Chunhyangjeon (lost Korean sound film; 1935)

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A still from the film.

Status: Lost

Chunhyangjeon (춘향전; The Story of Chun-hyang) was the first Korean-made sound film released in 1935. The film is an adaptation of the 18th century Korean novel Chunhyangjeon. During the sound film period, many theatres in Korea competed to screen foreign sound films. However, sound films had not yet been produced in Korea at that time. Accordingly, the release of Chunhyangjeon was a wish come true for many Korean film lovers. The film is more meaningful as the sound technologies were all domestically developed.[1]


Chun-hyang, the daughter of a gisaeng from Namwon, and Yi Mong-ryong are engaged. When Mong-ryong goes up to Hanseong with his father, the newly appointed magistrate, attempts to take Chun-hyang. Chun-hyang rejects his pleas for her to come to serve him, and he throws her in jail. Meanwhile, Mong-ryong becomes an undercover detective after placing first on his national exam and goes to Namwon to arrest Byeon Hak-do and rescue Chun-hyang.


The film has been criticized for its technical errors and the cast’s lack of acting skills. The sound technique was reportedly poor because no one knew how to use the machine; they had to resort to post-production dubbing to record the sound. Unlike silent films, they needed advanced equipment such as sound-proof cameras, silent lights, and a studio to control external noises. Despite these technical shortcomings, people were amazed by the live video with sound. Chunhyangjeon became an instant hit and stayed in the theatres for an extended period of time[2] as Korean audiences appreciated hearing their own language in the cinema.


The film is known to be lost and is more likely simply one of the many Korean films that were lost as a side effect of war. The only remaining snippet of footage is found in another film, titled Spring of the Penisula (반도의 봄). In the film, there is a very long scene that depicts Korean filmmakers shooting Chunhyangjeon. Alongside that footage and a couple of stills from the film, Chunhyangjeon is lost to this day.


Excerpt from Spring of the Peninsula; the Chunhyangjeon shooting scene.

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