Film­maker Kim Tae-yong di­rects gu­gak show

‘Kkokdu’ merges tra­di­tional mu­sic, the­ater, movie

The Korea Times - - CULTURE - By Yun Suh-young

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.

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