Story of KOFA Restoration: Resurrecting Film Back into Life

2018-11-01 ~ 2018-12-31
Story of KOFA Restoration: Resurrecting Film Back into Life

Anything that exist in this world, person or object, age as time passes. Like humans who age and weaken, all things lose their glitter with years, instead gaining small dents and smudges. When their use runs course in the end, people do not look for such objects anymore, dust piling up as if it was meant to be. Naturally, such cycle is applied also to the medium of recording for the film art: The physical film. As films are projected onto the screen, entertaining by making them laugh and cry, and when that is repeated hundreds and thousands of times, their surfaces gain scratches and smudges, small and large. When the commercial life of film is completed, it goes into storage, away from the light and into the dust. 

Such films are the precise reason that organizations such as the Korean Film Archive (KOFA) exists. Restoring the dusty, scratched, or torn films to a state closest to their original form, to help more people enjoy Korean film and remember its history: That is the reason of existence and the mission of film archives. Without archiving efforts, it would not be possible to enjoy and talk about pinnacles of the Korean film history, such as “Aimless Bullet” (Yu Hyun-mok, 1961) that was only available in printed English subtitled version and “The Red Scarf” (Shin Sang-ok, 1964) whose parts were damaged but restored in full for public viewing. 

Stories of Restoration, Breathing Life Back into Film November and December special from KMDb VOD features the works restored by the Korean Film Archive. Cinematheque KOFA (in Sangam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul) and several other theaters projected the restored films, which were also made public in Blu-Ray format, but this is the first time that the restored works are released on a VOD platform. KMDb presents five works restored under the painstaking efforts by the Korean Film Archive: “Piagol”, “Aimless Bullet”, “The Red Scarf”, “Early Rain” and “Sopyonje.”  

  • 01. Piagol (Pi-agol) Lee Kang-cheon, 1955
    The directing skills of Lee Kang-cheon, who debuted with <Arirang> (1954), is apparent in this film. The film received massive support from the government and military in the production stage, but it came under fire around release because some found it pro-communist in that it depicted human agonies of partisan communists. The film is designated as Registered Cultural Heritage No. 346, and the first to undergo the deep-restoration process into the digital 4K format by KOFA in 2016. The Archive removed dust, screen contraction and shaking, and irregular smudges on the overall screen area during the restoration process.
  • 02. Aimless Bullet ( Obaltan ) Yu Hyun-mok, 1961
    This work was digitally restored by KOFA in 2015. The remaining physical film is thought to be a copy of the version printed with English subtitles for submission in the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1963, after the Korean showing of the film ended prematurely in 1961. The copying work seems to have been executed circa 1975 for an event called “Korean Film Showing for the 30th Anniversary of Korean Independence.” The professionals at KOFA removed smudges appearing consistently on the screen, and manually retouched unstable screen brightness, in addition to successfully restoring a part whose right-hand side had been continuously erased. Furthermore, the restoration process removed the low-quality English subtitles that covered half the screen.
  • 03. The Red Scarf ( Ppalgan Mahura ) Shin Sang-ok, 1964
    This work was digitally restored by KOFA in 2012. “The Red Scarf,” when it first opened in 1964, attracted 150,000 viewers and became the biggest hit of the year. It was the first Korean film to show aerial dogfight on the silver screen, providing unprecedented visual entertainment to the Korean audience. When director Shin Sang-ok was kidnapped to North Korea, however, more than half of the film was smuggled across the demilitarized zone at the order of Kim Jong-il. This work was re-released in 1989 after Shin escaped from North Korea with a VHS tape, thirty minutes of which was ported into film format to be added to the remaining film. The resolution of the images converted from VHS, however, was significantly inferior. Moreover, left and right sides of the screen in that part were cut out, reducing the vitality of the original film. Later, the KOFA received 6mm film (92-minute version) from the Air Force Headquarters, and later acquired the negative film of the work from Hong Kong (100-minute version). This enabled the Archive to conduct a more thorough restoration. The overall editing work was based on the 16mm film donated by the Air Force Headquarters, which is thought to be the most similar to the original release version from 1964. The audio was taken from the 1989 re-release version, and the Hong Kong negative film contributed to 60% of the restored screen, as that version had the best picture quality. The left and right sides that were cut out were restored using images extracted from the 16mm and Hong Kong versions.
  • 04. Green Rain ( Chou ) Chung Jin Woo, 1966
    This work was digitally restored by KOFA in 2017. “Early Rain” displayed significant screen shaking due to the damage in the original film, but the digital restoration process minimized the problem. After extracting certain scenes with significant damage from the master film, the restoration professionals combined them with the original version to bring the work closer to its original state.
  • 05. Sopyonje (Seopyeonje) Im Kwon-taek, 1993
    This work was digitally restored by KOFA in 2017. Scratches and dust in the overall screen and shaking phenomenon in certain parts of the film were manually removed. The restoration work took painstaking efforts to reproduce the colors seen during the original opening of the work. The negative film of “Sopyonje” made heavy use of optical printing, resulting in a high volume of scenes lacking depth and sharpness. The restoration professionals worked to alleviate the rough textures of the optical cuts by adequately adjusting the sharpness of the preceding and following scenes. Meanwhile, the restored version of “Sopyonje” feature the subtitles of lyrics for the pansori songs, which does not exist in the original negative film but does in the print film for showing. The subtitles reflect the director’s intention to deliver the unique tone and dialects used in pansori songs at the time of opening in 1993. They also maximally reproduces the circumstances when the movie was first released.

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