Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reel Asian Film Festival Review - Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits

A child is born in the northern part of Korea in 1931. The child's dad shouts from another room asking if it's a boy or a girl. Another girl is the respond to which the dad request that the baby be turned face down on the bed. The baby Kim Geum- Hwa survives, her first of many brushes with death in her life.  As a young girl Kim (Kim-Sae-Ron) begins to experience possession by spirits often telling other children about impending doom in their families. Fathers were gong to die young; siblings were going to become ill, until the other parents forbid their children from playing with her.

She was then married off at 14 to avoid being a conform women during the Japanese occupation where she suffered abuse by her mother in law and ventured toward starvation. After three years she left returning to her parents. Three years later now 17 she completed her initiation ritual a Narim Gut her dreams vibrant Kim Geum Hwa now (Ryoo Hyoun-Kyoung) and accepted multiple spirits too many according to her Grandmother a Manshin herself who conducted her ceremony. Soon after the Korean War broke out during which Kim Guem -Hwa performed some rituals in private for soldiers and their families always being at risk from soldiers on all sides of the war.

Her next period of peril occurred during the New Community Movement in the Seventies. As it had been during the Japanese occupation and the War a renewed effort sprung up to dispel superstition Kim Geum- Hwa now (Moon So- Ri) served as an easy target with her bright outfits, chanting, ritual dialogue and banging symbols. She did not find a sense of piece until the 1980s with the students started anti government activities against then president Chun Doo-hwan. She now appeared on television, thousands attended her public Guts in public places,  the government recruited her to perform healing guts after major disasters and in 1985 she was declared an Intangible Cultural Asset.

Writer Director Park Chan-kyong uses all manner of visual styles to bring the story to the screen. The film works partly as a biopic with the three actors playing Kim Geum-Hwa the at various stages. Historical and new footage of Kim Geum- Hwa appears along with several television interviews from the 80's, 90's and the millennium. One brilliant passage shows a Manshin on a Boat Gut created for the film mixed in with footage of the same Gut 20 years ago. Kim Geum-Hwa staging of both are identical. The director also mixes in animation, stop action and claymation to depict different stories from the Manshin life.

The Korean people have a love/hate relationship with the spiritual healers. Intellectually and officially they see it as silly chanting, banging of symbols and waiving of fans.  But privately if they are moving into a new home or have concerns for  a family member they will seek out a shaman to perform the appropriate Gut ceremony.

Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits is a well crafted presentation of the life of a strong and benevolent woman. Kim Geum Hwa is willing to take on peoples pain, help people heal after tragic events and set the stage for good fortune for everyday endeavours.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits | Chan-Kyong Park | South Korea| 2013 104 Minutes.

Tags: Biopic, Documentary, Japanese Occupation, New Community Movement, Gut- ceremony, Intangible Cultural Asset.

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