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Ko - production in Busan
  • PARK Chan-kyong’s MANSHIN Reasserts the Importance of Korean Shamanism
  • by Simon McEnteggart /  Mar 28, 2014
  • "It’s important to be proud of your culture, your ancestors and tradition"
    PARK Chan-kyong is a man of vision. Or, more precisely, a man of artistic, cultural and historical vision. These factors have served to motivate PARK since his early years as an aspiring artist and have continued to evolve throughout the course of his career, culminating in the release of his latest documentary film Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits. Tackling the subject of Korean shamanism, Manshin explores the form of folk culture that has steadily been forced outside the mainstream due to the push for modernization following the Korean War. “I’m not a nationalist,” explains PARK, “but it’s important to be proud of your culture, your ancestors and tradition.” As such, Manshin explores the fascinating history of the practice as well as its importance in Korean culture through the autobiography of revered shaman KIM Keum-hwa, whose incredible life story takes place during Korea’s fraught recent past. Her fame as a shaman is such that UNESCO listed Kim as an intangible cultural asset, and PARK was so motivated by her account that he was inspired to make the film. “I read the book and I was very moved,” asserts PARK. “She was so conscious about the history she had been through. I think it’s important to not only see shamanism with bare eyes, but to see the twisted history of Korea. For Koreans it’s important to esteem themselves through culture.”

    PARK’s interest in traditional Korean culture stems from his youth as a student, where his original intentions of becoming a painter subsided through exposure to the mass protests against Cold War fascism. The era had a profound effect on the aspiring artist, and his time attending the California Institute of the Arts as well as his lengthy role as an art critic proved invaluable in forging his vision. “There was this cultural hunger to consume as much as possible,” PARK explains. “I started to work on video from that time on, and then when I came back I just began to be an artist. Due to this influence from the ’80s my main subject was about division. I was interested in how local Cold War is very different from the global Cold War.” Following numerous exhibitions throughout Asia, Europe and America, PARK’s interest in Korean history and division slowly shifted into exploring traditional Korean culture, primarily involving religious and folk beliefs.

    PARK’s fascination with Korean folk culture reached new levels when he teamed with his older brother PARK Chan-wook (Oldboy, 2003; Stoker) to co-direct the shamanistic mystery Night Fishing in 2011. Influenced by the styles of David Cronenberg and David Lynch, the short film merged genre conventions with shamanism to become a huge success, as well as a cinematic landmark due to being entirely filmed with an iPhone 4. Night Fishing screened at multiple international film festivals and was awarded the Golden Bear for Best Short Film at the Berlinale. Yet for PARK it wasn’t enough. “Night Fishing was meant to be a fun film, to surprise people and to entertain,” states the director. “Of course we wanted to show some cultural aspects of shamanism, but I wouldn’t say it was about shamanism. Manshin is really about shamanism.”

    Embarking upon a documentary dedicated to shaman KIM Keum-hwa’s autobiography initially proved difficult due to the limited budget, however. Luckily three of Korea’s top actresses showed interest. “Even now many actresses would feel reluctant to act as a shaman, as that’s the current Korean culture. But MOON So-ri, RYU Hyun-kyung and KIM Sae-ron didn’t have this preconception about shamanism. They were very professional,” PARK explains happily. “They were really moved by the autobiography and the script.” The three actresses play KIM Keum-hwa at different stages of her life as she comes to terms with becoming a shaman and practices her craft. KIM’s arduous journey is eloquently brought to life during such scenes and, combined with interviews and traditional animated sequences, Manshin blends multiple filmmaking techniques into a compelling whole. For PARK, amalgamating such different conventions within the documentary to create a new aesthetic was vital. “I could have had a good interview with her and some scholars, but it would have been really boring. We have this great tool, this great language, in movies and films. We can have actors and actresses, and nice music to bring the reality, so why not use that?”

    So what lies in the future for the artist-turned-director with a keen interest in traditional Korean culture? “I want to make a really classical genre film,” explains PARK, becoming excited. “I’m thinking about a mystery horror like Carrie from Brian De Palma.” This seems like something of a departure for PARK, away from the subject matter he relishes, yet when this is pointed out he simply smiles and poses the question, “What if Carrie was a shaman?”
    By Simon McEnteggart(Contributing Editor)
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