Nakdong River

European Premiere | Out Of Competition | Restored Classics | 50/50: Celebrating 50 Years of Korean Film Preservation


The screening of the film will be immediately followed by the screening of The Widow

Nakdong River is a difficult film to classify. At 46 minutes it is not quite a feature length, but it is longer than most shorts. It has a cast list and a synopsis (“After graduating from university, Il-ryeong returns to the village of his birth along the shores of the Nakdong River, and together with his girlfriend Ok-nam, tries to educate and guide the villagers to a better life.”) – and yet parts of the film feel more like a documentary, with carefully composed shots of village life, the river and the surrounding landscape following one after the other, telling their own story.


There are also a few artistic flourishes; for example, the film opens with striking images of a dancer performing alone next to the river. the film’s music is by composer Yun Isang, and while it is less modern than the later compositions which would make him famous in classical music circles, it is an interesting and unusual soundtrack (despite the tinny 1950s recording).


One of the film’s goals is to educate its viewers. Several scenes center around a (rather stiff ) lecture given by Il-ryeong, where he explains that great civilizations tend to take shape next to rivers. He tells stories of the Gaya (42-532 CE) and Silla (57 BCE-935 CE) kingdoms that flourished on the banks of the Nakdong River many centuries ago. He speaks also of the cultural movements and influx of religion into this region which helped to shape Korea’s subsequent historical development.


What the film did not need to explain to its audience in 1952 was that just two years earlier, North Korea’s army invaded the South and quickly occupied much of the peninsula, reaching as far down as the Nakdong River before its momentum was halted. Fierce fighting along the river over a six-week period kept the Northern army at bay until additional U.N. troops landed at Incheon and North Korea began its long retreat. Therefore at the time this film was made, the river stood not only as a symbol of life and sustenance, but also resistance and fortitude, tragedy and sacrifice.


Nakdong River also presents these dramatic events of 1950, but from the perspective of a rural village. Midway through the film, we see the community readying itself for war, as news of North Korea’s invasion reaches them. Life in the village is upended, but people carry themselves with a sense of purpose and determination.

Eventually, the fighting draws closer and Il-ryeong himself goes o to join the battle.


Nakdong River is an important historical document in that it is a rare example of a film that was made and screened as the Korean War was still being fought, though by 1952 the battle lines had moved far to the north. Director Jeon Chang-keun, who had quite an interesting life and career, fluidly recreates the rhythms of village life on film, and in its best moments, Nakdong River recalls Humphrey Jennings’ thoughtfully observed documentaries of the British people during World War II. It’s some of the film’s most ordinary moments that are most effective, capturing the resilience of people living through a time of great instability.


Sometimes you don’t need to be at the line of battle to capture the enormity of war, and how it can change people for life.

Darcy Paquet
Film director: JEON Chang-keun
Year: 1952
Running time: 122'
Country: South Korea
30/04 - 2:00 PM
Visionario, Via Asquini 33
30-04-2024 14:00 30-04-2024 16:02Europe/Rome Nakdong River Far East Film Festival Visionario, Via Asquini 33CEC Udine
Online in Italy until the end of the Festival