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|Index||28 reviews in total|
There is nothing bland or pastel about Korea. It's traditional decorative colors, like the contrasts in its seasons, are vivid. In adapting social and political mores, as in the flavoring or food, Koreans tend to take things to extremes. South Korea, with its advertisements on pedestrian overpasses and across the bottom of the television screen, is in many ways more commercial and capitalistic than the archetype for such things, the United States, and its Christians are among the world's most fervent. North Korea, as we well know, has outdone Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse Tung with its rigid communist orthodoxy.
Korea's national epic, the intensely romantic Chunhyang story, a tale better known in Korea than, say, Cinderella in the West, takes place in an old Korea that was almost a caricature of Confucianist China. The king was a complete autocrat and the social order was extremely hierarchical. Confucian norms, however, were supposed to ensure that the despotism was an enlightened and high-minded one. One could not be a part of the ruling bureaucracy without passing rigorous examinations that required knowledge of the Chinese classics and an ability to employ them in artistic expression along strictly prescribed lines. Education and refinement were supposed to translate themselves into wisdom and virtue in public administration.
Although the lower orders may never have had it very good, for the most part the system worked. Strong, stable dynasties ruled for centuries in China and Korea, but no system created by man can guard against all human frailties. The temptation to abuse the power acquired through rising in the governmental organization was great, and Chunhyang, the "Cinderella" of this classic tale, runs afoul of one of the abusers. In the process, two Confucian requirements come into conflict with one another, loyalty of the wife to the husband and loyalty of the subject to the king or his duly vested agent.
This is not a straightforward David and Bathsheba, story, however. There is just enough ambiguity in the husband-wife relationship to make it a close call for Chunhyang as to which loyalty should prevail. To her worldly courtesan mother it's not a close call at all. She counsels the easier route. But our heroine takes deeper counsel from within herself and follows the harder path that we know, as generations of Koreans have known, is in closer accord with universal moral law.
To say more would be to give away the plot, but one wonders, with such a chastening tale as this as a part of their heritage, how any Korean officials could succumb to the temptation to abuse their authority and engage in corrupt practices. But East or West, the flesh is still weak, and the tale still needs retelling there as much as it needs telling here.
Plays as we know them were unknown in Korea until the first decade of the twentieth century. The Chunhyang story was typically performed by a single p'ansori artist. P'ansori, which is quite foreign to the Western ear, is a sort of stylized chant in which the rasping tones of the performer help convey the setting and the emotion of the characters. The "singer" is accompanied by one other person who occasionally interjects exclamations and encouragement but mainly keeps time with a small barrel drum. P'ansori performers had to undergo even more rigorous training than opera singers in the West, though the purpose seemed to be to tear down the vocal cords rather than to build them up. A single P'ansori performance, lasting sometimes as long as eight hours, was a prodigious feat of stamina and memory. Thought to have grown out of the shaman performances of the southwest province of Cholla, p'ansori was acted out by both men and women. For most of the twentieth century the art form was kept alive mainly by kisaengs, or females of the roughly-translated "courtesan" class of which the Chunhyang character was a part.
In the later twentieth century in Korea, while p'ansori was taken up by a broader spectrum of society interested in preserving Korea's traditions, the Chunhyang story was brought to the public in play, opera, and repeatedly in film form. In the early 60s, an Irish priest, a professor at the Jesuit Sogang University in Seoul, even wrote and directed a critically-acclaimed English-language Broadway-style musical version of the story.
Director Kwon-taek Im for the first time combines p'ansori and drama in this latest film version. In so doing, he has produced an authentic work of art worthy of a Yi Dynasty scholar-official. Also, in the best Korean tradition, he has gone Hollywood one better at tugging at our heartstrings. The Korean audience on the screen applauds the p'ansori artist at the film's conclusion, and the audience of which I was a member, in a full opening-night movie theater, found itself joining them spontaneously. I think you will, too.
Note: Don't be alarmed when the opening p'ansori monologue lacks English subtitles. They'll come soon enough. To provide them at that point would give away part of the plot. That's not a danger for the native Korean speakers, all of whom would know the plot by heart.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
First, this movie is the first 'Chunhyang' that is exhibited to
movie fan even though so many 'Chunhyang's has been produced in
Second, this movie is the first 'Chunhyang' that emphasizes Mongryong rather that Chunhyang. Usually in many a love story a beautiful heroine is likely to be an element of deploying story and get mass concern. After seeing love story, movie fans remember the beauty of heroine like Olivia Hussey in "Romeo and Juliet" or Vivian Leigh in "Gone with the Wind." But, in this film you may see much more Close Ups of Mongryong than Chunhyang, and you may not remember the beauty of Hyo-Jeong Lee. In my opinion, Hyo-Jeong Lee may be one of two actresses who fail to get stardom despite her title role of Chunhyang in the history of Korean Cinema - the other one was Na-Seong Lee who played Chunhyang about fifteen years ago. Usually contemporary stars or rising stars played Chunhyang - for example, legendary Eun-Hee Choi(1961) and Mi-Hee Jang(1976).
And it is related with third factor, which is considered very important by Western critics. This film is the first Chunhyang which is combined with 'pansori,' Korean epic which is played by one singer and one drummer. The relation of Director Im Kwon-Taek's 'Chunhyang' and pansori is the same as Francis Ford Coppola's 'Dracula' and Bram Stoker's original.
One thing more, the marriage of Chunhyang, the daughter of ex-courtesan, and Mongryong, the son of high bureaucrat, can be interpreted equality between ruling class and ruled class. But this interpretation is only as available as the interpretation that the marriage of Cinderella and a Prince means equality between classes in Western culture.
This is a Korean film telling the story of two lovers torn apart by
class. The son of a governor and the daughter of a courtesan. It has
the air of a fairytale and is a very good film.
It may be difficult for some people to get into the film in the beginning if you are not familiar with pansori. Pansori is a centuries old Korean form of storytelling in which a storyteller sings the story while a drummer drums and makes short vocal sounds or words of encouragement. It is initially jarring for those of us who mostly watch American and European film, but stick with it. I first saw this in a film class and it was among two films that I wrote about for class and liked so much that I purchased on my own once the class ended.
As the film begins the viewer is placed in the position of someone watching a pansori performance. From here the film transitions from the world of Chunhyang to the pansori audience. Part of the enjoyment of the film comes from watching the reactions of the pansori audience to the story. It is akin to being in a movie theater and sharing the same experiences with everyone else watching the film.
Aside from the format, the story itself is enchanting, full of love, loyalty, and courage. The acting is very good and the actors are not bad looking themselves. The pansori performance is a song of the story so it has some poetic qualities that don't necessarily push the story forward, but are enjoyable if you are patient. All in all it is a look into Korean culture and storytelling that not many films from America, Europe, or the rest of the world do for their own cultures. Most films today just stick to the basic narrative design or are pretentious and abstract. This one creates a new experience for anyone who is willing to give it a chance.
This is a lush and beautiful Korean fairy tale with "Romeo and Juliet" like qualities. As I understand it, it is traditionally told in "Pansori" style with a rhythmic singer/storyteller accompanied by a drummer. The film uses a pansori concert as the framework to tell the tale and interweaves the action with the singer's narration to good effect. The story is classic, star-crossed lovers separated by societies rules. A governor's son falls in love with a concubine's daughter and their love must endure long separation and an evil lord's lust. Classic story and an interesting story-telling method make for a truly entertaining film.
Cahiers Du Cinema called this epic an "experimental film", and indeed, it is as experimental as Lars von Triers DANCER IN THE DARK by heavily relying on music and songs. On the other hand, the differences are quite obvious. Here the songs come from the off most of the time (until the camera surprisingly moves to the classic singer on a stage) and do something that usually reduces the quality of a movie: they tell you what's going on in the pictures. But those pictures are of such an elegic beauty (with the typical yellow "Im-tone") that you feel a story is told to you by your grandfather and it unfolds perfectly in front of your eyes. I saw the screening during the MIFED 2000 together with only one (!) other guest and am quite astonished that film fans and buyers might overlook this masterpiece about an exclusive one-on-one love that touches our hearts.
Introductory lines extracted from its trailer: "It will take you to a
you've never been and wrap you in a life time you've never lived. It is a
story of a governor's son favored by birth-right, and a courtesan's
daughter, Chunhyang, marked from birth. beautiful, sensual, innocent,
brought together by love, bound by loyalty, but torn apart by law. their
life became their legacy until their names became legend." A film of epic
beauty and eternal devotion of a broken heart that cannot be divided and a
heart that cannot be taken where"
There are a number of lines I found particularly worth meditating and deep thoughts. I didn't think this film would be a great film especially judging from its opening introduction where chants with singing were all I heard. Of course then I must remove the mentality of what a movie should be like set by Hollywood. Having done that, Chunhyang as well as the movie, has taught me a great lot of moral values, and wisdom, and not to mention loyalty. The number of people devoted to marriage and love these days are on the declining slope and it is in my opinion that modern thinking is to be blamed. However, these are two very different contexts. Truly, Chunhyang, is a very 2 hour inspiring film, in a different way from Hollywood.
Its musics are as though playing with the strings of my heart. oh my god, so good! Enjoy!
This is not just a movie, in the way that Americans, like myself, usually conceptualize contemporary film. Perhaps, it might be interesting, as a learning experience, to view "Chunghyang" with "Gladiator" to understand that these are two distinct art forms, devised by two distinct cultural traditions to tell important stories. I was thrilled to find this film so 'other', so un-American, so un-MTV. A Korean storytelling/operatic tradition is fused with beautiful filming. Dialogue, as the actors play out the story, is interlaced very comfortably with a storyteller's narrative in a sutra-chanting, poetic style, accompanied by one drummer. The storyteller's voice is a remarkable asset of the film. It has to be experienced to understand its power. I thought the film used very sophisticated editing to blend the highly operatic story line with the teller's narrative on stage and with a wonderful middle-Korean, as in middle-American, audience. This omniscient viewing perspective, affording views of several different levels of concurrent existence, was really wonderful. Then, I remembered in the middle of the film that I was reading subtitles without a trace of annoyance or distraction from the visuals. Very nicely done all around. I felt enriched, educated and entertained.
Kwon-Taek-I'm, the talented Korean director, gives us a gorgeous film
in "Chunhyang". Korean cinema rely heavily in presenting well crafted
movies that rely heavily in their rich folklore. As witnessed here,
this film will delight fans of Mr. I'm, as well as give the viewer an
appetite to discover other films from that country that are not only
beautiful to watch, but also gives us films that are original, not
following well established patterns, as it's the case with most of the
commercial cinema these days.
"Chunhyang" offers us a folk story in the traditional Korean style in which a singer is accompanied by a an instrument similar to our guitar and we learn about it as it enfolds mesmerized by the images one witnesses on the screen.
We saw "Chungyang" in its original release and caught with it again with it in DVD format recently. This movie is highly recommended to those looking for a different kind of story told magnificently by Kwon-Taek-I'm.
I am a Korean linguist and use Korean movies to keep up on the language and have really fallen in love with them over the last few years. My current favorite is JSA, followed closely by Shiri. I just happened to catch Chunhyang on the Sundance channel and it was just not your typical "everybody dies" Korean dramatic movie. Although, what little I know of Korean culture seems to portray life as always having misfortunes,because thats just how life is, this movie was a pleasant surprise. It was kind of like Romeo and Juliet who forgot they were supposed to die. The "panjori" was excellent as well.
With the Korean story telling tradition performed on stage, it was a
interesting and novel way to tell the story. The story was beautiful and
the moving. I figure it to be a Korean fairy tale given its happy ending
and having a moral to the story.
I didn't find the story telling method completely successful. The music and drumming added tension to the film, but the Pansori seemed to intrude in the film too frequently, describing everything that is going on when it could be done visually, rendering many scenes as some sort of announcement, not letting the ambiance set in. The scene of the whipping seemed to be a little forced, having the camera show us various audience members crying, as if we don't know this is a dramatic situation. It might have worked better if they let the dialogue be spoken by the character Chunghyang instead of the Pansori, since the Pansori does not have much dynamic range in his voicing, being always loud. The character saying it while being whipped gives a different impression than the Pansori screaming it.
But all in all, still a good film.
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