Vow of Chastity, AKA Her Fidelity

Screening on Film
Directed by Ha Gil-Jong.
With Ha Myung-Joong, Park Ji-Yeong, Lee Young-Ok.
South Korea, 1973, 35mm, color, 96 min.
Korean with English subtitles.
Print source: Korean Film Archive

The lesser known of Ha Gil-Jong’s early masterworks is Vow of Chastity, a dark revenge saga set during the ancient Three Kingdom Period (220-280 AD) yet pointedly contemporary in its harsh critique of military authority and brutality towards women. Recalling the earlier “acid Westerns” of Monte Hellman and the New American Cinema Ha discovered in Los Angeles and championed as a film critic, Vow of Chastity refashions recognizable genre tropes—here from Hong Kong and Taiwanese martial arts films—into incendiary political metaphor, giving powerful yet ambiguously allegorical valence to its story of a returned soldier’s discovery that his family and village have been ravaged by a cruel warlord. Ha’s younger brother Ha Myung-Joong again defies dominant screen stereotypes as the embittered and ghostly solider who embodies the crushing defeat that remains the major theme of Ha’s films. So brutal and disturbing were extended scenes of savage pillaging and rape by unfettered soldiers that twenty minutes were cut by government censors, who were unable to pinpoint the film’s subversive attack on the oppressive Park Chung-Hee regime. The central role of music in Ha’s mood-driven cinema is showcased by the starkly emotive and historically accurate soundtrack that he commissioned from gayageum legend Hwang Byungki and famed pansori singer Kim So-Hee.

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Ha Gil-Jong and the Revitalization of the Korean Cinema

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