Gisaeng beguile Korea’s producers

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Gisaeng beguile Korea’s producers

The Korean entertainment industry seems to have found a new buzz word to ignite what’s left of its schedule for the rest of 2006.
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It’s gisaeng. Similar to the Japanese geisha and the ancient Greek hetaerae, gisaeng are traditional Korean female entertainers and they have apparently captured the hearts of entertainment producers nationwide.
Get ready to see much more of them on television, on movie screens and even on the stage. At least until something better comes along.
KBS was the first of the producers to start the gisaeng craze, airing a historical drama which centered on an actual 16th century gisaeng figure named Hwang Jin-i. Since its launch in early October, the drama has captured a respectable 17 percent viewer rating. It features actress Ha Ji-won as the coquettish girl who entices notable men, including the renowned Joseon dynasty philosopher Seo Gyeong-deok. She seduces with her beauty, intellect and a preternatural talent for playing the geomungo, or the long wooden zither.
Hwang is among very few gisaeng whose names have survived through history. But not much is known about her except for a few old documents that refer to her beauty and talent and a few poems she wrote herself.
Such facts have helped make her character a favorite with producers who see the celebrated gisaeng as the one they were looking for to create attractive and successful stories.
Next month, the story of her life will be depicted again, this time as a musical theatrical performance at the Universal Art Center. Standing Company, the musical troupe, said its work will be adapted from the North Korean author Hong Sok-chung’s version of “Hwang Jin-i,” one of many literary versions of her life that began to attract attention in 2002.
Although there are other novels dealing with her life by South Korean writers such as Jeon Gyeong-rin, whose book became a bestseller in 2004, and Kim Tak-hwan’s “I, Hwang Jin-i” a story told from Hwang’s perspective, the troupe selected the North Korean version because the celebrated figure was born in the Kaesong area.
Acom, another musical production company, chose “Gisaeng Story,” a recent comic book by Kim Dong-hwa, to adapt for its screenplay on the lives of gisaeng from Songdo, the old name for Kaesong. Although they did not announce they were going to focus on Hwang, the story will revolve around the time and the place where Hwang lived.
Next year, a film called “Hwang Jin-i” will be released featuring Song Hye-gyo and Yoo Ji-tae as the main characters. Directed by Jang Yun-hyeon, a lot of the filming will take place on Mount Kumgang to add a North Korean flavor. Some scenes will also be shot in Kaesong.
Huh Jun-ho, an actor-turned-producer, announced he is also busy making a gisaeng-related drama plus a musical. It is called “Hae Eoh Hwa.” He said he will be featuring a girl who enters a gisaeng training school and grows up to be one of the most celebrated gisaeng. The story is based on the fact that gisaeng were carefully trained, and were frequently accomplished in the fine arts, poetry, and prose, although their talents were often ignored due to their inferior social status.
Actresses Kim Hee-seon and Park Ji-yoon have been cast to star on Huh’s television drama on MBC next spring.


by Lee Min-a

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