Saturday, January 07, 2012

Korea, Y U no make musical movie?

Oh, I so can see some Kpop plastic fantastic here^^ Not sure if I can see brilliant Corny though.
    Few personal words first. I’ve been watching movies for well over 20 years now, and I believe I watched my first musical around the same time. I don’t remember what it was. One thing I do remember is that I’ve been always enamored by musicals – be it as a movie or performed on the stage. It does not matter.
Korea is abundant with stage musicals, according to Won Jong-Won who wrote an article in “Koreana”, there is around 180 musicals staged annually without those for children. This is probably more than the amount of movies made in my country per year.
But when it comes to musicals as movies or dramas – barren land. Nothing.

   I understand not everybody is fond of musicals because, basically, it’s a hybrid form, it’s not a full play, and it’s not a plain music. For some people it’s difficult to immerse in a story that is sliced and diced and filled with dancing, singing and all that mass hysteria that comes with every musical.
To me, personally, those moments are the best. In mass dancing, singing moments, the raw, true emotions are visible the most.
Yet this article is not about musicals per se. I may write sometime in the future when I have time enough to re-watch all I can and learn more. This article is to clarify some errors that appear all over the internet and drive me mad. And I know that not only me.

   In 2010 we got teased with “What’s Up” rumors. I was dead happy thinking of the first musical drama, imagine – singing, dancing, stage, the magic! Unfortunately, some bad spell was cast and we had to wait for over a year to watch this drama. Meanwhile, other dramas that had music as some part of the plot were made and broadcasted – “Dream High”, “Heartstrings”, “The Musical”. And now, everyone compares “What’s Up” to one of those.

   Let me explain why such comparison proves that those who do it are ignorant viewers. First of all, the only one drama that can be compared with “What’s Up” from that list is “The Musical”. Why? The answer is simple – musical. How hard is that? Both dramas deal with musicals, not with music alone. There is a subtle difference – all musicals are music, but not every music is musical. That’s the main reason I find comparisons to others as really inappropriate.
Other dramas deal with music – be it the school band name “The Stupid” (I wonder…) in “Heartstrings”, or School for Musically Gifted (or whatever) in “Dream High”. So comparing a drama focused on musicals with a drama focused on high school problems is, in my opinion, useless. It proves people only can read “music” in “music-al” (oh well, it should be music-hall, but let’s not nitpick too much). “What’s Up” has also characters with personal demons, but it’s a standard for Kdramas. What sets this drama apart from others is also the cast – there are real musical actors in it. And I believe in every word they say or sing. Jo Jeong-seok, ie. as the professional musical actor, knows exactly what to do to seem as unable to sing, to hit the false note, to stumble upon words. I’m not starting on Oh Man-seok because I have to finish this article…

   “What’s Up” is also the very first work that tries to incorporate what’s essential in every musical – singing scenes instead of speaking. Ending of episode 3 was this close to being a masterpiece – it ended with full sequence of imagined performance by one of the characters. I’d demand more, but I’m fully aware that for viewers in Korea, spoiled with talks and explaining things in normal speech, a sudden change to singing may be confusing. For many international viewers as well.
Lately I’ve been re-watching many U.S. musical movies, like “Chicago”, “Phantom of the Opera” (the old ones), “Hairspray”, “Sounds of Music” or “Moulin Rouge” to just name the most famous. And I’ve been wondering why Korea can’t or won’t produce such movies.

   The problem doesn’t lie in the cast. Original musical actors are of stellar quality, they can be put on the same level with Broadway actors. Lately even some of singers try their best at stages (few Super Junior members, INFINITE, and of course JYJ’s Kim Junsu), some are better, some less than good, but it’s not the point. The point is – Korea has enormous talents that perform in musicals (Park Eun-tae, Hong Kwang-ho etc., nanana, I'm not biased at aaalll!!) so why no real musical movie? Oh yes, I know, there was one, “Go Go 70”, but since it was about a band, it was easier to do.
Apart from musical actors, there are so-called idols that really can sing, so casting them in the musical movie wouldn’t be a problem (I could name a few, but I fear for my old bones when cray fangirls track me for omitting their irrelevant oppa), and lots of regular actors in Korea (Jo Seung-woo) can sing as well (wonder if on James Marsden or Ewan McGregor level, ekhem).
So cast is not the problem.

   What’s the problem, Korea? Why no decent musical movies? Why no decent musical drama, instead of 7535457th rom-com? And I mean REAL musical, with singing and dancing! It’s not also the plot problem. Yun Ho-jin in his interview said Koreans can tell stories. They can, yet they’re not using their abilities to the fullest. “The Chun-hyang Story” was a nice, hybrid movie, joining together pansori, traditional narrative, and movie sequences where time flows as the narrator (gwangdae) wants. One step further and we could get the musical.

   Rather, producers like to play safe and this is the main reason musicals have it hard on screen. It’s better to made another comedy, horror or weepy romance than the most entertaining form that is musical.
I’m probably in the minority that prefers watching people who sing and dance about the laundry than those screaming about stupid misunderstanding.

Fuck them then, I'm watching "Hairspray" again!