May 14, 2009

The Tale of Chun Hyang: Ever Hear the One About the Hooker and the Rich Man's Son?

Filmmakers Im Kwon-taek, Han Sang-hun, and Shin Sang-ok each made movies inspired by the tale of Chun-hyang. (In fact, Shin did it not once but twice.) In this North Korean version, director-actor Yu Won–jun puts yet another unique spin on the rags-to-riches fable. The basics remain the same: A prostitute's daughter marries a nobleman only to get dumped before the honeymoon glow has faded from her alabaster cheeks. But Yu has introduced some changes, too. First off, Chun-hyang is now a master weaver from the working class, not just some courtesan's daughter trained in the art of embroidery. Secondly, her rich suitor goes to a heck of a lot more trouble during their courtship which makes his subsequent (temporary) abandonment of her all the more painful. Clocking in at two-and-a-half hours, The Tale of Chun Hyang certainly isn't in a rush to make these points. It's also mercifully free of the propaganda that you might expect from a North Korean film. Why the movie chooses to downplay the sadistic behavior of Chun-hyang's second suitor may be because Yu has taken so long to get to this point in the story or because Yu cast himself in the role. Perhaps, he simply didn't feel like being a big screen meanie for any length of time.

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