Sunday, February 26, 2017

[Review] The Sound of a Kim Namgil Awesomeness

This review has been sitting on my blog drafts dash for a year, because as we all know, I only review the highest forms of art, and well, this movie is not it. But it gets 65118297 stars just because of the cast. THAT's how professional I am.
But seriously, skip this one.

Yes, bow down peasants before your KiNG!
But whatever, on a whim I decided to give it a green light and publish the short spewing about the film that if it hasn't been made, the world wouldn't collapse. I wrote few additional sentences and - be with it!
It's not the best movie and those who don't like pansori won't probably like it, but I have to admit, I had the goosebumps at one point. Not thanks to Suzy anyway. She can't act and she ruined this movie. Well, not that there was much left to salvage anyway. The action was flowing smoothly as the water on Dead Marshes (just southeast of the Emyn Muil), the characters were fully developed as the chicken in my sunny-side-up egg this morning, and the script was bright and and deeply thought as, let's say, every plan Ye Hua ever made.

When even Kim Namgil, Ryu Seung-ryong or Kim Taehun can't save the movie, you know it is probably a disaster ranking close to the Tunguska Event.
The movie is based on real people and real events. It starts in the 60's of the 19th century. Shin Jaehyo (played by uri beloved ajusshi Mr. Ryu) is a teacher and the head of the pansori school, Dongri jungsa. The performance captured the heart and mind of a young girl name Jin Chaeseon and so she peeked over the fence to learn few lessons on singing technique, dreaming she would be once a pansori singer (gwangdae, if you want). One night, Shin happens to be talking with a dog (in dog's language) and some other guy answers (also in dog's language). Long story short - they end up drinking makgeolli and shocked Shin realizes whom he talks with - it's the regent for the minor king Gojong - Daewongun (1820-1898).

 The regent is already a tired man, a suspicious man and keeping to himself man. This drinking night is probably his last moment before embroiling again in the factions' politics and heavy situation inside the palace. The 60's were a difficult moment in Joseon history, and the inability to impose significant reforms cost the country its independence. Because 1910 didn't happen in one night. This year can be traced exactly to the 50's-60's of the 19th century. Japan was forced to open its ports and sign the treaties in 1854; there was a turmoil there and frantic looking for a solution. Meanwhile, Joseon pretended all them foreigners would get tired and leave the country alone. Not to mention the economic situation in the country was tragic - even yangbans sometimes starved. Daewongun had some good ideas how to change the economic situation, but his one big mistake was to believe the Qing dynasty would overcome everything and would remove the Western powers away. That and the fact he was obsessively distrustful.
And then of course was his tiring and draining feud with his own Daughter-in-Law, Queen Min. Rumor has it, he knew about her assassination plans that Japan made and he green-lit it.

Anyway, the movie... Shin with his disciples plan attend the Naksungyeon - a pansori competition under the grace of Daewongun, who, at this point of the story, is unequivocally hated by the whole nation. By the twist of cruel fate earlier, the identity of Chaeseon as a woman became known (she got into the pansori school dressed as a boy, not bothering to even flatten her breasts), but this didn't hamper the efforts to get into the competition. Chaeseon, dressed in boy's clothes, appeared before the judges, but lo and behold! - some government official recognized her and the whole group was thrown out of the event. Worse - Shin and Chaeseon faced death penalty, as the women were forbidden to perform pansori.

After a very unpleasant talk with Daewongun, Chaeseon was permitted to sing, but under one condition - if she doesn't win, both her and her teacher lose their lives. She sang the love song from Chunhyang-ga and won over the crowd, tears were flowing, women fainted, men became gentle and understanding, double rainbow appeared over the glittering unicorns...
Jin Chaeseon became Daewongun's designated gisaeng in the end and poor Shin Jaehyo went back to his village alone. And when grey-haired and old Daewongun finally released Chaeseon in 1873, she came back to her beloved teacher, but he died. Yes, very sad. Very beautiful, snow falling and all...
But Daewongun wasn't that old in 1873, he was 53 and he lived until 1898. What kind of bullshit, movie...

What was showed, or rather was crammed forcefully, was the pansori training - the screams (this period can last even 10 years and it serves to destroy the throat so that the singer can achieve the characteristic hoarse voice; often performed in mountain forests or near the waterfalls), also the elements of the performance - the narrative part (aniri) and the song (chang), the rhythm of gosu (person who plays the drum) and also his words (chuimsae) as well as the interactions with the audience. The word pansori comes from two words: pan - meaning a place, and sori - the sound.
And the sound - maybe Suzy can sing, I can't judge, but she can't sing pansori. Her voice was flat, not refined, unpolished, one-dimensional and not convincing. Same goes for her acting.

 The verdict - skip this. Unless seeing cruel, tired, older than the death itself and world-weary Kim Namgil is your thing. Welcome to the club.