Review: Suzy shows a new side in historical film

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Review: Suzy shows a new side in historical film

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Suzy, a member of the K-pop girl group Miss A, plays Jin Chae-seon, Korea’s first female pansori singer who lived during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), in Lee Jong-pil’s “The Sound of a Flower.” [CJ ENTERTAINMENT]

Local costume drama “The Sound of a Flower” or “Dorihwaga,” directed by Lee Jong-pil, contains more than enough cinematic elements to grab the attention of critics and film-lovers.

Set in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) - a favorite setting of Korean films - the film is about the nation’s first-ever female pansori (traditional narrative singing) singer, Jin Chae-seon, and is solidly equipped with competent actors such as Ryoo Seung-ryong, Lee Dong-hui and Song Sae-byuk.

But by the time the ending credits roll, the biggest impression is left by the 109-minute film is K-pop singer Suzy, who plays the heroine.

The above sentence can mean two things: Either Suzy played the protagonist Chae-seon flawlessly, or Suzy never really became Chae-seon. Oddly, Suzy, a member of the girl group Miss A, managed to do both.

The film is set in the time of King Gojong (1852-1919), when authority was mostly held by his father, Heungseon Daewongun (Kim Nam-gil).

Chae-seon, raised as an orphan by gisaeng (Korean geisha), liked to eavesdrop on pansori performances on the street and lessons conducted at the pansori school by master Shin Jae-hyo (Ryoo).

When left alone, she likes to practice the traditional songs and understand the hidden story behind each verse. One day, Chae-seon appeals to Shin about her strong desire to do pansori, but immediately gets rejected just because she is a girl.

However, after pleading a few more times, Chae-seon finally gets accepted as Shin’s disciple and begins to go through intense training to participate in the upcoming nationwide pansori contest. Despite initial doubts among observers, Suzy shows laudable development from her previous projects like 2012 movie “Architecture 101” and TV drama “Dream High,” in which she played a pretty-faced, oblivious girl.

In this film, she expresses the frustration of a spirited girl trying to break the glass ceiling and gain the voice of a pansori singer.

Also, Suzy’s pansori singing - which requires a completely different set of skills from normal pop singing - is acceptable. The singer said she trained for about one year before going into shooting.

But although the film succeeds in persuading the audience that Chae-seon possesses an unprecedented level of talent to have been an exceptional female singer at the time, the feeling of inspiration doesn’t linger afterward.

Most of all, there should be more dramatic moments to flesh out Chae-seon’s life, surviving in a male-driven society and later becoming a concubine of Heungseon Daewongun. But all of that remains vague, obscured by a secretive but also ambiguous love story between her and Shin.

A scene or two shows Suzy suffering through hard training, screaming out in the rain and performing a surprise show at the royal court dressed as a gisaeng to save her imprisoned master, but it feels like the scenes are just meant to show Suzy wearing diverse costumes and expressing diverse emotions. One cannot deny that Suzy is one of the main draws for “The Sound of a Flower,” but somewhere along the way the film became an ode to Suzy, not Jin Chae-seon.

Whether Suzy will be a blessing or a curse at the box office remains to be seen. The film opened nationwide on Wednesday.

BY JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]

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