* This post contains spoilers of <The Palace: Tale of Jang Noksu> and the film <The Phantom of the Opera>
Hello! This post is a review of <The Palace: Tale of Jang Noksu> with the author comparing the performance to the film <The Phantom of the Opera>! Please enjoy this review 🙂
Romance to me, a suspicious relationship to others. A musical soulmate and muse to me, an incomprehensible violent obsession to others. The inexpressible feelings after watching <The Palace: Tale of Jang Noksu> can be found in the film <The Phantom of the Opera>. If you’re wondering how a mere well-off and faceless owner of an opera house can be compared to the king of Joseon, not only did both characters show an incomprehensible side, the emotions of the Phantom and Yeonsangun are strangely similar as well.
Known as “the Deadly Cinderella”, the “dangerous” side of “entertainer Jang Noksu” is almost unseen. The unfolding of the plot is straightforward. Jang Noksu caught the eye of Yeonsangun with her talents, and in order to survive in the palace, she heard about Deposed Queen Yun. She enjoyed a boat ride with Yeonsangun and played games, portraying a romantic daily life. Even when Yeonsangun became violent after the death Deposed Queen Yun, Jang Noksu was the only exception from his violence. Yeonsangun and Jang Noksu left the world and those remaining wait for a better world again. As the ending is a simple happy ending, to the foreign viewers, who occupied much of the theater, it may be difficult to understand why these two characters have such a bad reputation today. Their focus may only be on on the exquisite traditional Korean costumes and dance moves. Jang Noksu, especially, showed her outstanding dance skills with her solo dance. However, once she entered the palace, Jang Noksu did not present much of her dancing or singing. She was chosen to enter on an extremely selective basis, and based on her skills, she must have had a great influence on other entertainers. It was a pity that the change in the artistic side of Noksu after she entered the palace was not depicted in detail.
Many questions arise when I think of Jang Noksu. Why did she decide to go on the boat ride with Yeonsangun? Was she afraid of persecution? Or was the splendour she was experiencing at that time so great that she did not fear the future? The show did not provide answers to these questions, rather, it gave the audience some food for thought.
Personally, the clues can be from Christine in <The Phantom of the Opera>. Both Jang Noksu and Christine became Cinderellas overnight. The entertainer Jang Noksu who caught the eye of Prince Je-an and learnt music, and her talents also caught the eye of Yeonsangun. Similarly, Christine was a talented character who caught the attention of the Phantom which led to the Phantom’s desire to keep her as his muse and disciple. Just like how the lowly-born Jang Noksu rose to an incredible royal title suddenly, Christine, if not for the Phantom, would not be able to take the position of prima donna as a chorus girl, given her skills or the opportunities available. Christine was blindly infatuated with the “Angel of Music”. Despite not knowing how he looks like, Christine’s soul clearly matched the Phantom’s and this allowed her to improve musically. She could even “start to hear things that were not heard before”. She wanted to break free after the Phantom’s obsession with murder began. However, she had her worries. Her fear and knowledge of the Phantom’s weakness made her pity the Phantom, yet she felt that the Phantom understands her best and held respect for his musical talent. Similarly, I wonder if Jang Noksu held the same emotions towards Yeonsangun. So what if he’s the king if he lost his mother and is living with an empty heart. I wonder if she held the thought that the face upon seeing her dancing and singing and the unconcerned face with regard to all other things is clearly the same person.
Yeonsangun and the Phantom have one similarity. Both could not suppress their madness caused by their painful past. Despite knowing their problems, they could not overcome them. Yeonsangun’s trauma about his mother and the Phantom’s trauma of his deformed face caused those who love them to fall into danger. Yeonsangun had his honest advisor whom he treasured very much, and the Phantom had the opera’s concierge who had protected him all along. Both had a few handful of people who were willing to accept them despite their flaws. Both might be able to stay together with Jang Noksu and Christine who loved them for a long time. They could have found ways to make that happen. However, both wanted the women to exist only for themselves. This may be love, but may not be love on the other hand. They loved the women’s artistic sides, but they did not love the women themselves, only “the images of the women in their minds”.
However, the reason why Jang Noksu and Christine had different endings was a result of their choices. Christine chose Raoul instead of the Phantom not because of the latter’s deformity, but because of his distorted mind. Although the Phantom had a charismatic side to him, if Christine so wanted, she could have chosen to keep learning music from him and retain her spot as the prima donna. However, she could not bear his obsession and stubbornness, thus choosing freedom. On the other hand, Jang Noksu chose the opposite. She accepted the distorted mind of Yeonsangun. She could not change him nor his mind and so she chose to lead a magnificent life with him. She did as Yeonsangun pleased and did not try to stop him. From historical records, she did not stop him from killing those who tried to oppress her power. This was her choice, as an entertainer or a person. Although this led to her death eventually, it was something she had already known.
Being a non-verbal performance, a clear advantage is that the audience was able to focus on the body movements of the performers. The first part of the show included something similar to an ice-breaking activity where two members of the audience were selected to participate in traditional Korean games onstage, which was fun as the atmosphere became lively. Also, the effects which could not have been presented with words were memorable. There were two scenes that were the most memorable to me – the scenes where Jang Noksu and Yeonsangun had to go through the pressure and restraints in the palace respectively. For Jang Noksu, she fought against the royal subjects by hitting the drums representing the royal subjects. She played numerous drums alone and once it seemed like she had the possibility of winning, her drum sticks were taken away from her. It seemed as if nothing was going to work even if she tried her hardest. The burden Yeonsangun had to bear was similar. This was my favourite scene. Long scrolls containing petitions surrounded him like a spiderweb, trapping him in a web of conspiracy.
Was the scene conveying the idea that the person who wore the crown had to bear the weight of it? Many kings had to fall because of the weight of the crown, and when a king had fallen, countless number of people under him had to fall together as well. Even though one may not have wanted to be a king, he was born as one and so he had to bear the burden of one. Yeonsangun may be one of them. Although it may seem as if he has supreme authority, he could only do one thing in reality. Using obvious tactics such as spreading rumours to gain strength, he was the reason for his mother’s early death by his father and the people in royal palace who kept silent. For Jang Noksu, if she did not choose to be the king’s woman and instead chose Prince Je-an and continued to be a gisaeng and led a life akin to her free personality, she could had been remembered as someone like Hwang Jini.
Even after they expressed their anger or achieved revenge, Yeonsangun and the Phantom did not become happy. Yeonsangun could have driven out opposing forces and tried building a splendour kingdom of his own. If the Phantom did not obsess over Christine or killed those who did not follow his orders, the stage or the theater would not have fallen into danger. He could have become a popular and famous composer and people would have met all the conditions he had. Instead of a strange ghost, he could have become a fussy yet excellent composer.
Although it can be said that nothing could have been done, their choices brought about their endings. Jang Noksu was not able to replace the gap left by Yeonsangun’s mother. Christine was unable to love the pitiable Phantom who went through so much pain. This is the reason why the ending of the Tale of Jang Noksu felt a little lighter. It would have been better if her ending was depicted in a more tragic way. Jang Noksu and Yeonsangun did not resist the coup to depose them. Although they did not resist it, it cannot be said that their minds were at peace. Jang Noksu chose Yeonsangun and the decision of Yeonsangun could not rely on anything else, and unfortunately led to the ending of the two characters. If this had been expressed in the show, I wonder if the audience would be able to better understand the stances of the protagonists.
The conversation shared between Jang Noksu and Yeonsangun on the boat while hearing the cries of the peasants can be thought along with the number <Point of No Return> in <The Phantom of the Opera>. This song was sung by Christine who wanted the attention of the Phantom and stood onstage despite knowing that she was acting a bait. It was the first time both of them shared a song, not in the darkness but under the spotlight. Although whether she is remembered as a femme fatale or a Cinderella depends on people’s minds, to me, the entertainer Jang Noksu leaves behind a song melody that resembles this.
Past the point of no return
The games we’ve played till now are at an end
Past all thought of “if” or “when”
No use resisting
Past the point of no return
The final threshold
The bridge in crossed, so stand and watch it burn
We’ve passed the point of no return
– This review was made in collaboration with ARTinsight.
Jeongdong Theater Tradition Series Performance
<The Palace: Jang Noksu>
2018.04.05 ~ OPEN RUN
Tue – Sat 4PM (Closed on Sun & Mon)
Viewing age of 48 months and above
Choreographer_Jeong Hye Jin, Director_Oh Kyeong Taek, Writer_Kyeong Min Seon, Composer_Kim Cheol Hwan, Art Director_Park Dong Woo, Lighting Design_Sin Ho, Video Design_Jeong Jae Jin, Costume Design_Lee Ho Jun, Make-up_Kim Jong nn, Prop Design_Kim Sang Hee
VIP : 60,000₩
R : 50,000₩
S : 40,000₩