A Single Spark

아름다운 청년 전태일

Film info

Director: Park Kwang-Su
Cast: Moon Sung-keun, Hong Kyung-in, Kim Seon-jai, Lee Joo-sil
Film genre: Drama
Cert 15, 96 mins, 1995
Distributed by Ye Seong-il

Long before the box office titans Taxi Driver (1976) and 1987: When the Day Comes (2017), Korean New Wave filmmaker Park Kwang-su made the seminal Korean protest drama A Single Spark. Released in 1995, the film offers two narratives: the true story of young textile factory worker Jeon Tae-il, who became an activist for workers’ rights and famously set himself ablaze for his beliefs in 1970; and the partly fictionalised efforts of another activist, who five years later tries to commit Jeon Tae-il’s tale to the page, all the while evading capture.

The earlier timeline was shot in black and white and, by dint of its climax, gave Korean cinema some of its most indelible images, while the latter story takes place in colour, but shows how little the political landscape has changed in the interim. This powerful tale of struggle, oppression and dogged determinism was co-written by none other than the future Korean cinema masters Lee Chang-dong and Hur Jin-ho.