BWW Review: Songs of Hope During Tragedy, SHOOTING AT THE MOON, YUN DONG-JU at CJ Towol Theatre In Seoul Arts Center
The poet who sang of beauty and hope during the darkest of times. The poet who felt ashamed at himself because all that he could do during the Japanese Colonial Era was to write poems instead of going out and fighting against the Japanese. One of Korea's favorite poets, Yun Dong-Ju's life is depicted on stage again.
SHOOTING AT THE MOON, YUN DONG-JU is a major repertoire in Seoul Performing Arts Company's performance programs. After its first production in 2012, it gained huge interest from Korean theatergoers and is now back for its fifth run in 2019. This performance is more special this year because 2019 marks the 100th year of the March 1st Movement (Sam-il Movement), which was one of the first public displays of resistance against the Japanese during the Japanese Colonial Era.
SHOOTING AT THE MOON, YUN DONG-JU starts by showing Yun Dong-Ju's life in Yonhi College (Yonsei University) with his best friends Song Mong-Gyu, Kang Cho-Jung, and Jung Beong-Wook. As they attend school, they learn about the importance of the Korean language to Korean people in the time of chaos, and how young students should try their best to preserve the Korean language and culture. However, during the cruel Japanese Occupation when everything was restricted in Korea, he loses his teacher, his native language, friends, and even his Korean name. Yun Dong-Ju is troubled at the thought of writing poems and not doing anything actively for the Korean independence movement, and he leaves for Japan with his friend but also cousin Song Mong-Gyu to continue on with his studies. In Japan, they try to do their part in liberating Korea, and Yun Dong-Ju and Song Mong-Gyu get arrested in 1944 for supporting the Korean independence movement. The performance shows the brutal scenes of Yun Dong-Ju and Song Mong-Gyu being the subjects of biochemical experiments conducted by the Japanese government practiced on prisoners and ends with their death in 1945.
The performance introduces 8 of Yun Dong-Ju's poems. What is special about the scenes that these poems appear is that instead of giving tunes to his poems, Yun Dong-Ju's poems are recited quietly, but emotionally on stage by the actors. SHOOTING AT THE MOON, YUN DONG-JU intentionally made the actors recite the poems on stage instead of singing them, since they wanted the poems to be delivered to the audience the way as they are, not borrowing the tunes of songs. It is said that Yun Dong-Ju's poems show how he wanted to shout out harsh words at the cruelty of the time, but instead he sings of beauty and tries to resist behind the beautiful poems. How Yun Dong-Ju's poems are recited as monologues and as dialogues smoothly on stage are parts of the show that gives shivers to the audience.
The 2019 production is not my first time meeting Yun Dong-Ju on stage. However, the last moment of the show has always been the most memorable moment of the whole show each season. I felt that his yearning for Korean independence and his principle of life is well depicted while the last moments of Yun Dong-Ju are shown on stage. Whenever the poem "Counting the Stars at Night" is recited on stage by the actor who plays Yun Dong-Ju that day, I always have goosebumps and burst into tears since I know that even though he missed and yearned to go back to his hometown, he never had the chance to see his hometown again.
In the 2019 production of SHOOTING AT THE MOON, YUN DONG-JU, the role of Yun Dong-Ju was played by Park Young-Soo and Shin Sang Eon. Park Young-Soo has been acting this role since the first production of SHOOTING AT THE MOON, YUN DONG-JU in 2012, and is loved for his delicate depiction of Yun Dong-Ju. Even though this is his first time portraying the role of the poet, Shin Sang Eon's performance as Yun Dong-Ju is also emotional, and it felt like he highlighted the more youthful aspects of the poet. Song Mong-Gyu, Yun Dong-Ju's cousin and friend, was depicted by Kim Do Bin and Kang Sang Jun. Kang Cho-Jung, Yun Dong-Ju's friend who was more active in showing his resistance, was portrayed by Cho Poong Rae and Kim Yonghan. Jung Beong-Wook, Yun Dong-Ju's friend who plays a crucial role in publishing Yun Dong-Ju's poems, was played by Jung Jiman. Lee Sun-Hwa, a fictional character in the production who tells Yun Dong-Ju that writing poems is nothing to be ashamed of, was played by Song Munseon and Ha Sun Jin. These wonderful actors along with the participation of all the Seoul Performing Arts Company's actors, SHOOTING AT THE MOON, YUN DONG-JU touches the audience with 145 minutes of dignity and resistance during the turbulent times in Korean history.
SHOOTING AT THE MOON, YUN DONG-JU at CJ Towol Theatre in Seoul Arts Center
Closed on March 17th, 2019
Photo Credit: Seoul Performing Arts Company