A Thousand Year Old Fox [천년호] (1969)
AKA Thousand Years Old Fox
Starring Shin Young-Kyun, Kim Ji-Su, Kim Hye-Jeong, Kim Nan-Yeong, Kang Kye-Shik, Lee Ki-Young
Directed by Shin Sang-Ok
Expectations: Pretty high.
The Korean Film Archive calls A Thousand Year Old Fox, “The pinnacle of 1960s cinematic horror, which successfully experiments with the ingenious combination of fantasy, action, and melodrama.” I don’t have any real knowledge of the late ’60s in South Korea, so I can’t comment on the film being at the pinnacle of the country’s horror genre, but I can say that the rest of the description is apt. But it’s probably fair to assume that this was an impressive film in its day, because on the strength of this film — and presumably director Shin Sang-Ok’s reputation as “one of the greatest Korean producer-directors of his era” — A Thousand Year Old Fox was picked up for Hong Kong distribution by the Shaw Brothers, and Shin was contracted to make a few films directly for the studio. A Thousand Year Old Fox wasn’t released in Hong Kong until 1971, but it failed to catch on there, making just shy of HK$300,000 in a year where the number one film, The Big Boss, made over HK$3 million.
A Thousand Year-Old Fox tells a love-triangle story about General Kim (Shin Young-Kyun), who has just returned to his country after two years of defending the borders from bandits, Queen Jinseong (Kim Hye-Jeong), who only has eyes for the general, and the general’s loving wife, Yeo-hwa (Kim Ji-Su), who is eagerly awaiting her husband’s return. The queen seduces the general, keeping him at the palace and delaying his reunion with his wife and child. Meanwhile, the queen sends her guards to banish Yeo-hwa from the kingdom, and while traveling a group of bandits ambush Yeo-hwa’s party. The bandits stomp Yeo-hwa’s infant to death, but she uses this moment to make her escape. She runs as fast as she can through the forest and the fields, only to fall into a small lake and drown before the bandits catch up to her. But this is no ordinary body of water, it’s one inhabited by a bodyless fox spirit. The fox draws strength from Yeo-hwa’s heightened emotions and strong desire for revenge and is able to inhabit her body. And you thought it was a complicated situation when it was just a simple three-human love triangle!