A scene from the musical "Brothers Were Brave", which revolves around two brothers fighting over a winning lottery ticket and a woman during their father's funeral with songs ranging from tango to rap.
/ Courtesy of PMC Production
By Kwon Mee-yoo
Chang You-jeong, 35, was already a star director in 2008 with such hits as "Finding Kim Jong-wook" and "Oh While You Were Sleeping". The two works are staged as open-ended runs in Daehangno, and Yeongdeungpo, in Seoul, respectively.
But in 2008, she put forth a musical of two sons' conflicting relationship with their father, "Brothers Were Brave". Interestingly, she infused elements of Korea's rituals such as a traditional funeral with a variety of music from tango to rap and matching choreography.
Four years later, the musical returns with stronger characters and funnier details. It opened last week at Coex Artium in southern Seoul.
In the musical, the two brothers see each other for the first time in three years while attending the funeral of their father. Going through the funeral process, the brothers get into a big fight over a winning lottery ticket and a mysterious, beautiful woman.
"It took about four years to stage the musical from an idea",Chang said in an interview with The Korea Times last week.
Chang, 35, said "Brothers Were Brave" began as an idea for a jukebox musical with three sons fighting with their father in 2005. As the idea developed, it became more of a clash of generations, with progressive sons and conservative parents.
"Brothers Were Brave" premiered at the 320-seat PMC Jayu Theater in Daehangno in March 2008. Packed with insights into Korean culture, especially funerals, songs with haunting melodies and unexpected humor, the musical impressed the audience and moved them to tears. It revolves around a family upholding tradition following the rituals of a traditional Korean funeral.
The success of the three-month run fueled encore productions at bigger theaters and the musical raised its curtain for the fifth production in June this year, with a new song. The new number, in the middle of the second act, describes why the brothers loathed their country home and stubborn father.
"I had a long list of ideas to change the show, but some audience members are used to the old one and I tried to make the minimum changes necessary to make it better", the director-playwright said.
The brothers' personalities have slightly changed, too. The first son Seok-bong is a wishy-washy 33-year-old without a job. Life cannot get any worse for him. He has gambled away the family fortune and fallen prey to a pyramid scheme. He has a sense of pride of being the eldest son, but also burdened by the responsibility of duty.
Younger brother Ju-bong is an elite law major who graduated from Seoul National University. However, he has yet to pass the bar exam and he too is unemployed. He suffers from a victim mentality thinking that his older brother received all the benefits and advantages as a first-born.
"I made the older brother's character more immature, while the younger one became snobbish", she explained.
K-pop boy band members often star in "Brothers Were Brave". SHINee's Onew and TRAX's Jay appeared in the third and fourth productions, respectively, and B1A4's Sandeul joined this production to play Ju-bong.
"I rarely watch television and thus do not recognize them as idol stars. They are just like other actors to me", Chang said. "They are young and absorb my directions quickly. From hard training in song and dance, they are really good at understanding blocking and choreography in musicals".
She admitted they might lack sincerity in acting, but pointed that it is not a problem limited to K-pop singers who turn to acting.
"Sandeul is genuine and did his best in rehearsals. He chased other actors to learn something, but when it comes to dialect, he was the teacher since he was from Busan", Chang added.
What distinguishes Chang is that she also jumps over boundaries and makes movies as well. In 2010, she took her theater hit "Finding Kim Jong-wook" and turned it into the film "Finding Mr. Destiny". Starring Im Soo-jung and Gong Yoo, the film, although it was not wildly successful commercially, remains popular.
Directing a movie made Chang sharper on realistic details. In the new production, the brothers usually speak in a Seoul cadence, but when they talk to their parents on the phone or visit hometown, they use dialects.
Her next screen project is "Brothers Were Brave" and she has been overhauling it without fantasies on stage and exaggerated comic parts.
"'Brothers Were Brave' touches a sentiment that everybody has - there are certain things that others seem to obtain easily, but I can't put my hands on", she said.
Chang finds ideas from her everyday life. "I often use my iPhone to take notes these days. I just jot down simple words - male make-up artist today and why we feel sad so often yesterday", she said.
These might end up as a fragment of thought or be the key idea for her much-awaited next work.
The musical runs through Oct. 1 and tickets cost from 30,000 to 70,000 won. For more information, call (02) 736-8289.
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