So-called “adolescent films” first achieved widespread popularity in Korea during the 1960s, and of these, Kim Ki-deok’s Barefooted Youth is the most famous. Doo-soo lives in a poor neighborhood and makes his living doing odd jobs for a local gang. One day he comes across some thugs harassing two young women, and he intervenes, saving the women but getting himself injured in the process. Later when one of the women, an ambassador’s daughter named Johanna, comes to thank him in person, the two strike up a friendship that will lead the two of them into peril…
Thanks in part to this film, actor Shin Sung-il and actress Eom Aeng-ran became Korea’s most famous screen couple in the 1960s. They hold a record to this day as for appearing in the most highest number of films together in Korean film history, and their marriage to each other in the sixties provided one of the biggest off-screen news stories of the era. Currently, Shin Sung-il serves as a representative in Korea’s National Assembly, while Eom Aeng-ran appears often as a motivational speaker.
Barefooted Youth features an enjoyable mix of humor and drama in highlighting the vast gap between the lower class world inhabited by Doo-soo and the aristocratic circles of Johanna. For audiences of the 1960s, the film highlights not only class divisions but also the generation gap that was opening ever wider at that time period. The film features an interesting mix of optimism - highlighted by the younger generation’s willingness to fight and overcome barriers - and pessimism marked by economic struggles and the harsh social dictates of the era.
Looking back now, Barefooted Youth stands as a representative film of its generation, and a funny and sincere portrait of the energy and idealism of youth.