Coachman, The

Director: Kang Dae-jin

1961. English subtitles. Black and white. 95 min.

A single father with two sons and two daughters makes a living by operating a horse-drawn cart. However, in a city that is modernising after the destruction of the Korean War, automobiles are making such carts obsolete, and he struggles to make ends meet. Director Kang Dae-jin’s The Coachman is a warm and sympathetic drama about a family trying to lift its way out of poverty and into the middle class. The challenges they face would have been familiar to many of the film’s viewers in 1961, from the cruel and dismissive attitude of the upper classes to the pressure to pay back debts. Perhaps the film’s biggest strength is to highlight the frustration of having motivation and hard work matter much less than connections and money. The film walks a fine line between optimism and pessimism, but in its darker moments it offers a harsh critique of the economic foundations of society. This was the first Korean film to win a major overseas award, taking home the Silver Bear from the 1961 Berlin Film Festival.

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