In a small and humble seashore village, the local fisherman gather together to prepare for a hard day’s work on the ocean waves. As their wives bid them farewell, a pregnant woman warns her husband of a terrible dream she had the previous night, yet her anxiety is heeded merely as superstition. Young bride Hae-soon (고은아), married for just 10 days, prays to the Dragon God of the sea to protect the fisherman from harm. However her piety goes unanswered as later that day a typhoon strikes, killing several of the men and making widows of many of the inhabitants of the village, Hae-soon included. While still in mourning, Hae-soon’s beauty catches the attention of nomad Sang-soo (신영균), whose lust for the young widow leads them both down a tragic path.
The Seashore Village is an absolutely stunning classic melodrama by much-celebrated director Kim Soo-yong (김수용). Earning the Best Film accolade at the 1965 Daejong (Grand Bell) Awards, the film’s victory is far from surprising given the emotional story of familial duty and personal survival, alongside simply breathtaking cinematography that features throughout.
The Seashore Village is a staggering visual achievement, with shots that are routinely wonderfully composed. In highlighting the arduous hand-to-mouth daily struggles to survive and the humble yet cheerful lives of those living on the coastline in the 1960s, director Kim captures a world unto itself, particularly as those inland were dealing with the rapid issues of modernisation. The film functions as both compelling entertainment and history lesson, articulating a lifestyle far removed from expanding urbanisation and development, one in which prayers to Dragon Gods of the sea for protection are common and community spirit for working together to obtain food is prevalent. The aesthetics and compositions are consistently fascinating throughout, featuring traditional hanok homes and lifestyles, old boats and fishing methods, and renowned female divers all in conjunction with the glorious coastline. The Seashore Village is a genuine visual treat.
The story is one of director Kim’s first literary adaptations, an approach that would see him earn a highly respected reputation as the ‘master of literary films’, and is a probing examination of the roles of women, marriage, family, and society. The narrative itself is deceptively simplistic yet reveals much about such features through Hae-soon’s status as a young widow, and as a community set apart from the mainland. While Confucian ideals and familial piety are present they are not prevalent, as the seashore society is decidedly liberal for the era. The women in the village are mostly single widows having lost their husbands at sea, and their frank discussions about fulfilling their sexual desires and needs, as well as supporting themselves through diving for shellfish, is surprisingly progressive especially for ’60s Korea.
That said, The Seashore Village also frequently employs rape as a device for spurring on the narrative, with its recurrent use particularly upsetting. As a young widow and the most beautiful woman in the village, Hee-soon attracts the unwanted advances of drifter Sang-soo who simply will not accept rejection, with his repeated attempts to force himself upon her quite distressing. More troublesome however is that upon Sang-soo’s success, Hae-soon discovers an awakened, unbridled passion. Her beauty is typically the catalyst for further attempted rape and conflict throughout the film, and within such terrible events the brutish Sang-soo is characterised as a saviour and protector figure, yet given his history it is tough to take such a leap. It is for such reasons that, while The Seashore Village is a stunning example of classic Korean melodrama, the film doesn’t stand the test of time as much as its peers.
The Seashore Village is a beautifully composed and visually stunning classic melodrama by director Kim Soo-yong. The film is incredible in constructing a world away from the rapid modernity overtaking inner cities, capturing the traditional society’s humble, laborious, and surprisingly liberated community. While The Seashore Village also features some particularly progressive ideals concerning female independence and sexuality (considering the era), the narrative also unfortunately employs rape as a frequent device which is troublesome. A classic, though one that doesn’t stand the test of time as well as its peers.