The Widow

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


The film screening will follow the screening of Nakdong River


Like many other young women of her generation, Shin-ja finds herself a widow in the aftermath of the Korean War. With a young daughter and no money to speak of, her situation is dire, but Mr. Lee, a wealthy friend of her late husband, agrees to help her get set up as a seamstress. Mr. Lee is beyond generous and seems eager to become even closer to Shin-ja, but this attracts the suspicions of his jealous wife – who herself is not exactly faithful to their marriage. Meanwhile amidst this awkward situation, another young man appears, well-mannered, good-looking and single. Soon Shin-ja starts to dream of starting a new life with him, but numerous obstructions still stand in their way.

The Widow’s place in Korean film history begins with the fact that it is the first ever Korean feature directed by a woman. Park Nam-ok had prior experience working on film sets and shooting newsreels during the Korean War, but she would face greater obstacles than she expected in creating this work. With a screenplay by her playwright husband and funds provided by her sister, Park managed to make it through the production stage despite having an infant baby to look after (a now-famous photograph shows her directing on the set, with her baby strapped to her back). But even after shooting was complete, she was refused access to sound recording studios for the mere fact she was a woman.

Eventually with the help of some colleagues (the film’s producer is Jeon Chang-keun, who directed Nakdong River), The Widow secured a theatrical release, but then it was quickly pulled from theaters before it was able to attract much of an audience.

Alas, history has not been kind to the film, either. It would remain the only film directed by Park, who felt frustrated and disillusioned by her experience, and would eventually move to the U.S. In the ensuing decades the film was mostly forgotten, until in the late 1990s the newly-launched Women’s Film Festival in Seoul introduced it to contemporary audiences with great fanfare. Nonetheless, only a single copy of the film remained at that point, and it was a damaged print. The final reel was missing, and the sound was missing from the secondto- last reel. Despite much searching by the Korean Film Archive, no other copy of the film has been located to date. The end result is a film that ends with foreboding hints of what is to happen next, but no payoff.

In some ways this is a shame, because there are many aspects of this story that are unique to 1950s Korean cinema. The main character is anything but a tragic, passive victim of circumstance. Her practical attitude and at times calculating resourcefulness are a refreshing departure from the standard portrayal of female characters at that time. The film eschews melodrama, and presents both motherhood and the institution of marriage with a clear-eyed, realistic gaze.

In the 2023 film Mimang (also presented at this year’s Far East Film Festival), a special screening of The Widow takes place at a historic theater that is slated to close. In a Q&A session after the screening, an audience member asks how the original cut of the film ends. The film critic leading the session declines to answer, although some bits of information about the ending have been gleaned from old writings about the film. “I think it may be more interesting for the audience to imagine their own ending,” she says. It’s an answer that will frustrate some viewers, but at the same time, it may well be true that this historically important work holds a particularly tight grip on our imagination precisely because it lacks an ending. Resolution can lead to forgetting, but this film and its troubled history cries out to be remembered.

Darcy Paquet
Film director: PARK Nam-ok
Year: 1955
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 The Widow Far East Film Festival Visionario, Via Asquini 33CEC Udine
Online in Italy until the end of the Festival