A prettier Shim Chung emerges in a new filmInstead of the small, round-figured girl we are familiar with in the original Korean folktale, Director Nelson Shin’s Shim Chung is depicted as tall, slim and even a bit sexy in his new animation film.
Not that the character is any less obedient or less filial than the girl in the original tale. The new version has all that plus a pretty face, long legs and curvy hips.
“While I’m at it, I thought, why not make the nice girl Shim Chung really pretty?” Mr. Shin said Monday after the screening of “Empress Chung,” a feature animation film that was co-produced by North and South Korea. “But we tried to depict her with ‘very Korean features’ like giving her high eyebrows,” he said.
The project that made headlines seven years ago as the first film to be made jointly by North and South Korea finally was unveiled Monday in front of the press and movie distributors. It will open to the public in South Korea on Aug. 12, while North Koreans will get to see it in Pyongyang starting Aug. 15, which is also Liberation Day for both Koreas.
The North Korean animators did the sketches and drawings, Mr. Shin said. But he had to ask them to redo the drawings four times before he was satisfied.
“The North Korean animators were better than I expected with their drawing techniques and skills but they tried to be accurate with every movement so that each scene turned out to run very slowly,” said the South Korean animator, who has won three Emmy awards for his studio’s work on “The Simpsons.”
“At first, they handed me a two hour and 30 minute-long feature film out of the storyboard I gave them, which was too long. So I had to strip an hour away from that,” he said.
Although Shim Chung’s almond-shaped eyes and graceful figure are reminiscent of female Asian characters from Walt Disney’s “Pocahontas” or “Mulan,” Mr. Shin explained that Shim Chung’s appearance had been carefully considered.
Her features were modeled after classic beauties depicted in Joseon Dynasty artist Sin Yun-bok’s paintings from the 18th century. Her eyebrows were drawn higher, her face was rounder, while her hands and feet were smaller and her shoulders narrower than the female characters found in Western animation films.
“Aside from her appearance, I wanted to show very Korean-like features throughout the film,” Mr. Shin said.
The film shows the beautiful landscape of Korea’s rural regions, including wooden docks, open-air markets and fertile rice fields as cows graze, water mills creak and mothers pound steamed rice into cakes. Various styles of architecture from the 18th century, from palaces to country cottages, are colorfully depicted in the film.
Mr. Shin noted, “It took three years in Seoul to just to plan this project, another three in Pyongyang to draw the characters and one more year to give it the finishing touches.”
He said every time he visited the North, tensions between the South and North would coincidentally rise, such as the military disputes in the Yellow Sea in 1999 and 2002.
The North did not like Mr. Shim’s modified version of the sassier Shim Chung either.
“My Northern counterpart at first could not understand why I made changes from the original sob story,” he said.
So he revised it, making it sound closer to the original folktale. The North then responded that it would collaborate on the project.
The lines the characters speak in the film are still a bit rustic and sometimes strike the audience as funny, since the story is about an always nice, obedient girl who decides to sacrifice her life for her father but ends up marrying a prince.
Mr. Shin acknowledged the movie as a “decent animation film that introduces true classic Korean culture.”
“This is a good quality film,” he said. “There was a lot of work and the story is touching.”
by Lee Min-a