Story of Hwang Jini, Artist and Seductress, Is Retold on Stage

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Story of Hwang Jini, Artist and Seductress, Is Retold on Stage

Hwang Jini was a poet and a legendary kisaeng, an entertainer similar to a Japanese geisha, in 16th-century Korea. She was known for her discerning selectivity in choosing sexual partners. Better known by her pen-name Myeong-wol, which literally means bright moon, she seduced countless Korean literary scholars and members of the social elite with her alluring presence and remarkable ability at improvised poetry reading.

She was born out of wedlock in the city of Kaesong, north of Seoul, and raised by a blind father. She left her family at 15 after becoming emotionally disturbed by the suicide of a young shoemaker who had been lovesick for her. At the funeral, she mourned her friend's death by reading a poem, "The Song to the Departed Soul," and announced to her family that she planned to pursue a life of freedom and became a kisaeng. Hwang Jini traveled in search of inspiration for her poetry. She seduced men, including renowned Buddhist monks, who later had to give up their vows, and wrote erotic poems based on her experiences.

Though she prostituted herself later in life to support a man she was living with, Hwang Jini wrote numerous poems concerning fidelity. She challenged social norms by rejecting the restraints which came with her class and gender.

Hwang Jini's story has been passed down mostly through oral history, and thus facts about her earlier life are filtered through unreliable sources. Even some remaining primary documents have been romanticised by historians over the decades, and films and books have been liberal in their retelling of Hwang Jini's life.

"The Moon That Rose Again After 400 Years - Hwang Jini," a performance that began Wednesday in the Seoul Arts Center, dramatizes Hwang Jini's eventful life in the style of a traditional Italian opera. Her story has also been retold through literature, pansori (a traditional Korean music performance) and film. The story depicts a tragic life of a gifted poet who could not control her overwhelming artistic ability and thus chose a life of hedonism.

The retelling places particular emphasis on her relationship with Byeok Gaesu, a local governor and the only man with whom Hwang Jini managed to have a platonic relationship.

Organized by a staff of mostly outsiders in the theater industry, "The Moon" was received enthusiastically by the general public when it was first staged in the Seoul Arts Center three years ago; the public responded likewise to performances in China and Japan last year.

The same team has organized the upcoming performance at the Seoul Arts Center, and the translation of the subject matter is perhaps even more sophisticated in this production. In the performance, the director has chosen to emphasize a lesser known side of Hwang Jini - a devoted calligrapher and a dancer who mesmerized kings during royal ceremonies.

Lee Jang-ho produced and directed the opera. He is known for his direction of the award-winning film, "Man With Three Coffins," which was shown at the Berlin Film Festival. On this project, he worked with stage director Yang Seong-ok, who choreographed the traditional kisaeng dancing.

An acclaimed fashion designer, Lee Young-hee, known for her elaborate designs inspired by hanbok, the traditional Korean costume, contributes costumes for the heroine Hwang Jini and her lovers.

Composer Lee Young-jo transformed traditional pansori music and created a modern score.

For more information, call 02-587-1950 (English service available).



by Park Soo-mee

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