Chunhyang (2000) – A Few First-Impression Notes

Chunhyang feels like an ancient fairy tale that has been given a fresh coat of paint. Unfortunately, the paint is the most interesting part, as the story is told broad strokes and offers few surprises.

It’s about a young prince who falls in love with a courtesan’s daughter and pledges his everlasting love to her. When he is called away because of his father’s work, young Chunhyang is deeply troubled. Things get worse when a new governor moves in and demands that she be his courtesan.

The story is highly predictable, and the characters fail to become more than colorful archetypes. But wow… “colorful” is the way to describe this gorgeous, elaborate imagery.

Your opinion of this film will probably depend on your reaction to its style: it is presented like opera, a story in which the details of day-to-day life are understated, while emotions are blown up huge and loud. The story is narrated by an expressive, gravelly voiced storyteller who sings the narration.

I realize that this is a traditional form of storytelling, but I found the narrator distracting and intrusive, and wanted to know more about the characters. Thus, while the story “rang true” as a parable, the storytelling failed to engage me. The only thing that kept me watching was the colorful, graceful cinematography.

Director – Im Kwon Taek; writer – Kim Myoung Kon; based on “Chunyang,” the pansori song by Cho Sang Hyun; in Korean, with English subtitles; director of photography – Jung Il Sung; editor – Park Soon Duk; music – Kim Jung Gil; art director – Min Un Ok; producer – Lee Tae Won. Starring – Lee Hae Eun (Hyangdan), Lee Hae Ryong (Lord of Soonchun), Kim Hak Yong (Pangja), Lee Hyo Jung (Chunhyang), Choi Jin Young (Governor Lee), Gok Jun Hwam (Lord of Okgwa), Lee Jung Hun (Governor Byun), Yoon Keun Mo (Lord of Goksung), Hong Kyung Yeun (Kisaeng Leader), Kim Sung Nyu (Wolmae) and Cho Seung Woo (Mongryong). Lot 47 Films. 120 minutes.
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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.