Randwick Ritz, Sydney:

Saturday May 04

Tuesday May 07

Lido Cinemas, Melbourne:

Saturday May 11

Tuesday May 14

Rating: Unclassified 15+
Duration: 112 minutes
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean (English Subtitles)
Cast: Kim Myung-gon,
Jung-hae Oh, Kim Kyu-chul
Director: Im Kwon-taek



Deemed a masterpiece…a story of music, family, toxicity and ambition…the production feels like a love letter to Korea and its traditions.” – Reinier Brands

Sopyonje focuses on a family of travelling ‘p’ansori’ singers and their devotion to a Korean traditional song form that rivals the Portuguese Fado or the American Blues in its use of aching, sung laments. Sopyonje was the first Korean film seen by over one million people in Seoul, and the major Korean international festival hit of the 1990s. “The ‘seopyeonje’ is a song described as sorrowful and tender - there are few films more tender, if not more sorrowful than this.” (Wally Hammond, Time Out Film Guide). 2K restoration presented with the support of the Australia-Korea Foundation. Co-presented with the Korean Film Archive (KOFA).

Introduced by Russell Edwards and the director of the Korean Film Archive, Kim Hong-joon (video), at the Ritz Cinemas and by Andrew Jackson, Monash University, and Kim Hong-joon (video) at the Lido Cinemas.

“Seopyeonje is a film of profound cultural importance, demonstrating the significance of Pansori and reactions to growing Japanese and Western musical influences.” - 

There are still moments that bring tears to my eyes. These tears of joy and sorrow are surely evidence of the work’s power…and the almost unique ability of Korean culture to give words to what is essentially a universal experience.” – Jeremy Neideck  


Korean director Im Kwon-taek (b. 1936) made over 100 features in a career made resonant with local box office hits, yet he still broke through local censorship taboos, gained break-out international film festival invitations and received western critical attention for Korean cinema, inspiring South Korea’s current generation of international arthouse film making superstars. 

Our 2024 festival screenings of Sopyonje in Sydney and Melbourne begin a short, follow-up season (in Sydney only) showcasing some of Im’s other key films, Jagko Mismatched Nose (1980), Ticket (1986) and Festival (1996), as well as the dynamic cinema restoration program of the Korean national film archive KOFA (see Webinar below).   

Full details about Cinema Reborn’s Im Kwon-taek season, screening at Ritz Cinemas, Randwick throughout May coming soon.


Friday 3 May from 2:00 PM AET

Join with the Korean Cultural Centre Sydney for a webinar exploring Im Kwon-taek’s career and the Korean Film Archive (KOFA)’s acclaimed program to restore and give global access to Korean filmmaking heritage. Join us online via IM KWON-TAEK AND KOREAN FILM RESTORATION: WEBINAR WITH CINEMA REBORN FESTIVAL – Korean Cultural Centre AU, with guests including film critic, academic and Korean cinema expert Russell Edwards, critic and Parasite subtitler Darcy Parquet, Korean Film Archive head Kim Hong-joon, and academic and screenwriter Kyung Hyun Kim

Webinar free, but bookings required. 

Webinar presented by the Korean Cultural Centre Sydney. 

Season presented with the support of the Australia-Korea Foundation. Co-presented with the Korean Film Archive (KOFA). Supported by the Korean Cultural Centre Sydney.

By Russell Edwards


It’s often said that Im Kwon-taek is the one director still working in South Korean cinema who has experienced all eras of the peninsula’s modern history. Im was born during the Japanese occupation; he was 16 years old when the Korean War broke out; made his directorial debut two years after the establishment of Park Chung-hee’s dictatorship; and made his 1993 landmark film Sopyonje (his 93rd feature) as the fervour for democracy became a tangible reality for all South Koreans.

Compared to the glossy Hallyu trailblazers of Park Chan-wook, Kim Jee-woon, and Bong Joon-ho, Im’s work can seem conventional, but his robust engagement with Korean history and arts (particularly from the pre-modern Choson era) provides a clear pathway for audiences – experts and novices alike – to enter South Korean culture and appreciate its richness.
Sopyonje begins in the 1960s with Dong-ho arriving in a shantytown looking for his long-lost “sister”, Song-hwa. His clothing is from the modern age: a trenchcoat to cope with harsh Korean winters and a moppish hairstyle that betrays the pervasive, inescapable Western influence. After the opening credits, with superb visual economy, Im thrusts the audience into the protagonist’s journey to investigate the fragments of the past. Standing in the mucky dirt street, the truck from which Dong-ho has alighted passes by with its load of logs. Revealed by the truck’s departure is a young villager in the traditional white clothing of the Choson era, who leads a cow and a cart loaded with bags of grain. Nearby, a stooped old man, also wearing a white hanbok smock, sits on a traditional farmhouse verandah and contemplates Dong-ho, as if he were an invader from another world. As Dong-ho turns to get his bearings, the film cuts to a point-of-view shot of the log truck continuing its journey, with an imposing mountain dominating the frame. The Korean terrain signals, even more so than the white-garbed people and their pre-modern conditions, that the roots of this film are based in cultural traditions as old as the land itself.

This is the first of Dong-ho’s arrivals in the film and the trigger for the first of the film’s flashbacks, which reveals more of his relationship with his “sister”. Dong-ho’s search takes him along the muddy roads of South Korea’s farming regions, through other desolate towns, and leads him to storytellers, often dressed in traditional garb, who stimulate more memories of his past. The towering figure amongst these recollections is Dong-ho’s and Song-hwa’s adoptive father, Yu-bong. While rearing his children single-handed, and instructing them in the art of pansori (Song-hwa on vocals and Dong-ho on the soribuk drum), Yu-bong is also tyrannical as he preaches absolute adherence to this classic Korean musical form.

The father figure of Yu-bong has been interpreted as a symbolic stand-in for former Dictator Park Chung-hee who came to power in 1963 and was assassinated in 1979 (as depicted in Im — no relation — Song-soo’s biting 2005 satire, The President’s Last Bang). Park ruled the country in a brutal military regime, but was also the architect of the ‘Miracle on the Han River’ which cleared the ground for South Korea to become an economic powerhouse. Accordingly, like many a father figure before him (including Sopyonje’s Yu-bong), Park Chung-hee was both admired and feared, fostering internal and external divisions on the peninsula.

Occasionally, Koreans embrace a film with near religious devotion, and Sopyonje is a case in point. Released in 1993, in one small art cinema in Seoul, Sopyonje tapped into the collective grief of the Korean people emerging from decades of dictatorship that in many ways compounded the emotional damage caused by the Japanese occupation of the first half of the twentieth century. Despite never showing in more than three cinemas simultaneously, Sopyonje became a mega-hit. Sopyonje’s journey to become the most popular South Korean film ever (superceded by Shiri in 1999, and other films since) was a relentless soft parade. It was as if it was each citizen’s national duty to see the film, like pilgrims seeking out a shrine. Im himself believes that the film would not have been as popular had it been released at a later time or in a different political climate. But the timeliness of a political parable would not and does not account for Sopyonje’s power. Drama dominates, but it is a film of joy as well as sadness. An extended five-minute static shot provides one of the film’s most elated moments (no need to elaborate, you’ll know it when it comes) signalling love, harmony, pleasure and triumph over past wounds. In contrast, during the film’s emotional conclusion, the music taps into the grief of humanity: the wrongs done to us; the painful pursuit of perfection; and our tendency to punish others for our own shortcomings as we search for our authentic selves. The gruelling nature of that journey reflects Sopyonje’s identity as a spiritual road movie as well as a fable with political undertones.

The title Sopyonje comes from the name of the pansori sound, renowned for its deep sadness, that is native to the Western side of Korea. In Eastern Korea, the dominant pansori form is dongpyeonje, which is regarded as more free and open in style than the more elaborate sopyonje. The schism between the two musical styles is one of many divisions alluded to by Im that he encourages his characters and his audience to overcome. Another division is the way that Korean everyman, Dong-ho, is caught between modernisation and the true spirit of Korea that has been left behind. To go further, there are other gulfs to overcome: (as almost always in South Korean cinema) the metaphorical expression of the unhealed rift between North and South Korea; the equally passionate battle between left and right-wing philosophies; and most literally, the ruptures of understanding that occur between father and child. The Korean word for the culture’s core grief is ‘han’. Through the pansori, Im permits us, the audience, to connect our own losses with the pain — the han — of being Korean. It is both a wonderful and turbulent experience. Like all great art, Sopyonje puts us in touch with ourselves even as we connect with others. Hear the music. Feel the pain. Let your heart be touched and a part of you will be Korean forevermore.

Sopyonje (Seopyeonje) was preserved digitally restored by the Korean Film Archive KOFA. This newly revised 2024 version provides English subtitles for some of film's pansori song sequences absent in earlier versions.

Director: IM Kwon-taek; Production Company: Taehung Pictures; Producer: LEE Tae-won; Script: YONG Sang-hyo, from the novel by LEE Cheong-jun; Photography: PARK Seung-bae; Editor: PARK Soon-deok; Production Design: KIM Yu-joon; Sound: YANG Da-ho; Music: KIM Soo-shul.

Cast:  KIM Myung-gon (Yoo-oh), OH Jung-hae (Song-hwa), SIN Sae-gil (Geumsandak), KIM Kyu-chul (Dong-ho), AHN Byeong-kyeong (Naksan Geosa Choi), CHOI Jae-hyun (SONG Dong-ho).

South Korea | 1993 | 112 mins | 2K DCP (orig. 35mm) | Colour | Korean with English subtitles | U/C15+.

Cinema Reborn acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which we live, learn and work. We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.