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Lot 47 Films
Official Site
Director: Im Kwon Taek
Producer: Lee Tae Won
Written by: Kim Myoung Kon
Cast: Lee Hyo Jung, Cho Seung Woo, Kim Sung Hun, Kim Hak Yong

Rating: out of 5

Sweeping the Korean landscapes, CHUNHYANG captures the innocence and beauty of eternal love. Similar to Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, Chunhyang’s rift lies in the class difference between the proletariat Chunhyang and the aristocratic Mongryong, both of whom are at the tender age of 16. Setting up the story, the lovelorn tale is encapsulated in a frame tale called pansori. This Korean opera form exhibits a narrator who sings the story with only the accompaniment of a single drum. This interfered with the visual story. As the narrative ensued the narrator would sing about it, thus giving the audience a double dose of the story. Even though I enjoy European opera, the Korean singing did not strike a melodic chord with me.

Although the set-up of the story didn’t impress me, the actual narrative was rich with emotion and beauty. Seeing Chunhyang, the daughter of a courtesan, from afar, wealthy governor’s son Mongryong instantly fixates on her and begins to woo her. After constant pursuit, the two are clandestinely married. Marital bliss shatters when the governor has to relocate to the King’s palace in Seoul, taking his family with him. Mongryong promises Chunhyang that he will return for her after he finishes his schooling. After a truly heartrending separation scene, Mongryong is not seen again for three years.

In the interim, a new governor takes the throne and orders all the courtesans to appear at his palace. When Chunhyang does not show up (being the daughter of a courtesan, she is one too by law), she is forced to present herself before the governor. After denying the governor his “rights,” she is flogged 10 times, all the while exhibiting the courage and chaste honor of a dutiful wife. Almost as moving as Gibson’s unseen disembowelment at the end of BRAVEHEART, this scene was made less effective by the narration of the pansori.

Needless to say, this tale has a happy ending. Sure to be a popular film on the festival circuit, CHUNHYANG made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival 2000. Although I would not recommend this as a mainstream date movie, those of you who like artsy, indie films or just want to experience an age-old love story told in a different way (and a different language) should go see


—Jennifer Prestigiacomo

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