Revisiting Im Kwon-Taek’s masterpiece Sapyongje this morning, I read the following write-up on wikipedia:
Dong-ho in his 30s recalls his past as listening to a measure of pansori sung by the jumak’s owner. He and his sister were raised by the pansori singer Yu-bong, who is very cruel to them and even blinds the sister. Apparently (and this is confirmed in a 2000 interview with the film’s director) this is done to make them better pansori singers. Since pansori is like American blues music, Yu-bong feels that a truly great pansori artist must suffer.) Eventually the boy runs away but the girl stays on. Some critics have stated that this movie glorifies the father’s patriarchial power as he seeks to limit his daughter’s transgressive sexuality. But most believe that the girl symbolizes South Korea, transcending a history of suffering to achieve greatness.
By jumping to citation 7, I gleaned the following:
Many Koreans commented on how the film represented the purest portrayal of Han they had yet to see on screen. Han…is a concept ever elusive to non-Korean viewers. To quote Chungmoo Choi, Han basically entails “the sentiment that one develops when one cannot or is not allowed to express feelings of oppression, alienation, or exploitation because one is trapped in an unequal power relationship.”
…Im continues his trope of utilizing a woman character as metaphor for the torturous history of South Korea.
I just found it interesting that the girl symbolizing Korea and “transcending a history of suffering to achieve greatness” is pictured at the end, lead in her blindness and wisdom by her bastard offspring.
Korea, may the fruits of your passions be regarded half as thoughtfully as you head into the unknown future.