[IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW]Promoting culture rooted in traditionKim Myung-gon, a former stage actor and now the culture and tourism minister, once said he was determined to live his life as a “dreaming clown.”
But can a former clown (a term he uses to describe a theater actor) who has enjoyed unfettered creativity become a good minister whose work is now hidebound by regulations?
Mr. Kim sees an actor’s job and that of a cabinet minister’s as similar, in the sense that “both need to know what a good director means.”
The 54-year-old is a native of North Jeolla province. He became an actor at Seoul National University’s School of Education by chance: by standing in for an actor who did not show up on the day of the show. He later followed a friend to the National Theater of Korea and fell in love with pansori, traditional opera, and studied it for the next 10 years.
He headed Arirang, a theatrical company, from 1986 to 1999 and served as head of the National Theater of Korea from 2000 to 2005. In 1992, he played a lead role in “Sopyonje,” an internationally acclaimed movie directed by Im Kwon-taek. The minister is also a playwright.
Last Tuesday Mr. Kim marked his 100th day in office.
The minister has brought his passion for traditional arts into his new workplace, decorating his office with miniature models of traditional fiddles such as the gayageum and geomungo, and asking officials at the ministry to change their mobile phone ringtones to a traditional melody from a recent television hit, “Gung,” which depicted life in a Korean royal household.
Cho Hyun-wook, Culture and Sports sub-editor at the JoongAng Ilbo, interviewed Mr. Kim at his office.
Q. What is it like to be a [cabinet] minister?
A. I worked at times with the ministry staff while I was at the National Theater of Korea for six years so I am not unfamiliar with the environment. But the workload is impossible to compare. If the job at the National Theater of Korea was like serving at civil defense, being here is like standing in the frontline of the special forces. The last three months at the ministry have been, for me, about arriving on the scene. The culture ministry deals with a wide range of things, from religion and sports to tourism and the media.
In your essay, “I Dream of a Blue Ocean Strategy in Culture,” published earlier this year, you said that you wanted to “whine at the culture ministry.” What did you want to complain about?
They were my personal thoughts and worries about the reality of the traditional Korean music industry. Before I worked at the National Theater of Korea, I had never met a government official. So I had imagined that they must be like goblins. I want this government group to be more creative.
Do you think you are emphasizing the traditional part too much? [During a press conference last Wednesday, Mr. Kim said he wanted students to learn traditional music in schools more and encouraged broadcasters to play more traditional music].
What I said during the press conference was there should be an effort to ask people to turn their eyes to a field we have been neglecting. I did not mean that I will only concentrate on the traditional part. In order to develop the culture area, basic art is important. I wanted to water the traditional art field, which has been drying up. I will not be biased, to help one field and ignore others.
But the new seven goals the ministry just announced do not include studies in the field of new technologies. Is it because the former culture minister was criticized for his tendency to focus on the new technology field?
The culture industry is a new growing industry. We understand it is “culture technology” that could propel the industry further. The ministry has opened a new department to support culture technology. The ministry has also started participating in the science technology ministers’ meeting since June. I am planning to introduce an agenda on culture technology at this meeting.
What do you think is most urgent?
Uprooting gambling games. In October, a council for censoring and rating games will be launched. Even the games that have passed the Korea Media Rating Board will be subject to another rating. Standards for gambling games will become stricter. I am particularly interested in how the game certificates (currency used in gambling) are circulated. We are considering an all-over investigation on how these certificates work in the gambling world.
You’d need quite a bit of cooperation from other ministries to do that.
Yes. I will need as much help as possible to stop gambling games from expanding. I will cooperate with the National Police Agency and the Ministry of Information and Communications. But we are going to encourage games that are sound and legal.
The Korean pop wave, hallyu, seems to be waning. There is even an anti-hallyu wave.
I am aware there is concern. But hallyu is expanding. The hallyu wave that originated from television dramas and films has spread to the fields of fashion, food and tourism. This shows our culture industry has competitive power. To continue the hallyu wave, we are devising ways to develop it by regions, step by step. For example, we are going to hold cultural events in North America and Europe to introduce hallyu. We are going to focus on spreading Korean pop culture in South America and Central Asia where we see potential for hallyu, and continue promoting hallyu products in Taiwan and Southeast Asia where hallyu is already big.
You agreed to limit the number of domestic films shown inside Korea while wanting to introduce a different quota system to encourage traditional music instead.
Nothing has been decided yet. I want to think about it though. Tradition is the root of Korean culture. It’s our energy and makes us see what we are. Myths, legends and folk tales can be an important part of the culture industry.
Have there been complaints [from fellow actors]?
I think I am already being criticized. The culture ministry’s duty is to support and encourage culture. I want to be like a gardener who takes care of the flower beds.
by Park Jeong-ho