The Barefooted Young
Director: Kim Ki-duk
Cast: Shin Seong-il, Um Aeng-ran, Yoon Il-bong, Lee Yea-chun
115 mins, 2019
Adolescent films first gained widespread popularity in Korea during the 1960s; of these, The Barefooted Young (or Barefooted Youth, as it is sometimes translated) is the best-known example. In the film, Doo-soo - a lower class gangster - stumbles across a group of thugs harassing two young women. He intervenes, saving the women but getting himself injured in the process. When one of the women, a diplomat’s daughter named Johanna, comes to thank him in person, the two begin a relationship. Whilst highlighting the vast socio-economic gap between Doo-soo’s underworld and the upper class existence of Johanna, the film reflects the rise of youth culture in the 1960s. Moreover, it portrays the rebellion and force for change bubbling beneath a rigid class structure, as well as its repercussions. Kim Ki-duk (1934–2017), whilst best known outside of Korea for his 1967 monster film Yongary, was one of the leading young directors of the Korean cinematic wave of the 1960s and made distinctive and successful melodramas. The Barefooted Young is Kim Ki-duk’s rallying cry against social inequality and class barriers with its effective use of melodrama and romance.