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CHUNHYANG (CHUNHYANG DYEON)(director: Im Kwon-Taek; screenwriter: based on “Chunyang,” the pansori song by Cho Sang-Hyun/Kim Myung-Kon; cinematographer: Jung Il Sung; editor: Park Soon-Duk; music: Kim Jung-Gil; cast: Lee Hae Eun (Hyangdan), Cho Seung Woo (Master Mongryong Lee), Lee Hae Ryong (Lord of Soonchun), Kim Hak Yong (Pangja), Lee Hyo Jung (Chunhyang), Choi Jin Young (Governor Lee), Gok Jun Hwam (Lord of Okgwa), Jung-Hun Lee (Governor Byun), Yoon Keun Mo (Lord of Goksung), Hong Kyung Yeun (Kisaeng Leader), Kim Sung Nyu (Wolmae), Cho Seung Woo (Mongryong); Runtime: 120; Lot 47; 2000-S.Kor)
“Though a beautiful costume film with Hollywood production values and a cast of thousands, I just couldn’t get into the epic story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Im Kwon-Taek, Korea’s master director of some 90 films, presents a popular traditional Korean folk tale about romance and does it in a stylized formal theatrical production. The retelling of this tale calls for the use of a pansori singer-storyteller Cho Sang-Hyun, who is accompanied by a solo drummer to tell the operatic narrative. This Korean film is a lush and romantic folktale about doomed lovers that is bound to touch one’s heart. Its universal themes about true love, fate, taboos, loyalty and individual freedom are easy for even a foreign audience to identify with as it cuts across all cultures. What might be harder to relate to is the stylized formal story with singing used as a voice-over, and with occasional breaks in the story of the singer performing before an audience offscreen who are in awe of the singing.

The film is set in the 13th century of the Chosun dynasty in Namwon, where the spoiled doll-faced scholarly son of the governor, Master Mongryong Lee (Cho Seung Woo), has his servant Pangja cater to his whims. When Lee talks Pangja into taking him sightseeing against his father’s wishes, he’s attracted to a beautiful girl swinging in the opening fields showing her bare ankles. Lee gets the servant to arrange a meeting with the girl, Chunhyang (Lee Hyo Jung), whose mother is a courtesan. Lee discovers that she is a well-educated and culturally refined girl who has resisted all seducers.

Lee begins a romance with the proud and haughty virgin girl, as their courtship is done in all the conventional ways such familiar fantasy love tales are usually told. The beauty in the film is in the freshness the songs give it and in the childlike curiosity the nude lovers show to their new experience in lovemaking. It’s a very innocent love story told without guile, and its strength is in the genuineness of the self-discoveries made by the lovers. This story is fueled by the persistence of Master Lee chasing after the lowly commoner he loves despite her resistance and the societal taboos of the relationship. The strong emotions of the lovers allow them to marry. When Master Lee’s father is promoted and the family departs to the capital, Seoul, Master Lee promises his wife he will return for her when promoted to a full government post after his studies are completed.

The tragedy that strikes Chunhyang is heartbreaking, as the cruel new governor (Jung-hun Lee) forces his attentions on her and when she resists his sexual advances saying she is loyal to her husband he, nevertheless, savagely beats and imprisons her and sentences her to death for refusing him.

Though a beautiful costume film with Hollywood production values and a cast of thousands, I just couldn’t get into the epic story. No criticism of the filmmaking, I just wasn’t taken in by its style as much as I would have liked to have been.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”