Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Review of Sopyonje

Sopyonje seems to be a very odd case of mainstream popular success (in Korea) and folk art traditionalism. It is not hard for me to understand the popularity of a domestically produced film based on traditional domestic culture in a rapidly modernized country. In some ways the phenomenon reminds me of the popularity of westerns in America (where we relive a traditional idealized or imagined version of our past) that tend to be revived every few years or the sudden widespread re-interest in Johnny Cash after his death.

What is particularly interesting about Sopyonje is the way that it uses essentially standard formulas (struggling musician, divided family, searching out and making terms with the past), often from melodrama, with a central subject matter that is extremely national (p’ansori). While I felt that this was a positive and successful combination for a cultural product, my personal position with regard to the film was that of an outsider. Specifically, I had trouble enjoying the music. At best I could appreciate the vocalization and emotional underpinnings but the nuances of the language and intonations were completely lost on me.

My overall impression is that while Sopyonje may be quite deserving of its reputation within South Korea, I think it can only be viewed as a small first step in establishing a unique cultural identity through film. While the content may have been highly nationally, the form of the film felt familiarly Hollywood: lots of big emotions, speeches externalizing thoughts and feelings that should have been left to the faces and performances of the actors, the interwoven flashback structure that has been around for a while and the aforementioned formulas.

Walrus Rating: 5


Mad Dog said...

If there's anything I've learned about Korea, it's that they're in love with Korea and that they aren't afraid to completely and utterly rip off another culture in order to further their own.

magusart said...

Oh god. Emotionally-charged speeches and a soaring, sappy soundtrack? Sounds like Japan's suffering to me!