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[Review]‘The Singer’: Pansori Musical Film that Delivers Our Joys and Sorrows

Edited by Yang Young Jun

Translated by Kim Hoyeun

Credit: Little Big Pictures

It starts with pansori and ends with pansori. There are points where people react differently, but the movie The Singer leads the story simply and honestly and presents the audience the charm of our traditional sound, pansori.

Set in the 10th year of King Yeongjo’s reign, The Singer is a pansori musical film that tells the story of Shim Hak Kyu, a pansori singer who wanders through the eight provinces of Joseon in search of his kidnapped wife Gan Nan, with his daughter Cheong, and his assistant Dae Bong. As the name of the characters Shim Hak Kyu and Sim Cheong suggest, Simcheongga (fairytale story of Shim Cheong) plays a big part in the movie by interestingly unfolding the story written by an unknown writer. It is the new film by director Cho Jung Rae, best known for Spirits’ Homecoming. Korean classical musician Lee Bong Geun, actors Lee Yoo Ri, Kim Dong Wan, Kim Ha Yun and Park Chul Min starred in the film.

Credit: Little Big Pictures

The composition is not that difficult. From a happy family to the kidnapping of Gan Nan, a journey of searching for her, and a happy ending: anyone can easily understand and enjoy the development. Also, the recall/music scenes that appear from time to time are clearly distinctive, so it doesn’t take rocket scientists to distinguish them. The messages of virtue, discipline, family love, and restoration are also intuitive. This is where director Cho Jung Rae’s ambition to win with only pansori stands out.

The director’s strategy curled the mo. The highlight of The Singer is certainly the pansori. Master singer Lee Bong Geun’s soulful voice has magical powers that make the audience laugh and cry as he wishes. In particular, his passionate singing as if he was throwing up blood with his full-of-grief voice in the highlight of the movie, brings the audience such catharsis and whirling emotion that cannot be overcome without crying. It was really a divine move to cast Lee Bong Geun, who has never acted before.

If Lee Bong Geun captivates us with his voice, Lee Yoo Ri, Park Chul Min, Kim Dong Wan, and Kim Ha Yun succeed in stealing our hearts with their dazzling performances. Lee Yoo Ri, who plays the role of Gan Nan, takes center stage with her flawless acting, while Park Chul Min and Kim Dong Wan enliven the story at the right place with their unique, witty performances. The most impressive performer, however, was child actor Kim Ha Yun. Kim Ha Yun, who played the role of Shim Cheong, who leaves for a long journey with her father even when she is blind, impresses the audience with pansori sang in her clear and pure voice. Even among prominent adult actors, she stands out.

Credit: Little Big Pictures

However, other elements of The Singer, except for pansori, show a somewhat disappointing level of completion. Of course, pansori takes about 90 percent of the movie, and its quality is magnificent, but regrets left in screen directing, screen switching, and story distribution reduce the level of immersion.

First of all, there are a lot of superfluous scenes in the first half of the movie. The scenes portraying a happy couple take up too much space that even cutting half of them out would not have made much of a difference. Also, Lee Bong Geun’s lack of experience in acting is too clear in these scenes that they only hinder the viewers’ immersion (of course, the fact that this is first acting is taken into consideration). Also, it’s hard to empathize with the emotions of the character who always put on bright faces, as if they were going on a picnic, even though they are currently in search of Gan Nan, who they didn’t know if she was dead or alive. The cinematic quality of the musical scenes and the quality of the graphics are also regrettable as they seemed a bit awkward on the big screen.

Credit: Little Big Pictures

Fortunately, like mentioned earlier, The Singer is a movie that only competes with pansori. At times when the disappointment seems to be getting bigger, Lee Bog Geun’s pansori appears, properly restoring the perfect balance. Unlike the distracting early parts, the narrative and the “obvious but always working” touching codes also greatly offset the disappointments. Director Cho Jung Rae’s challenge of capturing pansori, which delivers the Korean people’s excitement and resentment, on the screen in a new format might have left some regret, but it’s clear that he has achieved a round of applause.

Verdict: The power of our sound (pansori) that makes us forget the movie’s shortcomings (6/10)

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