Rosy Life

International Premiere | Out Of Competition | PART 2 - A/B side VIBES. Greatest Hits from ‘80s & ‘90s


Guest star:
KIM Hong-joon, director


One of the strengths of cinema is its ability to give us new perspectives on places, people and events. Film is a kind of window to look onto the world from unexpected new angles.
So perhaps the best way to begin talking about Rosy Life is to explain why its setting and perspective is so unusual.

To begin with, the time period. The story is set between April and May of 1987, a key year in contemporary Korean history. At the beginning of the film, we see a news broadcast in which authoritarian president Chun Doo-hwan announces that he will not accept public calls for a constitutional amendment and direct presidential elections. But two months later, massive street demonstrations against the government would force him to give in to those very demands. The spring of 1987 was a moment in time when the people’s frustrations were about to boil over and transform society. Yet 1987 would ultimately go down as only a half-victory, as former general Roh Tae-woo was elected president at the end of the year, and much of the status quo was preserved. Thus this film, shot in 1994 as South Korea was making slow, unsteady progress towards democracy, looks back on 1987 with mixed emotions.

Next, the location. Rosy Life takes place in the district of Garibong-dong in Seoul. Home to many factories and lower-class laborers, the district was known as a hotbed of the labor movement, but also a rough part of town, that middle-class citizens would avoid if possible. More specifically, the central location of this story is a manhwa-bang (“comics room”) where customers could pay a small fee to spend hours on sofas reading comics, watching videos on TV, eating instant noodles or sleeping. This particular manhwa-bang stays open all night, meaning that customers can stay until 7am for a small additional fee. Cheaper than a motel or a sauna, this was a space where people with little cash and nowhere to go could pass the night quietly. Thus the characters who populate the ironically-titled Rosy Life (i.e. “La vie en rose”) occupy the lowest rungs of this unstable society. For most Koreans, the year 1987 recalls images of protesting university students, but this movie reframes that period from the perspective of those ignored, ostracized or left behind by the rest of society.

Those characters include Dong-pal, a young gang member who has gotten himself into trouble; Ki-young, a labor activist hiding from the police; and Yu-jin, a struggling would-be novelist who is falling in love with a bar girl. These three men all frequent the manhwa-bang which is run by a woman we only know as Madame, but whose hardedged demeanor suggest someone who has not had it easy in life. She is played by Choi Myoung-gil (The Lovers of Woomook-baemi), a much-loved actress in what would turn out to be her final film role. Her performance here won her a Best Actress award from the 16th Nantes Festival des 3 Continents.

The directorial debut of Kim Hong-Joon, who would go on to wear many hats in the film industry including his current position as head of the Korean Film Archive, Rosy Life excels particularly in its keen observation of everyday details. The screenplay by Yook Sang-hyo (who later became a director himself, making six features to date including He’s on Duty) devotes time to each character in turn, helping us to see the motivations and fears that lie beneath the surface. One unfortunate aspect of this story is the way it handles the aftermath of a particularly disturbing rape scene – in this sense, the film shows its age, and director Kim has said that this is the part of the film he wishes he could change. But the film’s artistry and its unique portrayal of this important time period has secured its place in Korean film history.

Darcy Paquet
Film director: KIM Hong-jun
Year: 1994
Running time: 94'
Country: South Korea
01/05 - 5:55 PM
Visionario, Via Asquini 33
01-05-2024 17:55 01-05-2024 19:29Europe/Rome Rosy Life Far East Film Festival Visionario, Via Asquini 33CEC Udine
Online in Italy until the end of the Festival