Sea Knows, The (1961)

A solid WWII melodrama by the great Korean master Kim Ki-young about an impossible romance between a Korean soldier forced to serve the Japanese imperial army, and a Japanese woman with radical thinking of her own.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Kim Ki-young
1961 | South Korea | Drama/War | 119 mins | Korean
Not rated – likely to be PG13 for some sexual references

Cast: Kim Woon-ha, Lee Sang-sa, Lee Ye-chun
Plot: A Korean man, forced into service in the Japanese army during WWII, pursues his Japanese girlfriend despite everyone’s objections. 
Korean Film Archive

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Human Condition, Love
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: DVD
Spoilers: No

Made right after The Housemaid (1960), his landmark polemic against the seeming invulnerability of the male-led domestic household, The Sea Knows is another solid effort by the great Korean master Kim Ki-young. 

Although restored by the Korean Film Archive, there are missing visuals (black cutaways as replacement) and dialogue (subtitled with scene descriptions) in the film that are forever lost to time, making this a precious document of ‘60s Korean cinema that was also a fairly recent ‘historicising’ of WWII, made just over a decade after the war. 

Fashioned as a melodrama with a plotline that is not entirely unfamiliar—that of an impossible romance between two unlikely persons, in this case, a Korean student-turned-foot soldier who is forced to serve the Japanese imperial army, and a young Japanese woman who has radical thinking of her own—The Sea Knows is a solid work despite being ‘incomplete’. 

Cultural imperialism and the atrocities of wartime behaviour are on display, even within the military barracks where the Japanese discrimination of Koreans in the name of their ’50-year old tradition’ occurs on a daily basis. 

One might argue that romance can transcend the brutality of war—and Kim doesn’t hide the film’s sentimentality towards that perspective—but The Sea Knows is also realistic in that while people may have survived the war, they rarely come out of it unscathed. 

There are several quite amazingly kinetic aerial battle scenes to behold—I’m not sure how they were shot, but some practical visual effects could have been used, and with aplomb, if I may add.

Grade: A-

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