Monday, January 01, 2007

You Cannot Judge a DVD by Its Cover

Sometimes even legitimate DVDs in Korea can be rather dubious. Case in point, I recently bought a discount copy of the 1937 version of KING SOLOMON'S MINES, the Alan Quatermaine adventure that has been made into numerous movies over the years. Or at least that is what I thought I bought. Right there on the cover, it mentioned Paul Robeson (the main reason I bought the DVD in the first place), Cedric Hardwicke and Roland Young.

But when I popped the DVD into my player, something strange happened. No Hardwicke. No Robeson. And the whole film was definitely in color.

It did not take me long to realize that, despite the packaging, I was in fact watching the 1950 version of the same movie, the version that starred Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger.

(Strangely, however, the box did have the correct Academy Awards listed on it, the two won by the 1950 version.)

So how could this happen? Well, Korea has a relatively limited copyright period for movies, just 50 years. Anything older than that is fair game for anyone. Any movie you see that was made before 1957 (as of when I write this post) can be released on DVD by anyone without paying royalties or asking permission. Korea is full of such titles, usually in the 4-5,000 won range. And that kind of money does not pay for a lot of editorial oversight.

Korea's shortened copyright period does have its positive side, though. The Korean Film Archive has been releasing a couple of classic films each year on DVD, in really nice versions, with subtitles and notes and things. For a lot of these old films, the copyright is in dispute or unknown or otherwise problematic, so having titles come into the public sphere is a big help.

There is an out-of-date list of these movies in English here. A complete list in Korean is here. If you want to order any titles, you can try Seoul Selection. Sadly, they do not have a separate section for classic movies, so you will have to search around. But you can start here for the Archive's latest.


jon said...

The Korean Film Archive is doing a splendid job with these titles. They've already released Han Hyung-mo's Hand of Fate and Madame Freedom, though regrettably the latter is no longer available. Hyperbola of Youth is a satirical musical comedy, one of the earliest we have from the post-war years.

Carter said...

Could be worse. You could have ended up with the 1985 version with Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone, one of the worst movies I've ever seen.