Seeking Identity as Clown Is Key in Musical Yi: Director Kim
By Chung Ah-young
Kim Tae-woong, playwright and director of the play "Yi", saw his play recreated as the movie "The King and the Clown
", which became the biggest blockbuster early this year.
His play is now being recreated as a musical directed by Kim. The musical produced by the Seoul Performing Arts Company is expected to run through Dec. 3 at the ArKo Art Center in Taehangno, central Seoul.
Containing a variety of traditional performances ranging from street operas to acrobatics, and rope and mask dances performed by clowns, the original piece has all the elements needed for a successful musical version.
The story revolves around Yonsan, a tyrant king of the Choson Kingdom (1392-1910), and his favorite court jester, Kong-gil, with the addition of fictionalized accounts and characters, such as clown leader Jang-saeng.
By satirizing social class through the affection of the tyrannical ruler for a clown, who held the lowest rank in society, the three versions provide different viewpoints that enable audiences to enjoy the original piece.
The play, "Yi", which was first staged in 2000, reveals the relationship between Yonsan and Kong-gil through their emotions, but the relationship is developed and led by Yonsan.
In the film, the story is told from the viewpoint of a third person, Jang-saeng played by Gam Woo-sung.
"But the musical version sheds fresh light on the roles of characters, especially on Kong-gil, and the story is enriched with rhythmical musical elements", Kim said in an interview with The Korea Times.
"While the film fans consumed the feminine images describing the effeminate Kong-gil (played by Lee Joon-gi
) that hints at homosexuality between the king and his favorite clown, in the musical, the audiences will be mesmerized by the inner description of Kong-gil as a man holding sorrow deeply in his mind", he said.
He said that the musical will take a different approach of Kong-gil, portraying him sometimes as strong with powerful desires and sometimes as weak to arouse sympathy from the audience.
The film version of "King and The Clown" featured breath-taking rope walking and good performances by the cast, starring Lee Joon-gi
But the musical focuses intensively on the famous "blind skit" of jesters, Kong-gil and Jang-saeng, which was also highlighted in the film.
The skit, shown in the beginning and in the last part of the film, symbolizes the relationship between Kong-gil and Jang-saeng, who impersonate the blind in the skit using only a walking stick and a folding fan as props.
"In the skit, the walking stick is a symbol of power and sometimes it's a tool for those who have a deficiency. Instead of the eye-catching extravaganza performances like the rope walking in the film, a cane is used as a musical percussion instrument, creating the acoustic sounds and a medium for the two jesters", Kim said.
He said that the story about the clown mirrors himself. "I can say the original work is a story about myself, also a mere clown in the theater seeking my true identity through `plays and laughs"', he said.
Kim said that he has been keen on "laughs and plays", which have been the main motifs of his work throughout his entire career.
He explained that laughs have various meanings for people from all walks of life. For clowns, laughs are bittersweet reflections of sorrow and despair that arise throughout the play.
He reflected on the plays and the laughter of the three characters. Yonsan, the tyrant king, indulged himself in the plays performed by his favorite court jester to forget his unhappy life, while Kong-gil used them as tools to achieve his ambitions.
The plays and laughter were also tools for Jang-saeng to express his way of thinking.
In his debut in the musical arena, Kim said that the recent musicals are entertaining performances without any soul searching or implications.
"I'd like to convey some thought-provoking messages to the audiences in the play or the musical. I will continue to create the works inspired by plays and laughs", he said.
"I hope many spectators realize the vicissitude-stricken life of the clown through the play and laughter in this musical version", he said.
He is planning to release his next work, "Pansong", (reflection), next year. It is a tragic story from recent Korean history about a family destined to be killed.
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