Non-gae's Back, This Time Dancing, SingingAn attractive young woman plunges into the river while embracing a Japanese general tightly in her arms. She never rises to the surface, taking the general with her to a watery grave. It is a true story of a Korean woman named Non-gae.
Non-gae was a geisha (gisaeng in Korean) of the Choson Dynasty who sacrificed her life for the love of homeland. This well-known story has inspired many Korean artists over the years. There are poems, films, plays, songs, dances and an opera, all based on the saga of Non-gae. And now, Non-gae will be in the spotlight again, produced in the form of a changgeuk, a traditional kind of Korean musical drama.
The National Changguk Company of Korea will premiere "Changguk Non-gae" from Sept. 29 to Oct. 7 at the Main Hall of the National Theater of Korea in Seoul. With headlines splashing news of outrages committed by the Japanese almost daily, some drama authorities in Korea have said that there can be no more patriotic play put here at this time than Non-gae.
The story of Non-gae was made into a changgeuk twice in the past. Soon after the 1945 liberation of Korea, Jo Sang-seon produced the first changgeuk version, but the script and the music have been lost. The North Cholla Provincial Institute of Korean Traditional Music was the second to create the story of Non-gae into a changgeuk last year. The National Changguk Company of Korea may be the third to stage this story, but it actually began planning the play about a year before the North Cholla Provincial Institute of Korean Traditional Music did.
In 1998, Ahn Sook-sun, renowned singer and the artistic director of the National Changguk Company of Korea commissioned Hong Won-gi to write a script for "Changguk Non-gae."
Ms. Ahn had much interest in dramatizing the story since she liked the idea of a changgeuk with a female lead and thought it worthwhile and interesting to play the tragic role herself. In addition, Ms. Ahn grew up in Namwon, a village that neighbors Non-gae's home in North Cholla province, and since her childhood, she was fascinated by the story of Non-gae.
Mr. Hong, the scriptwriter, referred to scholarly records rather than dramatic history when he worked on the script for "Changguk Non-gae." "Most people know nothing about Non-gae except that she was a geisha who drowned with a Japanese general," Mr. Hong said, "I wanted to portray the inner struggle of a human being, rather than simply make an elaborate, emotional saga."
The new production includes some sad yet beautiful songs, many of which are strong enough to stand on their own. For instance, "The Song of 10 Rings" ("Sipwhan-ga") is a piece Non-gae sings when she puts on 10 rings, a gift from her fellow geishas.
Also, the exchanges between the solo singers and chorus are especially marvelous against a backdrop depicting the famous battle between the Korean and the Japanese armies in 1593 at Jinju-seong, a castle in South Kyongsang province. On top of such splendid music, "Changguik Non-gae" is visually powerful as well.
Well-choreographed Korean martial arts fights add to the excitement of the battle scenes while special images projected on the screen make the climactic scene of Non-gae's death quite realistic. All in all, this is a play that has something to offer just about everyone.
Hahn Tai-sook, the talented producer of other plays such as "Lady Macbeth" and "Equus," is producing "Changguk Non-gae," and Ahn Sook-sun and Yu Soo-jung will take turns playing the title role of the patriotic gisaeng.
The performance starts at 7: 30 p.m. on weekdays, and 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
For more information call 02-2274-3507 (English is available).
by Lee Jang-jik