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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Kim Myeong-gon, the new minister of culture

Kim Myeong-gon as Yu-bong in Sopyonje (Im Kwon-taek, 1993), with Oh Jeong-hae and Kim Gyu-cheol.

Kim Myeong-gon as Yôm Sang-jin in Im Kwon-taek's Taebaek Sanmaek (1994)
The newly elected and appointed minister of culture Kim Myeong-gon must be one of the better know faces in the ROK cabinet for a long time. I guess most are familiar with him from the movie Sopyonje (Im Kwon-taek, 1993), which at the time was a huge hit and drew record audiences, and created something of a cultural phenomenon. I guess acting in films and doing theater is what he's mostly been doing, but those who've seen Sopyonje know that he's also an accomplished singer in the traditional genre.

Actually he's a German teacher by education, and I understand he's also done that for some time as well as being a journalist before becoming a theater performer, writer, and what else and an actor in the 1980s. In 2000 he was appointed as the head of the National Theater; a Hankook Ilbo article tells that as the director he was succesful in raising the revenues from ticket sales so that he's had one of the best salaries among civil servants (kongmuwôn) as a consequence of the merit pay system.

There was a lot of talk about allegations of land speculation and fake registration of domicile before his appointment, but seems there was nothing of the kind that would have prevented him from becoming the minister. And after his appointment the noise around him has concerned the movie screening quota, as he'll now have to follow the government line of diminishing the quota to the dismay of the quota-defending movie circles. Ohmynews tells of the statement by the Union of Movie Directors released in the ongoing tent demonstration which says that the appointment of Kim as the minister was only an attempt to show a culture-friendly face and that Kim has chosen to become a puppet (kkoktukaksi) of the Roh government.

Ok, surely Kim Myeong-gon knew what he was up to when he agreed to the proposition: accusations of selling himself, of working against his own convictions and opinions (especially in the movie quota issue), but perhaps he is in a position independent enough not to worry about the reaction of cultural product circles. He's got his own theater (Arirang), and the trust of the director Im Kwon-taek (in whose film he won't be able to appear know because of the minister post). He seems to think that even though he personally is against the (imminent?) reduction of the quota, as a government member he'd be able to negotiate as good terms as possible under the circumstances. Hope his term ends in better terms than what happened to an earlier actor as a minster of culture, Son Sook, who had to resign from Kim Dae-jung's government after receiving a little too much as congratulation money from some businessman after a performance.

(A recent Chosun Ilbo interview of Kim the minister.)

But let's hear it from Kim Myeong-gon himself:

• Here's Mr Kim as Yu-bong teaching "Arirang" to her adopted daughter (large mp3 file) in the Sopyonje soundtrack.
• Yu-bong (Kim Myeong-gon) and his adopted daughter (performed by Oh Jeong-hae) sing "Jindo Arirang" (mp3) in the film on their way as wandering performers.
• Kim Myeong-gon singing Jindo Arirang (mp3) in another setting, studio if I remember correctly.

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