The Sound of a Flower: New Movie about the First Female Pansori Singer

If there is a feature film about pansori, it’s without doubt Seopyeonje by Im Kwon-taek (서편제, 임권택, 1993). Among his over hundred movies, Im Kwon-taek also shot a sequel (Beyond the Years, 천년학, 2007, which flopped) and another movie based on the Tale of Chunhyang, the most popular pansori story (춘향뎐, 2000). With “historic TV drama” (sageuk, 사극) booming, will the upcoming film Dori Hwaga (도리화가 / 桃李花歌, off. English title: The Sound of a Flower) be another smash hit? Who knows…

The Sound of a Flower 동리화학 (c) CJ Entertainment

The Sound of a Flower 동리화학 (c) CJ Entertainment

The Sound of a Flower opens on Nov. 25, 2015 and is directed by Lee Jong-pil (이종필). Different from Seopyeonje, this movie is based on factual events, revolving around pansori patron, scholar and teacher Sin Jae-hyo (신재효, played by Ryu Seung-ryong 류승룡). The title, which can also be translated as “Song Peach and Plum Flower[s]” – seems to refer to a so-called danga (단가), literally a “short song” that opens a pansori performances, written by Sin. In the lyrics, he poetically compares his student Jin Chae-seon (진채선, played by K-pop star Suzy [배]수지) to the blooming spring flowers (information from the movie homepage, couldn’t find the actual lyrics yet). Incidentally, Jin Chae-seon is known as the first female pansori singer. Famous master singer Kim Se-jong (김세종, played by Song Sae-byeok 송새벽) also features in the movie.

I don’t any plot details, but the synopsis and the teaser trailer on the movie homepage suggest that the singing training at Sin Jae-hyo’s pansori school (동리정사 桐里精舍) is at the center of attention. This is quite common, maybe because by teaching pansori to someone in the movie the basic concepts can also be explained to the – supposedly ignorant? – audience. The trailer opens with Sin Jae-hyo addressing his students with the words “Pansori is something to watch, not to listen to. While watching, you listen and laugh and weep and enjoy.” In other cases, most famously Seopyeonje, but also the short film One Day Trip (청출어람 / 靑出於藍 by Park Chan-wook and Park Chan-gyong), the extreme hardships of the training process make for a fruitful narrative device.

The general story of The Song of a Flower, in any case, is quite well-known. In fact in the last few years alone I have seen two music-theatrical productions that deal with this important episode in the history of pansori:

Gwangdae-ui Norae (광대의 노래: 동리, 오동은 봉활을 기다리고, “Song of the Pansori Singer”, 2012, see my review in Korean), performed for Sin Jae-hyo’s 200th birthday at the Jeonju Sori Festival, focused on his romantic involvement with his young student Chae-seon. (See my review in Korean)

Taroo’s Unhyeon Palace Romance (운현궁 로맨스, 2013) tells a (fictional) secret love story between Jin Chae-seon and the young prince she meets when preparing a palace performance in Seoul. This gugak-musical is based on an earlier work on Jin Chae-seon by the ensemble. (See my review of Unyeon Palace Romance in Korean)

It seems as if scenes at Sin Jae-hyo’s pansori school where shot on location, i.e. in the place where Sin used to live. I saw his restored (or rebuilt?) home in Gochang (고창 신재효 고택) some years ago when visiting the adjacent Pansori Museum (판소리 박물관) and it looks familiar. Although I find the historical setting of Seopyeonje more interesting than Sin’s era (what many call the heydays of pansori) and I find it disappointing that the cast does not seem to include actual pansori singers, I will certainly see the movie.

There is a showcase event at Sungshin Women’s University this Wednesday, where the director and the main cast appears but unfortunately the movie will not be shown.

– 31 Oct. 2015 (土)


About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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