P'ansori: Korea's National Cultural Intangible Treasure
July 3, 2008 6:02 PM   Subscribe

Pansori (aka P'ansori) is a genre of Korean folk music produced by travelling musicians, a singer accompanied by a lone drummer. Rooted in seventeenth century folk tales, by the 1960's, Pansori was in danger of dying out completely, when the director Im Kwon-taek made the film Sopyonje.

Sopyonje tells the story of a travelling family of musicians, struggling to make a living in the first half of the twentieth century. Given the lack of interest in the form when the film was released, it was expected to be a box office failure, but it went on to break box office records, playing to over a million viewers in Korea alone and sparking a revival of interest in the form. Im Kwon-taek has subsequently used Pansori as a narrative device in two later films, Chunyhang and Beyond the Years.
posted by PeterMcDermott (6 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Hey, thanks for the great post, Peter. I've been a Pansori fan (and a fan of various other Korean trad styles, especially the shamanistic stuff and the incredibly funky drum stuff) for many years, but I knew nothing of this film and its part in restoring interest in Pansori in Korea.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:33 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hmm...youtube can demonstrate Pansori's status as the most metal sog-ak.
posted by Monstrous Moonshine at 8:05 PM on July 3, 2008

I knew you'd be into this stuff, flapjax, though I was kinda counting on you to know more about it than I do.

I knew nothing at all until a few weeks ago, but I've become very interested in Korean films, and picked up Sopyonje solely on the strength of its IMDB rating. One of the reviews there says it might seem a bit slow to our western sensibilities, but stick with it -- so it was and I did, and boy was it worth it.

The movie focuses on the story of a Panori maestro, who was expelled from the academy for fucking his master's wife (at her behest.) He'd been the most talented student, but he's reduced to street performances in rural areas, scraping up a meagre living.

Along the way, he has a son of his own, and picks up a little girl who apprentices to him. Boy plays the drum, the girl sings. And boy if he isn't a hard taskmaster. But the guy is completely driven, completely obsessed with the Panori and it's perfection.

I won't say any more because I run the risk of spoiling the movie for some people, but I can't recommend this movie highly enough. I'm neither a world cinema nor a world music fan, and tend to like my cultural product American and easily digested. But this film just blew me away. I can't recommend it highly enough.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:06 PM on July 3, 2008

Damn. For Panori, read Pansori in those above paras. I somehow hit post rather than preview.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:08 PM on July 3, 2008

Im Kwon-taek has had an amazing career. I think he just finished his 100th film, though, by his own admission, many of them were rubbish.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 9:58 PM on July 3, 2008

I've just found my favourite clip from Sopyonje on YouTube, so I thought I'd better link it. It's the most joyous and uplifting part of the movie. The title is also sometimes spelled Seopyonje, so you can sometimes struggle to find it.

Jindo Arirang.

Unfortunately, there are no English subs with this clip, but IIRC they're walking from their derelict home in the hills, to a poorly paying gig in town, singing about how rigorously they'll pursue the study and performance of Pansori, and how much pleasure it gives them to do so, despite the hardships it currently imposes.

Korea looks like a fantastic country, with a wonderful people. Not being one of our colonies, we really don't learn anything about Korea as kids, and the more I learn about that country's tragic history, the more I admire the people for their resilience and their stoical commitment to endure.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:32 AM on July 4, 2008

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