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『Jeong-nyeon』Author : Ireh
Illustrator : Namon
Publisher : Munhakdongne
Publication date : April 27, 2020
Number of pages : 280
Format : 140x210mm
ISBN : 9788954674058
The Story of the 1950s Popular Art Form Yeoseong Gukgeuk
Yeoseong gukgeuk, or Korean all-female musical theater, is a composite performance of song, dance and acting, which began in 1948 with the performances of Okjunghwa (Flower in the Prison), an adaptation of Chunhyangjeon (The Story of Chunhyang) by the Women’s Gugak Club, formed by female performers of Korean traditional music (gugak). It is different from a play, where acting is the main attraction, and also from the Korean epic chant pansori, where one person performs all the roles. A unique genre where female actors played the parts of not only Chun-hyang and Hyang-dan, the female roles, but also the male roles, Bang-ja and Lee Mong-ryong, in Chunhyangjeon, it was met by enthusiastic support and devotion from female audiences. The female actors who starred in male roles gained sensational popularity in the 1950s — so much so that they received requests for wedding photos with the fans in their male attire while there was rumor of fan letters written in blood.
The women’s gukgeuk craze is significant in that it was a popular art form performed and enjoyed mainly by women. On stage, the gukgeuk actresses took on the roles that male actors had traditionally played and could become whatever they wanted to be, regardless of gender. The roguish Bang-ja, the impassioned Lee Mong-ryong in the throes of love, and the dashing Prince Ho-dong. The audience felt a sense of freedom and excitement as they watched their subversive performances. They were female artists who, through their unique style of expression, aimed to uncover a new self beyond passively waiting for love and salvation. Jeong-nyeon depicts their intense, dazzling art and growth in 1950s Seoul, in the heydays of women’s gukgeuk.
Jeong-nyeon shines new light on women’s gukgeuk, which has hitherto gone almost unnoticed — especially when compared to its popularity and significance. Various characters in the cartoon, depicted in the creator’s engrossing style, each set out on a journey navigating their dreams. Yun Jeong-nyeon, who dreams of becoming rich, Heo Yeong-seo, who aspires to become the best gukgeuk actress, and Hong Ju-ran, silently exerting herself by the side of the one she loves. They may want different things, but their hope of achieving their dreams through the art of women’s gukgeuk and on stage is the same. They also resemble each other in their frank admission of their desires. The stories of these women, doing their best to reach their dreams, sometimes stumbling, but not giving up, transcend time and space and come across as truly genuine. You can encounter a long-awaited female narrative in Jeong-nyeon, with its elements of adventure, development and female solidarity, unfolding against the backdrop of a 1950s women’s gukgeuk troupe.