’s possible that if I watch it now, I’ll be able to understand it. Back then, as a pre-teen, I wanted my films to be more action (not necessarily action action, but much less dependent on dialogue, if you know what I mean).

      • I thought as much Madhu when I read that you did not enjoy Fedora, age and life’s experiences have a lot to do with how we perceive or relate to things. Sometimes I may identify with a dialogue or a scene or a lyrics but someone else may simply find it silly and wonder why I am going all gaga over it.

        • True. Cinema (like books) is like beauty, isn’t it? It all lies in the eyes of the beholder. What may seem overly melodramatic to one person may be perfectly realistic to another, and what may not even register with one can speak volumes to another. In fact, sometimes, with certain films, it almost seems to me as if the Madhu who saw the film 10 years ago must be a completely different person from the one who’s watching it now…

          • May I join the conversation? :)
            the Madhu who saw the film 10 years ago must be a completely different person from the one who’s watching it now…
            But you are, aren’t you? Life and experiences shape you, change you. And what might have appealed to the Madhu of ten years ago may not appeal to her now; conversely, you might see something to like in subjects that were boring and unappealing then. For myself, I know I cannot watch a teenage romance with much patience these days. (Contradictorily, I watched QSQT the other day, and was quite entranced by what was happening on screen. Go figure!)

            I also find that the way I react to a film also depends on the mood I am in at that given time. I don’t know if anyone else feels the same way, but there are times when I feel like I want to watch only a comedy; some days when I feel like I really, really want to watch one of the old-fashioned melodramas where everything gets resolved by the 15th reel.

            I have had very heated debates with friends over our films (interestingly, their viewpoint about over-the-top-silliness does not extend to Hollywood!) being over-the-top; some, at least, cannot seem to understand that one person’s OTT is another’s reality.

            For example, we were watching a modern-day film where a wife eats from her husband’s plate after he finishes his meal; friend 1 was quite angry – it is regressive, she said. Doesn’t happen these days, she said. Not even pointing out that the female character was shown to be from a very conservative, orthodox background, would change her mind that it was shameful they were showing this on screen. Do I agree with the scene? No, I don’t. But this is cinema – the character was true to the story and setting of the film. Is it so wrong to show that it still happens? Where do the line between the underlying truth of the character and ‘regression’ blend?

            (p.s. Sorry for hijacking this thread. I just riffed off your conversation with Shilpi. Feel free to delete.)

            • You’re more than welcome to join in the conversation, Anu!

              You’re so very right about how life and experience change us and make our perceptions change. (And yes, even I don’t have much patience with teen romances now – though, to be honest, I didn’t like them much even when I was a teenager!)

              And I agree with that part about a perception of a film being coloured by one’s mood when one watched it. To that, I will add another corollary: on whether one really wanted to see the film or not. For instance, All the President’s Men, which – since I’m not really very fond of political or journalistic thriller stories – anyway was not something I wanted to see. Secondly, because I was literally made to watch it (I was doing research for an article, and my editor suggested that I watch the film). I came out of it thinking, “So? What was so great about that?”

              That example you gave of the film where a wife eats from her husband’s plate after he’s finished is an interesting one, in that it depicts something, but (I don’t know which film you’re talking of) doesn’t necessarily condone it – even if that’s not implied. I watched, for example, The Wolf of Wall Street (not a film I really liked, except for di Caprio’s acting), but the IMDB message boards had quite a bit of “What a horrible film! Why is Hollywood glorifying such an unethical life?” and stuff like that. Not taking into account, of course, that depicting something in art is not the same as supporting it. In fact, it could quite well be the exact opposite…

  5. It is a lovely film. I watched it on youtube, thanks to the link you posted. One thing had me a bit puzzled – youtube wanted me to sign and prove I was above 18 yrs of age to watch this film! Having seen the entire film, I am now more puzzled than ever, why its an ‘adults only’ film. :D

    In case anybody has doubts about how this all ends – SPOILER ALERT!

    I wish the film had given the Ipbun-Mieon romance a bit of space – just the fact that she was willing to marry a “cripple” sight unseen is hardly reason for him to love her, and she has no reason to fall for him, either. They could’ve gone all Sanjh Aur Savera with the false bride doing a fast-unto-romance agitation on sight of her husband, like Meena Kumari. ;-)

    • Spoiler alert

      Yes, I agree with you about there being far too little Ipbun-Mieon romance. It is sweet of her to be willing to ‘sacrifice’ herself for a cripple, and I can imagine that she’d be rather dazzled by his handsomeness (personally, I do wish he’d been wearing less lipstick). And I can imagine him being grateful to her… but love, all so sudden? A little hard to swallow. Or at least it left me craving for more. Such a romantic I am!

      Spoiler ends

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s