Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Joys Of Summer (Plus A Little Bit Of Shakespeare)

Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.

My vibrating bottom will haunt your ears

Summer is well and truly here on the peninsula, we've survived the muggy monsoon season and now we're onto the even muggier month of August. A time to appreciate the constant whine of the cicadas whilst you slowly melt onto the pavement in a dehydrated sweaty mess.

Still, life isn't all bad when the air conditioning is on full blast, your feet are in a bucket of cold water and you're halfway through eating your own weight in ice cream.

Plus, I have news of an event that doesn't seem to be getting any English language press in Korea (at least not that I could find). On August 15th and 16th, the Marronnier Outdoor Stage in Daehangno is playing host to an English language production of Hamlet.

This isn't just any old performance, it's part of the "Globe to Globe" world tour by the Shakespeare's Globe theatre troupe. Started back on April 23rd 2014, the plan is to take Hamlet to every single country on Earth (on a whopping two year tour) and this month Korea gets a flying visit from the company.

Tickets are free, but you will need to be able to understand Korean or at least have someone understand it for you if you want to get your sweaty little hands on them. Head here to book tickets! The shows start at 7.30 on Saturday the 15th and Sunday the 16th of August and you'll get to see the Danish prince in all his glory.

Here's a sneak preview of sorts:

So get off your bottom, get booking and enjoy a summery Shakespeare evening... 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Well, 2014 is dead and gone and I’m still here sitting in my underpants and considering what 2015 may hold. New experiences? New friends? New work? Rainbows? Unicorns? Kittens with lasers for eyes? Possibly… What I do know, is that the past twelve months have been a whirlwind of change, sometimes filled with excitement and sometimes filled with pain.

In February the performing company of Latt Children’s Theatre was almost fully shut down after 11 years of operation, with only a skeleton staff remaining for the summer. The theatre still continues as a venue that also will occasionally put on its own productions, but it has ceased to function as the only English language children’s repertory theatre company in Korea. After spending over a decade making shows together, it was a very strange feeling to have everything shut down and for an important chapter in our lives to close. I remained with the company for the summer festival, putting on two smaller scale shows and doing some storytelling and we were lucky enough to have two great Korean language children’s theatre companies come in to perform alongside us.

With the ending of one endeavour came the start of two others. First with the founding of a new company - Jam Box Theatre - hopefully persevering with the work we have done at Latt and continuing to entertain and inspire families in the future. Our first show was done in partnership with Latt Children’s Theatre, allowing us to perform at the venue and giving us a chance to present a brand new work: Fairy Tale Box. Fifteen fairy tales told in one hour in all sorts of ways - some long, some short, some scary and some silly, we mixed European and Korean traditional tales together to give our audiences something a little different. Pigs, princess, wolves, tigers, turtles, rabbits and a Snow Queen shared the stage and we had a joyous month long run with over 4,000 people coming to see us perform.

The other new beginning was much more of a surprise. For the past four years I’ve been guesting on various radio programmes on TBSeFM and Arirang Radio, talking about Korean culture, festivals and events, but this summer I was given the opportunity to audition as a full time dj and you can now hear me daily as part of the Wake Up Crew. I sit in a studio with Punita Bajaj and get to waffle on about all sorts of interesting things and you can hear us every morning from 5.00 till 7.00. A little early for most people, but do take a listen if you have the chance. Thanks to the format of the show I get to share a story I’m interested in every day as well as music of my choice which has led to me being able to start playing old Tom Waits tracks pretty much every week, much to the annoyance of my cohost who would prefer more Michael Buble... 

As for 2015? I’m in rehearsals for a Singalong Concert which opens next week - a chance for young kids and the parents to singalong to some nursery favourites including Old MacDonald Had A Farm and The Wheels On The Bus, as well as planning new shows with Jam Box Theatre for the coming year. If you’re studying at certain academies you may also get to hear me as the disembodied British male voice in some of your upcoming listening tests and if you haven’t seen the Korean film Cart yet, then you should, because my wife is in it and she is fabulous.

I’m not sure what else the new year will bring, but I’m hoping there will be more joy than sorrow, more delight than pain and more interesting times ahead. Happy New Year!

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Musical Whale Of A Time!

A week and a half ago I had the good fortune to be given a free ticket to the Yeowoorak Festival by the K-Performance Supporters programme. There have been numerous performances throughout the festival, but I was offered the chance to attend one in particular - The Whale In The Moon - a collaborative concert between two particularly interesting bands, Second Moon and Coreyah.

Second Moon performing "Ice Pond" live on MBC

Second Moon are a funky, spunky "ethnic fusion" group made up of six instrumentalists and are perhaps best known for the contributions to the soundtracks of tv dramas like Princess Hours and Island. A mix of drums, keyboards, melodion, mandolin, guitar, double bass, uilleann pipes, accordion and violin.

Coreyah's music video "Whale Of A Time"

Coreyah are a little more Korea focused in terms of their musical sensibilities, five musicians using a mix of traditional instruments including daegeum, sogeum, geomungo and janggu alongside guitar, drums and other more eclectic musical tools to create a wide selection of worldly tunes that are complemented by singer Kwon Ah-shin's vocals.

A grand total of a dozen performers on stage that night, all attempting to play a mixed bag of the two teams' repertoires. Some tunes were more successful than others, with Second Moon's own compositions often outshining those of Coreyah. However, both teams played with aplomb and every musician seemed to be giving their all to every number, no matter the origin.

The audience (seemingly mostly composed of fans of both Second Moon and Coreyah) lapped every song up, but to be honest by the halfway mark I found my interest flagging, especially when two male members of Coreyah decided to perform an ear-splittingly bad rap number.

Still, it was well worth going and it makes me happy to know that the National Theatre of Korea is willing to invest time and money in an experimental music festival that attempts to break new ground and bring innovative artists together. I also hope I get to see Second Moon again at some point, but to be honest I think one performance from Coreyah was enough for me.

The Yeowoorak Festival comes to a close this weekend, but do not fear the National Theatre has already released its line up for the 2014/2015 season and then are plenty of productions that demand attention, including more screenings of performances from the National Theatre Live programme in the UK.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Cool Fusion Music Festival For These Hot Summer Nights

It's too bloody hot these days and I'm in need of some sort of distraction. Fortunately the National Theatre are offering their own musical remedy in the form of the 여우락 (Yeowoorak) Festival. Celebrating it's fifth anniversary this year, it's a month long celebration of new music and all of it is somehow linked into the traditions of Korea.

Thanks to the lovely people at the K-performance supporters program I've blagged myself a ticket for this Friday's performance of The Whale In The Moon, which promises to be an innovative collaboration between Second Moon (a Korean band that plays Irish music) and Coreyah (a traditional Korean folk music group). I'm not quite sure what to expect, but if anything it will be something I've never heard before and that's pretty much the idea of this festival.

Yeowoorak translates to "here is our music" (according to the festival organizers) and it promises completely new concerts by some of the best artists from Korea and across the world. Over 23 days, you get a chance to see 10 different concerts put together by a total of 101 musicians. Each performance links back to Korean traditional music in some way, whether it's master saxophonist Kang Tae-hwan playing with a traditional singer and a geomungo player, or Han Seung-seok and Jung Jae-il combining pansori and piano to bring new life to the old fairytale of Princess Bari. An astonishing range of concerts.

The other good news is that if you're not Korean and you can produce a passport or student id, they'll give you 50% off the ticket price - 15,000 won instead of 30,000 won. Well, worth a look see if you're a fan of traditional music.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Gettin' Down In Dongdaemun With The Klive Crew...

Look! It's a big shiny building designed by a prestigious architect! I don't know what it's meant to be, but heavens to Betsy it's shiny and big and filled with sparkly things! Is it an "urban pimple"? Who am I to judge? For I have more important things to talk about! I have seen Klive!

What is Klive? A Korean Clive? A misspelled chive? Some new hand jive? No, it's an all singing, all dancing, brand spanking new K-pop themed hologram theatre where you can pay a wad of cash to see cool, young, spunky, funky kids doing their sexy thing to the latest ditties from the hit parade. But what am I doing here? Aren't I a shabby, bearded, considerably unfashionable ajosshi on the wrong side of thirty five? That may well be true, but I was invited here as part of the K-performance supporter program. They kindly give me a free ticket to see an all dancing digitised K-pop extravaganza and in return I write a little something on my blog to let the world know how I feel about it. Prepare yourselves, dear readers, for here is my review!

Klive takes place just across the road from the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) at Lotte Fitin (head to exit 12 of the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park station and hope for the best). It's up on the ninth floor above a host of K-themed shops and stores all trying to part you from the cash in your wallet. Plenty of fashion, plenty of K-pop commodities and a scandalously expensive liquor shop where they try to overcharge for good quality soju. Ignore all these fancies, dear reader, and head straight to the eighth floor, then wander around for a bit looking a little lost until you discover the staircase that leads to Klive.

Once there you'll be confronted by a rather large amount of merchandise with the faces of all sorts of young and pretty people who I assume are in some sort of band, group or barbershop quartet. You can linger amongst the cds, dvds, posters, pamphlets, postcards and novelty pencils or make your way towards the "Giant Tower" - some very large digital screens where you'll have the chance to peruse, select and enlarge the K-pop star of your choice.

After touching your favourite stars you can wend your way to the box office, pick up a ticket (33,000 won for adults, 16,000 won for kids) and then discover even more delights around and about the hologram theatre.

There are "secret windows" to be discovered. Seemingly blank screens that magically reveal their secrets when you look at them through a special filter. What might you see? What wonders may you discover?

I looked through one of the paparazzi's lenses and to my delight, who did I see?

Felicia Day! And someone else who I don't know! Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!

Once you tire of the magical delights found within the "secret windows" then you can mosey towards the Klive cafe where they provide a range of hot and cold beverages along with a view of the DDP. If you head a little further though, you'll discover the "Star Lounge" - a slightly secretive looking space where with the press of a button you can summon up a star for a photo...

I managed to get a glimpse of Psy poking a random lady in the cheek whilst holding an invisible bottle of soju.

G-Dragon attempting a complex mime about the love between two swans.

And CL from 2NE1 showing off the dangers of bad posture.

After all that rigmarole it was time for the main event - Klive. Shows are on at 2.00, 4.00, 6.00 and 8.00 every day except Monday and be sure to arrive on time so you can catch all the action. I saw the 6.00 show on a Thursday night, because that's the way I roll.

Things kicked off with some smartly dressed young men who did a little dancing in the lobby, before inviting us into the main hall. As you entered you had the option to take your photo for use in the performance. I pulled my best Gumby impression (though I lacked the requisite hanky on head) and moved into the hall itself.

The photos found their way onto the screens of the hall, though mine unfortunately seemed to have been lost along the way. Slightly saddened by the lack of digital representation I was soon cheered by the house DJ who was playing some K-pop melodies and trying to get the relatively small crowd pumped for the show. There are a few seats at the back, but this is a standing show, so be prepared for a full hour of being on your feet.

Once everyone was in with their features digitised on screen it was time to start the show and for the next forty five minutes or so we were treated to a mixture of live action and hologram. The three smartly dressed young men appeared at various moments to entertain with their dancing skills as well as occasionally acting alongside the holograms themselves. And what a lot of holograms there were!

First off Big Bang took to the stage for renditions of "Bad Boy" and "Fantastic Baby". Their performances were fun, the holographic videos were entertaining and if you squinted a little you might think you were getting the real thing. My main problem with it was the seeming lack of passion from some of the performers. There was far too much frowning and pouting and not enough excitement and energy. G-dragon was his normal charming self, but I have to admit to being disappointed by the lack of charisma from the rest of the group.

Next up were 2NE1 with "I Am The Best" and "Fire". By the time the feisty foursome began the novelty of the holograms had worn off a little and my legs were starting to feel a little weary. The same problem occurred in terms of poutiness and lack of charisma from some of the group and I was getting a little bored.

Fortunately Psy finished off the show with a bang. I'd already seen his holographic performance at Everland, but it remains an enjoyable and energy filled experience. Despite being digitised he was very much alive on that stage and put the other acts to shame with his performance skills. Buoyed by his blasting renditions of Gangnam Style and Gentleman I left the theatre with a smile on my face, a song in my heart and a wish that young performers would understand the benefits of smiling and trying to engage your audience just that little bit more.

I'm well aware that I'm not the target audience for this kind of show and I think that if I was twenty years younger and a fan of Big Bang, 2NE1 or Psy then I think I would have been thrilled at this opportunity. It's a fun concept, but may be better with a large group of people. Our crowd was relatively small and we never seemed to sum up the collective energy to really let loose and fully enjoy the experience. If you're a huge fan of any of these troubadours then chances are you'll have a whale of a time, but tickets are pricey and you're not getting the real concert experience, so lower those expectations, practice your dance moves and make sure to pick up some of G-dragon's one of a kind fake nails on the way out.

Monday, March 31, 2014

More Manshin Screenings

If you haven't caught a screening of the fabulous Manshin yet then do not fear, for Indieplus have extended their English subtitled showings for a few more days:

Monday 31st March - 12:30 and 20:10
Tuesday 1st April - 14:20 and 18:10
Wednesday 2nd April - 16:10
Thursday 3rd April - 14:10
Friday 4th April - 12:30
Saturday 5th April - 10:30 and 18:50
Sunday 6th April - 10:30 and 18:00

More info on the screenings can be found here.

For those not interested in fascinating documentaries about shamans, here are some cherry blossoms:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Seven Reasons Why You Need To Go See Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits

Yesterday I popped down to the Indieplus Cinema near Sinsa Station to see the morning screening of Park Chan-kyong's "Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits" (만신) and I was blown away. It's a beautiful, tragic, uplifting, mysterious cross between a documentary and a biopic.

You need to see this film.

Here are the seven reasons why:

7. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" isn't out till next Wednesday. What better way to prepare yourself for the next story in Marvel's odyssey than by diving into the mystical world of superstition and shamanism. You won't need your brain when you see good old Cap' next week, so you might as well use it now.

6. Every year we're lucky to get a small number of Korean films shown on the big screen in Seoul with English subtitles, but those screenings are few and far between. Movies are meant to be watched in the cinema, not on your tv or smart phone, so make the effort. Plus you can't find Park's previous award winning film on DVD anywhere (or at least I can't seem to get a hold of the fabulous Anyang, Paradise City). Documentaries are not usually great money makers and there's a chance that once this subtitled run ends it may be hard to catch a glimpse of this flick again. Also, Indieplus is a fantastic tiny venue that needs your support. The tickets are cheap, the screening room is cosy and the projection quality is fabulous.

5. Ever worry that documentaries might be a little dry? A little too intellectual? Fear not, Park's style takes the viewer on a narrative journey that feels close to watching a drama. Talking heads do appear, but much of the time is spent in the world of the shaman, with plenty of well acted reconstructions.

4. Which brings us to the performers. Moon So-ri (A Good Lawyer's Wife, Forever The Moment, Oasis, Peppermint Candy) is on top form, Kim Sae-ron (the kid from The Man From Nowhere) proves her serious drama skills and Ryu Hyeon-kyoung (Petty Romance, Cyrano Agency) shows that she can do more than just light comedy. All three performers are outstandingly good at recreating one woman's journey through the twentieth century to become one of Korea's greatest shamans.

3. Park Chan-kyong is one of the best documentary makers and visual artists in Korea. Did you see "Bitter, Sweet, Seoul"? That incredible hourlong tribute to the capital of Korea made up of videos sent in by residents and visitors. That was all down to Park Chan-kyong and his brother Park Chan-wook. It's a beautiful tribute to this bustling metropolis and it doesn't shy away from the more uncomfortable elements of our city. If you haven't seen it then go watch it now and then go watch "Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits".

2. Haven't you seen it already? No? If you have any interest in Korean history or culture, then "Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits" offers you a window into a part of Korea that doesn't get talked about enough. Until the 1970's shamanism was a big part of everyday life, there were gods and spirits everywhere, and the role of the shaman was one of the most important in the village. This film gives you a condensed history of shamanism in the twentieth century, its almost complete disappearance thanks to the sweeping modernisations of Korea forty years ago, and its rebirth. There's plenty of archival and new footage giving you a glimpse of ceremonies from the recent past, and the reconstructed dramatic scenes also offer insight into what shamanism in Korea used to be.

1. Kim Geum-hwa - Important Intangible Cultural Property #82, she is the "National Shaman" and this is her film. Based on her autobiography "Silk Flower Nomsae", it tells her story from her perspective and allows us to understand what made her become a shaman, and what impact it has had on her life. She opens the film with a prayer to the gods of cinema and filmmaking, asking them to bless the production, bless everyone involved and bless those in the cinema watching. She invites us into her life and bears her beautiful soul. We are allowed glimpses into traditional rituals and performances that show off her extraordinary talents and put some of the stuffy, staged shaman related performances you might see at the National Gugak Center to shame. Through her words, her experiences and her rituals we become connected to Korea, to the land and to the spirits around us. No matter what your belief, this film will leave you astonished, amazed and impressed with the life of Kim Geum-hwa and all that she has done.

Convinced? I hope so. I urge, implore and beg you to take advantage of these screenings while they last and to go see what may be one of the best films of 2014. The Seven Stars will be waiting for you.

Indieplus have updated their screening schedule, with extra showings added through till the 30th of March:

Sunday 23rd March - 13:00
Monday 24th March - 12:30 and 18:40
Tuesday 25th March - 12:30 and 18:20
Wednesday 26th March - 16:00
Thursday 27th March - 11:30 and 17:20
Friday 28th March - 13:30 and 19:20 (with a guest visit from the director himself)
Saturday 29th March - 14:30 and 18:20
Sunday 30th March - 14:30 and 18:20

Photo credit: Hangukyeonghwa

Friday, March 21, 2014

Kolleen Park's Kaboom And Becoming a K-Performance Supporter

My return to regular blogging has also meant a foray into a group run by the Korean Tourism Organization known as the K-Performance Supporters - a large number of people from all over the world who in return for free tickets to performances in Korea agree to write about them, share their experiences and support Korean performances. Last night was the opening event of their "third season" and I, along with a horde of other theatre fans, was invited to down to Jongno for food and theatrical fun.

The evening started out near Jongno-3-ga at the Jongno Cinecore building. This has been the home of Korean non-verbal performances for many years and is conveniently located next to a branch of Peggy Pie, so one can fulfil one's thirst for entertainment and hunger for puff pastry. It's a quick walk from Jongno-3-ga station and just across the road from Insa-dong and Tapgol Park, so even though I arrived a little too early there was plenty to do...

The first event of the evening was a slap-up feast at VIPS. We were allowed to buffet to our heart's content (with an hour time limit) and had free reign to sit wherever we chose. I ended up on a lovely table filled with bloggers from the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, France and Indonesia and it was great to sit, chat and make new acquaintances. 

Once dinner was done, we made our way up to the fourth floor where we were given a ticket each and had the chance to get our photos taken using the special Kaboom machines. Using pictures of the performers as a background you were able to take snaps of yourself and your new friends that would later be used in the show and have them emailed to you (though as of now, almost twenty four hours later my email has yet to arrive...). Once our images had been recorded it was off into the theatre for the welcoming ceremony and a very welcome goodie bag (filled with a K-Performance pamphlet, a smartphone holder thingy, a snazzy three colour pen and a usb drive. Thanks KTO!).

Speeches were made, prizes were given to the best bloggers of last season and the person who cheered the loudest got two free tickets to see Fanta-stick (a "Fusion Gukak Music Show"). Thanks to my years of training as a professional loudmouth I succeeded in nabbing the tickets for myself and I look forward to seeing what "fusion gukak music" mixed with fizzy drinks and sticks looks like.

Finally it was show time and we all sat down and waited for "Kaboom! 케쎄라쎄라" to start. Directed by Kolleen Park, the show brings together four different groups for your performing pleasure (all quotes taken from the Kaboom pamphlet):

Morning of Owl - "World's number 1 B-boy team"
Va Va Voom - "Female trio that touches the soul, fusion Korean classical music"
Magic Trunk - "Storytelling magic show"
PID (Performance in the Darkness) - "You can't take your eyes off it, black light laser performance!"

The seventy minute show is comprised of five minute sets where each group get to show off their own skills, sometimes working together, sometimes on their own. It's a little like Kolleen's own Korea's Got Talent, except there are no sob stories or red buttons to press if you don't enjoy the acts. Thanks to each sequence being relatively short, you don't have to worry if one particular performance doesn't float your boat, but at the same time there are no extended sequences meaning you never quite have time to settle into any of the four groups.

Morning of Owl offered some impressive b-boy skills that were sometimes combined with more traditional music and occasionally veered towards contemporary dance. They are a talented bunch of boys and I think there's a lot of potential in mixing traditional Korean movements and music with the frenzied spins, kicks and body pops of breakdancing. Hopefully they'll get their own full show at some point so we can see how far they can take their ideas.

Va Va Voom gave good performances on traditional zithers and drums, switching instruments, playing to the crowd and performing well, but they were drowned out by the recorded K-pop instrumentals accompanying them. I would have liked to be able to hear them better, but perhaps I need to just head to the National Gugak Centre whenever I want my fill of jjangu and gayageum.

Magic Trunk managed to combine a simple tragic story with some old tricks done well. Nothing new or original for magic fans, but they pulled off each trick with panache and it's always great to see quick changes and other flashy routines done with style.

PID were the showstoppers. Without a doubt the most exciting team of the night, they offered just two dance sequences but stole the show with their fabulous choreography, amazing lighting and astonishingly good timing. Their final sequence of dancing day-glo robots brought the house down and I would have been happy to spend the whole 70 minutes in their company. PID alone are worth the ticket price (though in my case I didn't have to pay).

There's no story or real flow to the show, just different acts doing their thing. The Kaboom pamphlet proclaims "Forget about stories. Enjoy pure pleasure beyond your imagination" and there were indeed moments of pure pleasure in my evening, though I do wish it had been a more cohesive sequence of acts and not just a series of unrelated incidents.

If you're looking for a fun night at the theatre that doesn't require much thought, but will leave you buzzing, then "Kaboom! 케쎄라쎄라" is the show for you. Go for the "black laser light show" and enjoy whatever other bits take your fancy.

"Kaboom! 케쎄라쎄라" is on Thursday and Friday at 8.00pm, Saturday at 3.00pm and 7.00pm and Sunday at 3.00pm. More info can be found on their website, but the English section didn't work when using chrome on my mac... For tickets and some information in English head here. Tickets range from 40,000 won to 80,000 won, but you can get 50% off until the 30th of April thanks to K-Performance's special deal.

I'm looking forward to other events with the K-Performance Supporters and getting a chance to mix, mingle and chat with people I wouldn't otherwise ever get to meet, but I do have one thing to ask all of them and anyone who wants to go to the theatre in Korea. If there is an announcement before the show (in this case in both English and Korean) asking you to turn off your phones and not take pictures, then please put your cameras away and make sure that your phone is switched off. Last night I sat almost at the very back of the theatre, and I kept being distracted by some audience members who tried to take pictures or were checking their phones throughout the show. The ushers were rushing around trying to tell them to stop and my eyes were continually drawn to the little rectangles of brightness within the dark auditorium. It was only a few people, but it was enough to diminish my enjoyment of the show.

I can also tell you that the hard working teams on stage could probably see each and every person who used a camera or a phone. I'm a theatre performer and when I'm under bright lights on stage I can still see every single person who choose to disobey the rules and use a device. It's off-putting, annoying and is the bane of theatre professionals everywhere. We want to give you the best show we can, but when there are distractions like that in the audience it makes the job of entertaining you much harder. I urge everyone reading this to please follow each productions' wishes and if they ask you to turn off your phones and not take photos, do as they ask.

Thank you Korea Tourism Organization, the K-Performance Supporters and the cast and crew of "Kaboom! 케쎄라쎄라" for making it a night to remember and I look forward to seeing more theatre this year!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

English Subtitled Shamans Ahoy!

Photo credit: Indieplus

Really exciting news for fans of documentary cinema living in Seoul. Park Chan-kyong's "Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits" is being shown with English subtitles this week at Indieplus near Sinsa station in Gangnam.

Park is the younger brother of Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Stoker and JSA to name a few) and his last solo feature length film "Anyang, Paradise City" (released in 2010) was a stunning mix of documentary footage and fiction detailing life in Anyang and some troubling stories from its past.

"Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits" focuses on Kim Geum-hwa, a "national shaman". For anyone interested in Korean shamanism or the traditions of this peninsula, this promises to be a worthwhile watch.

The film will be screened with English subtitles at the following times this week:

Tuesday 18th March - 12:20 and 20:10
Wednesday 19th March - 12:20 and 16:00
Thursday 20th March - 16:20
Friday 21st March - 10:20
Saturday 22nd March - 14:20 and 20:20
Sunday 23rd March - 13:00

Indieplus have said that screenings will continue beyond the 23rd March, no detailed schedule as yet. More info can be found at the Indieplus website.

Friday, March 14, 2014

One Man's Song Silenced After Eighty Years

Photo credit: Naver News

Do you know this man? If you're not familiar with Korean traditional music then you most likely haven't seen him before. If you read The Korea Times you might have seen his picture in the paper this week or caught something about him on the tv news.

His name was 이은관 (Lee Eun-gwan) and he passed away on Wednesday 12th March 2014 at the age of 97. Apart from a couple of brief mentions in the aforementioned newspaper, hardly anyone in the English speaking world seems to be talking about his death and it feels like something needs to be said, a moment needs to be taken to recognise his contributions to Korea and to Korean music.

So, here we go...

Lee Eun-gwan was born on the 27th November 1917 in Icheon-gun in Gangwon Province. He spent most of his youth in Cheolwon-gun, Gangwon Province. His training in traditional music began by focusing on 서도소리 (Seodosori), folk songs from the Seodo region (the Pyeongan and Hwanghae provinces now located in North Korea), before specialising in 배뱅이굿 (Baebengigut) an hour long story song performance. He started performing Baebaengigut at the age of 17 and spent the next eighty years of his life dedicated to that song. He sang other ditties during that time, but he was known for and celebrated for his interpretation of this traditional work.

Dr. Roald Maliangkay describes the story of the song in his article "Baebaengi Debuts In Australia":
The story told is that of a minister Choe, a former shaman, and his wife, who after a long time of prayer finally becomes pregnant. The child, a girl, grows up quickly but when she is in her teens she falls in love with a monk who comes to her house to beg for food. After hiding him (and making love to him) in her bedroom for days, the monk leaves her to return to his temple. Because he doesn¡¯t come back like he promises, the girl falls ill and dies. Devastated, her parents decide to organize a contest and award all their possessions to the shaman who can help them speak to the spirit of their girl in the afterworld. A poor vagabond hears of the contest and decides to pretend he is a shaman. Shamans from all provinces of Korea come to perform for the parents, but they all fail to convince. Using his great wit, the libertine manages to pass the tests and deceive both the parents and the crowd to win the award.

You can listen to the whole thing here if you so wish:

This is a recording of Lee Eun-gwan (at the age of 77) singing Baebaengigut back in 1994. It's almost an hour long and probably only the most dedicated fans of Korean traditional music would take the time to listen to the whole thing, but I urge you to take a couple of minutes, listen to a few sections, try and get the feel for the piece.

It's an astonishing feat - one man accompanied by a gong and a drum, telling the same story he has told year after year, decade after decade. A life dedicated to Baebaengigut, a commitment to one particular performance. He may have had dalliances with other songs, but throughout his whole life he always remained faithful to this work, coming back again and again to this tragic tale of ill-fated love and deception. Eighty years dedicated to one song.

Here he is, last year, at the age of 96 giving it his all on the Korean traditional music channel:

Not bad going for a nonagenarian...

Back in his younger days he was a movie star and could draw in the crowds. If you watch this video clip from the 55 second mark (though if you watch form the start you'll get to see Lisa Kelly in Korean language news presenter mode) you'll see a brief glimpse of him about to perform to a sea of faces all eager to hear him sing. Below is the poster for his big movie from 1957 - Baebaengigut.

Photo Credit: Fabiano

I wish I had got to see him perform Baebaengigut live, but that chance is gone and it's a firm reminder that I need to get my act together, get to the theatre or the madang more often and celebrate this kind of performer while they are still around to hear the applause. I urge you to do the same.

All we have left of Lee Eun-gwan are the audio and video recordings scattered across the internet or in the homes of collectors. His eighty years of song may be silenced, but the echoes of the past will remain for much much longer and I hope others unfamiliar with Baebaengigut will come to appreciate it in the future.