“Mabu”

“Mabu”

The film “Mabu” or “The Coachman” was made in 1961 that discussed the trials of the postwar generation and their children as Korea begins her transition towards industrialization.  “Mabu” is about a widower who makes a living operating a horse-drawn cart while trying to take care of his two sons and two daughters.  The father’s current problems are with his children: his eldest son keeps failing the bar exam, his younger son is a delinquent, his eldest daughter is in an abusive marriage and his younger daughter is posing as a rich college student.

Another key issue facing the protagonist is the changes in Korea during this period that started with the overthrow of Syngman Rhee by Park Chunghee, who led Korea to rapid modernization.  Other specific changes because of the economic growth during this period are the gradual demolition of the cramped shantytowns seen in the beginning of the film with modern residential and commercial buildings and the father’s way of life is being threatened with the introduction of cars.  Moreover, the protagonist’s children have grown up in a period of transition and with no recollection of the poverty and trauma from the Korean War, possibly leading a conflict in values between the elder and newer generation.

The father, who is being overwhelmed by the changes in his country, reflects the director’s attitudes towards these changes in Korea.  The film seems to focus more on the merits of hard work rather than monetary success, and explores the hardships of the postwar working class, which is one reason why this film appealed to older generations when it was released.  Looking at this film in 2005, it would be understandable why the father and the writers of the film seem to be pessimistic towards change in Korea: democracy had been discredited with Rhee’s autocratic tendencies, Korean traditions seemed to be dying out among the younger generations, and a chinilpa general had just taken power.

Despite these problems, the film’s writers and the protagonist place much of their hopes on the younger generation for a better future.  In the film, the father, like many Koreans at the time, placed their hopes on a prosperous future on their eldest son, which was in line with Confucian and Korean traditions.  Overall, “The Coachman” gives viewers a good idea of the attitudes during the early stages of South Korea’s “economic miracle”, the values of the postwar generation, and what Korea was like in the early sixties.

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