The specifically Korean tradition that is reclaimed in Sopyonje is the type of folk-song known as pansori, described as a musical sublimation of South-West Korea's collective grief and ... See full summary »
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The specifically Korean tradition that is reclaimed in Sopyonje is the type of folk-song known as pansori, described as a musical sublimation of South-West Korea's collective grief and suffering - in other words, a kind of blues. The film's three central characters are itinerant pansori singers in the 1950s, a time when many aspects of Korean culture came under siege from Japanese and western influences. The story unfolds through flashbacks. A man named Dong-ho is roaming the rural hinterlands, ostensibly to find rare herbal medicines for his employer back in Seoul, but actually in search of Song-hwa, the woman he grew up with. Orphans, they were both apprenticed to the pansori master Yu-bong who pressured them to sacrifice everything for the art. Dong-ho rebelled and ran away, to become the man he is now. Song-hwa stayed, lost her sight, and outlived Yu-bong. Rumor has it that she is still traveling and still singing pansori... The tale has one truly shocking twist, but the overall ... Written by
Jay Lee <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I got the chance to see Seopyeonje in a Korean class in school. Our Korean professor was a bit excited to let us watch this film. So we sat in the speech laboratory and devoted our attention to the projection screen at the front.
I have to admit, after the first 30 minutes or so of watching this movie, I expected no more development in the plot, thinking that all the flatness of the story will endure until the end. I was bit by bit becoming impatient of watching it, annoyed by the (for me) dreary atmosphere of the 50s and rustic setting, not to mention the ear-splitting and irritating singing of the lead characters. I am also neither a fan of Asian flicks or Asian TV "novelas" and have no great tolerance of hearing characters speak languages alien to me, even if there were English subtitles flashing at the bottom of the screen. So I had to prolong my patience.
But lucky to be seated on a chair in the front row, I had my attention not taken away from the movie which if otherwise I might have given up watching and fallen asleep because of drastic tedium. Then I began to realize, a movie like Seopyeonje is not one of the typical contemporary flicks, hyped and high-budgeted, only to deliver shallow entertainment to the audience. It then registered with me that I was becoming critical of the film too early. So I gave myself another chance and continued watching, this time with a different perspective. Thus my reflections go.
Seopyeonje is not easy to watch without the watcher's religious attention. It is slow-paced and languorous at times, and I am convinced it is designed this way to convey exactly and completely its meaning. This meaning is the splendor of the arts, culture and tradition, inherent not only of Korea but of every nation. This movie would like us to appreciate and recognize the value of traditions and heritage slowly fading away while modernization advances and continues to overrun this world.
The movie talks of pain, longing, passion and fortitude without much talking and melodrama. The actors' portrayals of their characters are unaffected and what are typical of real life. Their gestures, singing and expressions fit so perfectly that there needed to be not anything more to communicate what they needed to communicate. The singing is by far the key element of the film, being a musical and one centered on Pansori, a traditional Korean folk music. I confess I did not bear the tones and screams of the Pansori reciters at first but my perception gradually changed as the movie progressed.
The culmination of Pansori art, as explained in the movie, is attained by overcoming grief and suffering. I can't help but be sympathetic about Songhwa (the female lead character) and her plight, but as she reached the peak of her art, my sympathy changed into admiration and the once annoying sound of Pansori transformed into a sublime and haunting melody to my ears.
Seopyeonje is one of the finest cinema I have seen. It is characteristically sad and somber but all at once beautiful, emotional and moving. It certainly left an indelible mark in me. I recommend it to those who love art, culture and traditions and bored of mainstream Hollywood movies and to those who simply want to stray from convention.
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