Social Commentary, Unjust Laws, and Old Fashioned Romance
Miguel B. Llora | Bay Point, California USA | 02/20/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a summary, Korean director Im Kwon Taek brings to the screen (in this case DVD) a visually stunning fairy-tale about ill-fated lovers. Chunhyang has a very Romeo and Julietesque theme to it but with a twist - two twits actually. The story is framed on two basic premises: (1) That there is a class divide and never shall the tenet be breached and (2) The issue of unjust laws. In a nutshell, Chunhyang (Yi Hyo Jeong) is a daughter of the former courtesan Wolmae (Kim Sung Nyu) who unwittingly spellbinds Mongryong (Cho Seung Woo) who is the son of the current governor of Namwon province.
The colorful sets, and costumes are the basis for a very Zhang Yimouesque visual feast. However, the movie stands on its writing and editing - the constant return to the themes of a socially constructed class divide and the endurance (no matter how naïve) of love is the DVD's defining moment. As mentioned previously, Chunhyang is the descendant of a retired courtesan and a former governor, which somewhat determines her fate. Completely enamored, Mongryong pledges undying commitment to Chunhyang, etches on her gown, "Like the sun and the moon, my love will never change." The couple secretly marries. The love scenes of their first wedding night are both tender and discrete making the play both sensual and innocent.
Unfortunately, Mongryong has not fully dealt with the family/class issue pre-marriage and is called upon to follow his father to Seoul - where his father has been promoted to a Cabinet member position and will have to give up his governorship. In the interim, Byun (Lee Jung Hun) arrives to replace Mongryong's father as the new Governor of the Namwon province. Almost on queue - the story turns Greek tragic. Byun falls in love with the beautiful Chunhyang and demands she give himself to him as a courtesan. Predictably she resists gaining the ire and the full extent of the law, as it is treason to deny the Governor. She invokes another law - which falls on deaf ears that it is unlawful to sleep with another man's wife. Byun commands her to be whipped until she act in accordance with the law. However, the worst-case scenario happens as after rebuffs he deems she must be put to death.
In his three years absence young Mongryong tops the government exam and is appointed the king to test out on the management of the provinces. Masquerading as a poor vagrant, Mongryong sets his sights on Namwon province and comes home to find oppressed town folk and his wife beaten, incarcerated and in anticipation of the carrying out of her death sentence. One would wonder that in the three years apart no one tried to contact Mongryong but it would not bode well for the story as he needs to gain in prominence sans the worry of a wife who was already deemed unfit for him.
Don't forget for a moment that Mongryong is establishment and in carrying out his corrective action still clings to the notion that it is illegal to deny the governor - ironies within ironies. This is not a simple narrative and in it is embedded plots and subplots that are worthy of a place as a national narrative. Besides who are we kidding, Yi is hot in an almost innocent sort of way and her defiance of the Governor's edict is stellar. I was left with the memory of vibrant colors that reminded me of such epics as Hero and Ju Dou proving that East Asian have a real handle on the element of color. Who can deny that the combination of tragedy/love/color/social commentary is nothing short of a masterpiece? No one, I guess.
A woman against the magistrate's authority
Kwang Woo Noh | Carbondale, IL, USA | 09/18/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It seems that many people think that a woman is totally suject
under male-dominant society. Under Confucious order, Korea
was male dominant society and woman did not appropriate rights
and opportunity as man. So what? in 17th or 18th century,
European men did not allow or share their rights with European
The reason why some feminists enjoy this film is that not only
this story is love story, which may make them feel guilty, but
also it's a story of a woman who was not submissive to local
authority. You can compare this movie with Dagerous Beauty in
which a Venezian courtesan could not challenge the authority.
For me, the great scene is the magistrate's interrogation and
torture to Chunhyang. In this scene, Chunhyang did give up and
said what she thought againt brutal magistrate's demand.
"You are a daughter of a courtesan, so you are a courtesan, too.
You should serve to me. It's a law. If you will not follow the
law, I will punish you. "
"What kind of punishment is given to a man who tries to rape
and urge adultery to a married woman?"
Spy Groove | New Zealand | 07/09/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"All I can say this movie is SUPERB!! No wonder it got the Cannes Palm D'Or in 2000. The story is based on Korean famous legend, Chunhyang who stood for her rights to devote all her love only to 1 man despite of the traditional custom that a decendant courtesan (she was the daughter of a retired courtesan) was a coutesan and must be available in serving other men.I have been told there was a story like this but have never known the real plot. I feel very lucky to be able to watch this artpiece. As a woman, I really admire ChunHyang and her guts in keeping to her promise and to her heart.The traditional and moral value of this legend is magnified by the cinematography and the way it is told which presents the story as it was sung by a traditional singer (pansori). Highly recommended."
Jeffrey S. Harrison | 10/18/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the best-loved legends of Korea is retold in the singing tradition of Korea known as "pansori." Directed by one of Asia's most demanding and feared perfectionist directors, the cinematography is breathtakingly beautiful and, despite the lead characters being played by teenage, first time actors, the acting is flawless. The pansori singing is performed by a man officially designated by the Korean government as a living national treasure. The breathtaking beauty of Korean nature, a powerful story of innocent, true, and undying love, and the haunting vocal tradition of pansori combine to present an experience that I can unreservedly say is far and away the best Asian movie I have seen (rivaled only by "Ran") and is high on my list of the best films ever. I have yet to meet someone who was disappointed with this movie."