Jules Does

Archive for October 2014

For this week’s K-Pop Academy Homework, I watched a film about a historical event in Korea, reviewed it and drew some conclusions about Korean history. Enjoy!

There is a huge wealth of Korean historical films and dramas, for which fans such as myself are immensely grateful. My favourite K-Drama ever is certainly Sungkyunkwan Scandal, a wonderful epic about royalty, cross-dressing and education in the Joseon Period (in this case, the late 18th century). The costuming is stunning, the plot relatively taut throughout, and the people are *gorgeous*. Did I say that last bit out loud? For this week’s homework, I watched the 2005 Korean movie The King and the Clown, reviewed it and assessed what I could glean from it about Korean history.

Before we start, a brief word about the dangers of learning from films. I love movies, truly I do, but movies are supposed to be stories, not accurate historical documents. They have to adhere to certain story-telling tenets and not leave huge gaps between the action, or people will get bored and go watch White Chicks 2 (yes, White Chicks 2 is everyone’s go-to replacement movie). If you believe absolutely everything you see in movies, you will end up being horrbly wrong about certain facts and will wind up irritating people who actually know something about the subject. Possible errors include:

  • Thinking the Trojan War took 6 months instead of 10 years.
  • Believing that the WWII Enigma machine was captured by the Americans, not the British.
  • “Knowing” that the Emperor Commodus reigned for about a month before being killed in the arena.
  • Picturing Jesus as a blonde white guy.

Gah, so many errors! Nevertheless, movies can be interesting sources of historical fact, particularly for smaller details like fashion trends and so on, so I’ll do my best to pick the wheat from the chaff.

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Can you believe we’re halfway through K-Pop Academy already? It’s become such a big part of the rhythm of my life that it’s going to be odd to stop going down to London every Saturday. I’ll be able to do so much more around the house!

Brigadier Parritt addressing the troops.

This week’s class was a bit brutal, as we were learning about the Korean War (1950-53). We had an excellent speaker come in, Brigadier (Ret.) Brian Parritt CBE, a British veteran of the Korean War, who told us about his experiences of the war and also gave us quite a bit of background on how the war began and how it was waged.

During WWII, Korea was occupied by Japan. Many Korean men fled Korea to avoid being forced to enter the Japanese army, and as Korea is a peninsula, they fled to the two contiguous neighbouring countries of Russia and China. Some of these exiles joined the guerilla armies of Chairman Mao and fought in battles in China for the Communists after WWII concluded. Those who had fled to Russia were also trained up, though not actually admitted into the army.

Upon the defeat of the Japanese in 1945, Korea was placed into the care of the Allied forces, as there was no Korean government-in-exile that could sweep in and take care of the country. Like Germany, the Allies split the country between them, with the land south of the 38th Parallel in the custody of the US, and the land north of the 38th Parallel in the trusteeship of the USSR.  The US put Rhee Syng Man in charge of the southern section of Korea, and the Soviets installed a certain Russian-trained Korean named Kim Il Sung in the North. The goal, as stated, was to patch Korea back up and make it into a unified country again once everything was sorted.

That’s not how it worked out.

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Hi all,

For this week’s homework, I did a presentation on Song Byeok, a North Korean defector turned pop artist. The other options for homework were to visit the current exhibition at the KCC and write a review or to make a version of an artwork we’d seen on Saturday and give it some art historical background. As you may remember from previous homework, I am not the best at art, so I gave up on the second option fairly early, and as I don’t live in London it was hard for me to get to the KCC’s exhibition, so I chose the third possible choice.

However, there was one piece we looked at in the British Museum’s collection that really stuck with me, so I’d like to write a piece on it here so that I could share it with all of you.

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‘Beloved Leader’ by Song Byeok

Below is my homework for Week 5 of the 6th K-Pop Academy- a presentation on the life and work of Song Byeok, a former North Korean propaganda artist who defected to the South. Enjoy!

For some reason, the last few references on the last slide have broken hyperlinks, so I will re-create them for you here:

This is the first homework I’ve done where I haven’t really been able to include a K-Pop video as part of my report, and I’m not super keen on putting up any pop music from the DPRK. In exchange, please have this montage of North Korean public performances set to that immortal tune ‘Party Rock Anthem’ by LMFAO.

All photos from the KCC – thank you!

The honourable students of the 6th K-Pop Academy. And me.

This week we had the exciting opportunity to learn about Korean art history, particularly the history of the visual arts of painting and pottery. The course for the day was split into two halves – first a lecture on Korean art (as well as introducing us to the basics of art history) followed by a trip to the British Museum’s Korea gallery. There was also a fun treasure hunt-type quiz, but you’ll have to wait to find out how I did!

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There is huge variety within Korean traditional dance, much too much to get into in any depth here (unless you really fancy reading a 15,000 word blogpost). Of the 119 Important Intangible Cultural Properties, 20 are dances or rituals which incorporate dance as an important feature. Dances which were developed in the Three Kingdoms (i.e. in the late 1st Century BC – early first millennium AD), such as the Cheoyongmu (처용무) are still performed today, despite profound religious change and political upheaval during the previous centuries as well as attempted suppression during the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula, an amazing example of cultural endurance in the face of adversity.

The early religions of Korea were based around shamans, who often employed dance performances as part of their rituals, including exorcisms. The Cheoyongmu (seen above) was a part of a highly elaborate ritual performed at the New Year at the royal court, and was intended to cast away evil and welcome in good luck. That’s almost too simple a description, however  – the dance is also a part of a much wider Korean mythology concerning Cheoyong, son of the dragon king, and his own successful attempt to drive the spirit of smallpox away from his wife, so the dance is bound up in many ancient understandings of Korea’s history, traditional dress, the roles of wooden masks, attitudes to medicine, the symbolic properties of colours and flowers, and the important role of the five elements in creating balance, harmony and health. Broadly speaking, Korean dances can be classified under three headings: court dances, folk dances, ritual dances. There are also modern-made traditional dances.

There are so many beautiful and moving dances to discover, but I will limit myself to the discussion of only four: the folk dance Taepyeongmu (태평무, dance of peace), the court dance Seungjeonmu (승전무, dance of victory), the ritual dance Nabichum (나비춤, butterfly dance) and the court dance Geommu (검무, sword dance). I will also be considering how Korean traditional dances differ from the more famous K-Pop dances we know and love.

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Thankfully we weren’t as bad as this.

Ok, so, this week’s K-Pop Academy class was super challenging: we were learning the dances for Sistar’s ‘Touch My Body’ and Exo’s ‘Overdose’. Here’s what we were up against (Sistar, like this blog, might be NSFW):


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