Filmmaker Kim Tae-yong directs gugak show
‘Kkokdu’ merges traditional music, theater, movie
Film director Kim Tae-yong, nowadays best known as Chinese actress Tang Wei’s husband, will bring a rare traditional Korean musical performance titled “Kkokdu” at the National Gugak Center in Seocho-gu, southern Seoul, in October.
The word “kkokdu” refers to a wooden puppet placed at the top of a funeral bier in traditional Korean funeral processions, among its other meanings such as the “peak” or “top of an object.
Koreans have long believed kkokdu play the role of a guide, taking humans from the living realm to the afterlife, similar to the role of angels in the Western Christian world.
Kim Tae-yong’s “Kkokdu” is a fusion performance merging film, stage acting and gugak music, allowing audiences to enjoy all three at once in one location. While a pre-filmed movie is playing on screen, live actors will be acting on stage with gugak music playing in the background.
While the film is a depiction of the living realm, the stage is a depiction of the otherworldly realm, the afterlife. The story moves back and forth between the living realm and the dead realm, with actors appearing both on screen and on stage at the same time. As the title suggests, the story is led by four kkokdu — the helper kkokdu, the guide kkokdu, the clown kkokdu and the guard kkokdu— who administer, protect and entertain the dead on their journey to the afterlife.
The plot involves siblings Soo-min and Dong-min who live with their grandmother. One day they meet an antique collector who tells them if they bring an old item from their home, he will give them a puppy. The two go home and bring their grandmother’s flower-embedded shoes to the collector. When they return home with their new puppy, they find their grandmother being carried away by the ambulance. They also find out their grandmother had been looking for her shoes when she fainted. Desperately trying to get back the shoes, the two go to an antique store to find the collector. But when they find the shoes, they are swamped over by objects and lose conscience. This is when they meet the kkokdu in their unconscious state.
“I had always been interested in the topic of kkokdu and had wanted to produce a work about it, but I figured it wouldn’t work well as a movie. Several years had passed since I first conceived the idea. But when the National Gugak Center approached me to collaborate with them on gugak, I thought kkokdu would be a perfect subject to work on,” director Kim said during a press conference Wednesday at the National Gugak Center. It is his first full-scale performance involving gugak although he had filmed several short films involving gugak music.
“It’s not like I know much about the genre, but I’m in the process of searching. I felt the power of gugak when I discovered myself shedding tears after hearing a sound. It was a weird feeling. That was the power of gugak. With this performance, I hope the audience will feel something similar. All of the staffs are so excited about this performance, and even if it fails it will be a great experience.”
The National Gugak Center spent the most money on this performance, according to its director-general Kim Hae-sook.
“It’s not an easy decision for us operating with a small budget, but this is the performance we invested most in. We also have set aside a budget for next year to continue the performance. Director Kim also decided to film the performance as a short movie when it’s over,” she said.
“The gugak center hopes to lower the boundaries between gugak and the public and I think this is one of those efforts. Koreans had little experience with gugak growing up, even though it’s part of their heritage. So I believe it’s in our DNA to enjoy the music. The emotions will come when they hear it.”
The music is directed by popular film score director Bang Joon-seok. The older sister Soo-min is played by rising young actress Kim Su-an who acted in “Train to Busan” and “The Battleship Island.” Film actor Cho Hee-bong plays the helper kkokdu, theater actress Shim Jae-hyun plays the guide kkokdu, and gugak performers Lee Ha-kyung and Park Sang-joo play the clown kkokdu and guard kkokdu.
Film director Kim Tae-yong, center, speaks during a press conference for “Kkokdu” at the National Gugak Center, Wednesday.