|Media artist and filmmaker Park Chan-kyong. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)|
Media artist and filmmaker Park Chan-kyong grew up in southern Seoul, living in modern apartment complexes. He was raised Catholic by his parents, even serving as an altar boy as a youngster.
It wasn’t until his university years that he became interested in Korea’s local shamanism. He majored in fine art at Seoul National University, and worked as a media artist and art critic ever since.
“Up until college, I think I wasn’t too comfortable with the whole concept of it,” Park said during an interview with The Korea Herald in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province, on Monday.
“But I looked at it in a whole different way after being part of the local art industry. I felt too much attention was being paid to western culture, especially by those who are in the local art scene. I started to explore Korea’s traditional customs and culture, and shamanism was just exceptionally inspiring among others.”
Park’s latest movie, “MANSHIN: Ten Thousand Spirits,” is a documentary that follows the life of renowned Korean shaman Kim Keum-hwa. The documentary had its international premiere as the opening film of the 5th DMZ Korean International Documentary Festival on Oct. 17.
|A scene from Park Chan-kyong’s film “MANSHIN: Ten Thousand Spirits.” (DMZ Docs)|
It took him two years to complete the film, which also includes archived footage of Kim’s younger days, as well as scenes performed by three different actresses ― Moon So-ri, Ryu Hyun-kyung and Kim Sae-ron ― playing Kim in different time periods.
The 82-year-old shaman was born in 1931 in a rural town in Hwanghae Province, now in North Korea, and became a shaman at age 17. She is respected as a prolific singer and dancer, perfect for Korea’s shamanic ritual performance, “gut.”
“I think gut is a greater form of art than cinema,” said Park. “It includes music, it includes dance. It can be eerie, it can be hilarious and playful, and it can also be vulgar at the same time. It’s sacred and profane. It can be also very beautiful. The whole process heals and entertains. There really is nothing that is quite like gut.”
Kim’s life as a shaman has been deeply linked with Korea’s modern history, as well as its wounds. During the Korean War, Kim was often threatened with death by both South and North Korean soldiers, accused of deceiving people with her practices.
During the 1970s, she and other shamans were oppressed by Park Chung-hee’s authoritarian government and their “New Community Movement.” The modernization initiative included an agenda to get rid of traditional shaman customs, calling it “superstitious” and “unscientific.”
“The point is, we should really learn to look at our traditions in a different way,” Park said. “We are always talking about developing so-called ‘culture contents.’
“But we look down on and dismiss shamanism in spite of its rich artistic and cultural value. Pansori originates from gut, and morning prayers at modern protestant churches originate from shamanism.”
Park says he and his older brother and famed director Park Chan-wook are close, and he often asks for his advice when making movies.
“He is a very generous and encouraging person,” he said, adding that his brother, too, was good at drawing and painting. “He’s encouraging not just to me but to everyone around him. He’s the kind of person who talks about what he likes about your work, rather than criticizing what he doesn’t like.”
When asked why he is so drawn to gut, the filmmaker said it is the earnestness of those who do it. “People resort to gut when they are faced with something that is out of their control, such as a fatal illness. It really is their last resort,” said Park.
“They try everything they can to solve the issue, and they try gut when they feel completely helpless. So they are desperate and ardent. And it is that earnestness that makes gut an art. A really great art.”
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)