To the three sisters who live in Seoul attending university, their loving mother back in Busan is a savior. Having been widowed in the Korean War, she has nonetheless found success as the owner of a dress shop and enabled her daughters to live a comfortable, aspirational lifestyle. Yet there is something that the daughters do not know. The couture business, it turns out, is just a façade, and instead their mother runs a nightclub in Busan’s sordid entertainment district, while engaging in smuggling and prostitution on the side.
The madame, who goes by the nickname “President,” justifies this lawbreaking and deception with a belief that the family’s one sure path to prosperity lies in finding rich husbands for her daughters. And for a time, she is successful in maintaining this split personality. But things then start to unravel, beginning with the fact that her daughters fall in love with the wrong kind of men.
In the early 1960s, the South Korean film industry turned out a string of family melodramas that looked at the relationship between the older generation, who had seen their lives upended by war and the collapse of the economy, and the younger generation who were preparing to step in and pursue the paths and careers that their parents never had. Whereas a film like Kang Dae-jin’s award-winning The Coachman (1961) paints a touching portrait of hard work and sacrifice on both sides, there is a complex and sour irony to the way social mobility is depicted in The Body Confession.
As film critic Kim Young-jin notes, this film may be classified as a melodrama, but one of its key attractions is the way that it occasionally steps outside the borders of its genre. In particular, actress Hwang Jeong-soon absolutely shatters the warm, motherly image she had built up over the early part of her career, making for a fascinating and memorable character who tells us much about the contradictions of her era.
Jo Keung-ha (1919-1982) ran a photo studio in Daegu during the Korean War, and then moved into filmmaking, making his debut with Hwang Jin-yi in 1957. He tackled various genres during his 16-year career, but is best known as a director of melodramas.
1962 – When Acacias Bloom
1964 – The Body Confession
1967 – The Body’s Destination
1968 – The Eternal Motherhood
1968 – Going Well