Selected as the first Korean film in competition at Cannes, screened
at the 38th New York Film Festival, and the country's official entry for the
2000 Best Foreign-Language Film Academy Award, Chunhyang is Im Kwon
Taek's daring film that employs the theatrical device of having a "pansori"
singer (Cho Sang Hyun) and drummer (Kim Myung Hwan) narrate the tale
of a nobleman (Cho Seung Woo in his film debut) who falls in love with
and marries the title character (newcomer Lee Hyo Jung), the daughter of a
retired courtesan. This mythic tale of star-crossed lovers - sort of a Korean
Romeo and Juliet, if you will - is one of the most lavish motion pictures ever
made in that country. Beautifully shot in burnished tones by cinematographer
Jung II Sung, Chunhyang is a visual treat.
The device of employing the "pansori" singer as a framing device,
however, may prove off-putting to some. Western audiences are simply not
attuned to the trills and whoops that the performer employs and some may
find the sounds grating and distracting. It also is somewhat detrimental as
the narrator announces an action which is then carried out on screen
(i.e., the singer intones "he gets on his horse and rides" and then the
director cuts to a character mounting a horse and riding off). This sort of
telling before showing has the unfortunate effect of diluting the innate
power of the story.
Chunhyang, the daughter of a former courtesan who catches the eye
of Mongryong, the son of a provincial governor. The embark on a forbidden
love affair which culminates in a secret wedding ceremony. Mongryong,
though, is called to Seoul to complete his studies and he reluctantly leaves
with the promise to return soon. What he hadn't counted on was the evil
new governor Byun (Lee Jung Hun)who has been apprised of Chunhyang's
beauty and is determined to have her as a courtesan. When she refuses
on the grounds of fidelity to another,
Chunhyang is flogged, imprisoned, and marked for death. Mongryong,
who has proven his worth to the monarch, is sent back home to investigate
the new provincial leader's policies. Disguised as a poor peasant, he returns
in time to discover that his wife has been jailed and is to be executed.
At its heart, Chunhyang is a tale of forbidden love, fidelity and
triumph over adversity. By opting to retell the story via the stylized form
of the "pansori" singer, Im Kwon Taek has found an intriguing way of
depicting an old-fashioned, fairly straightforward narrative. His two
lead actors, neither of whom have acted on screen before, are fine in
their roles. Chunhyang, reportedly the largest cinematic production in
Korean film history, employed a large cast (some 8,000 extras were
employed), spectacular costumes (over 12,000) and vibrant art direction.
By engaging the ear and the eye, Im Kwon Taek has crafted a stunning film.
MPAA Rating: NONE
Running time: 121 mins.
In Korean with English subtitles
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.