Kim Soo-yong's The Seaside Village is a story of life and loss. It is a small film; but beautiful both visually and in its storytelling. It won various awards at the Grand Bell and Buil Film Awards including best picture, director, cinematography, acting, music, and editing (see KMDB page in Korean).
The film begins a few days after Hae-soon's (Ko Eun-ah) wedding as her husband is sent off to sea, but unfortunately dies leaving Hae-soon a widow like so many of the other women in this seaside town. After several months another man, Sang-soo (Shin Young-kyun), begins to make his advances on Hae-soon. Hae-soon refuses him, even threatening him with a blade at one point, but he continues, eventually raping her in her dead husband's home while her brother-in-law and mother-in-law listen. Shortly thereafter, they move away from the seaside to work in the quarries, but Hae-soon's beauty causes a fight at the local bar forcing them to move again. After settling down in a remote wooded area, a hunter stumbles across Hae-soon and attempts to rape her, but Sang-soo intervenes and kills him. Afterward he becomes so enraged at Hae-soon (seemingly blaming her for the rape, or at least enjoying it) that he seemingly chokes her until she becomes unconscious. As Sang-soo searches for medicine he falls off of a cliff and dies. Hae-soon then returns to the seaside village and joins the other widows.
Based on a short story by Oh Young-soo (here in Korean), we are presented with a host of strong female characters who, despite living as lonely widows, have carved out their own paths with the support of one another. As they make clear in their conversations with one another, nothing would be better than being married to a man, but without that they all seem to be doing just fine.
In one remarkable scene for the time period, two women embrace each other and engage in what Adam Hartzell of Koreanfilm.org calls a "mock lesbian make-out session." Whether it was playful fun or genuine physical affection, the scene is strong moment in the film as it shows how the women have adapted without the need for men. While I am not sure I would call it a lesbian love scene, I also hesitate to call it a "mock lesbian make-out session." (See the photo gallery below beginning with the women chatting and then moving inside.) It is also fun to note that the women call each other 갯년 several times in the film, meaning something close to "beach bitch," and according to one interview it is also a name that is now jokingly used amongst gay Koreans living in coastal towns.
I think it is useful to make comparisons of this film to other island dramas, in particular Kim Ki-young's Ieoh Island, which I discuss elsewhere on this site. While both films give respectable amounts of agency to their female characters, as in most Kim Ki-young films, his women turn into monsters who are responsible for the lives and deaths of the men on the island. Conversely, Kim Soo-yong who often seems to take a more nuanced and rounded approach to his female characters shows them as more complete individuals with both shortcomings and strengths. But most of all Kim Soo-yong does not demonize his female characters (nor his male characters). Even when participating in lesbian-charged physical play, there is not a moral judgement from the onlooking women, it is simply their way of life as widows on an island with few men.
The films visual beauty and simple story of loss and return are most striking. Compared to some of Kim Soo-yong's other work, this film does not seem to be making larger statements or arguments against society or culture. Rather, it simply tells the tale of a woman trying to survive. In the end she does, and without a man.
Because this film is shot so beautifully, I did not want to crowd the page more than I have already done, but I would also be remiss if I did not include more captures. Here are 20 more shots from the film. Just scroll through.
Thanks to the Korean Film Archive, we can watch this film for free with English and Korean subtitles. Thank you.
Here are some ads from when the movie was released.