DOKKEBI is a demon found throughout Korean folklore, formed of abandoned things. They do not have human souls but they are fascinated by humans and continually play tricks on them, sometimes with harmless pranks but often in more nefarious ways.
In one popular tale, there was an old man who lived alone on a mountain, whereupon he was visited by a Dokkebi. On seeing the strange little creature, the kindly old man offered it some rice wine and soon the two became friends. From then on, the Dokkebi came often to visit the old man and they would pas the time pleasantly, sharing a drink and engaging in long, philosophical conversations with one another.
One day, the old man was walking among the trees of the mountain and he stopped at a river to quench his thirst. On looking down, the old man was horrified to see that, reflected in the glassy surface of the water was his reflection—only, it was no longer his reflection that he saw, but the Dokkebi’s. Deeply shaken, the old man hurried back down the mountain to his house and spent the rest of the night in thought. Concerned that he was gradually being overtaken by the Dokkebi, he hatched a plan to rid himself of the interloper.
The very next evening, the Dokkebi came to the house and the old man had it a drink. When they were sitting comfortably by the fire, the old man asked, “Dokkebi, what are you most afraid of?” The Dokkebi shuddered and answered, “Blood.” After a moment, it turned back to the old man and asked in return, “Why, what are you most afraid of?” The old man tried to hide the pounding in his chest as he answered, “money—that’s why I live all the way up here, away from town.” Presently, the Dokkebi departed and the old man dashed outside. He slaughtered one of his cows, collected the blood in a wooden pail and then climbed onto his roof and poured the blood all over his house. The next day, when the Dokkebi returned, he saw with anger what the old man had done. “I will return tomorrow,” it cried as it ran from the bloody house, “and I will bring with me your greatest fear.”
Sure enough, when the Dokkebi returned, it was bearing bags filled with money, which it deposited unceremoniously on the snow outside the old man’s house. Seeing once more the bloody state of the house, the Dokkebi turned tail and fled, leaving the old man the richest person for miles around.
In this film, director Hobin tells the story of a lonely Dokkebi as he comes down from the mountain. He cries out to assert that he is alive but soon realises that he is alone. Suddenly, the folly of his situation hits him with a terrible poignancy and he returns to the mountain.
For Hobin, the Dokkebi is a symbol of abandoned memories. Both are precious things, constantly in danger of being forgotten. It is for human beings to rescue them from obscurity and bring them down from the mountain.