The Sound of a Flower (2015) [New York Asian Film Festival 2016]

soundofaflowerDuring the Joseon Dynasty in South Korea, Pansori opera was only sung by men as women were forbidden by law to sing.  It was believed that a woman’s body was too weak to sing.  Against those odds, Chae-Sun decides she wants to become a Pansori singer, going as far as dressing as a man to be allowed to sing.  With much reticence, Pansori Master Shin Jae-hyo takes her under his tutelage and makes a great singer of her.  When it’s found that the young man is in fact a woman, the master is imprisoned and the student makes a deal with the ruling Father-King Heung Seon Daewongun to save him.

The Sound of a Flower was written by almost a half a dozen people and still feels cohesive which means this is a great team and the director brought all of their work together with talent.  Director Jong-pil Lee co-wrote the film with Ah-Young Kim, Jae-eun Jeong, Hye-rim Park, and Mi-na Chung.  This team created a beautiful period piece and historical fiction where the history of Pansori opera and its first female singer is explored in a way that flows well and includes classic songs that most people outside of its country of origin have probably never heard. As the singing is very important in this film, the casting of a singer for the lead is not stunt casting as it often is but necessary.

In the part of Chae-Sun, the first female Pansori singer, is Bae Su-zy a member of the KPop group Miss A.  Here she takes the part of Chae-Sun and disappears into it, becoming this other person, this sweet and timid, yet determined woman who takes on incredible odds to achieve a dream even the law forbade.  From the get go, she gets the viewers to root for her and just keeps impressing them throughout the film, her subdued moments are contrasted by moment of pure courage and boldness and her performance shows great nuances and that she knows how to bring the right levels of emotions to each scene which makes her performance absolutely shine.

Playing opposite Bae Su-zy are Seung-ryong Ryu as the Pansori Master Shin Jae-hyo and Nam-gil Kim as Prince Daewon the King’s father.  Shin Jae-hyo shows a calm determination for most of the film as well as a lot of care for Chae-Sun.  His performance is subtle and strong, with emotions clearly held back most of the time, showing so much even in silent scenes.  The man’s expressions talk for him many times, his eyes say so much.  His emotions at times come through so well, they will break viewers’ hearts.  Nam-gil Kim plays devilish with a passion, abandon even at times.  His performance is less subtle and more extravagant with is entirely called for here with his more flamboyant character.

The attention to details in The Sound of a Flower is incredible.  The costumes by Yoo-jin Kwon and Seung-hee Rim are beautiful and so well made.  The production design by Jong-gun Lee looks stunning.  These are showcased by cinematography by Hyun Seok Kim in scenes and sequences that linger on just the right things for just the right time.  The balance in colors, brights, and darks is well thought out and gives room for the other visual aspects to shine.  Of course, in a film about opera, the music is of high importance.  Here the music by Tae Song Kim is subtle and adds perfectly to the classic Pansori songs and numbers.

The Sound of a Flower is a beautiful movie, well cast, well acted in stunning settings, with high quality costumes.  Fans of historical dramas will love this musical and most viewers should learn a few things about Pansori opera.  In all of this, it’s also a tragic love story based on historical facts that tugs at the heart.