"In the tradition of the epic drama Raise the Red Lantern, Chunhyang is a beautiful tale of forbidden passion and devotion unfolding in the spectacular settings of the 18th Century Korea. Mongryong, the privileged son of a Governor falls in love with Chunhyang, the beautiful daughter of a proud former courtesan. Inseparably, the two lovers marry, but must keep their marriage a secret, for fear of reprisal. Soon, Mongryong is ordered to Seoul to finish his education, reluctantly leaving his new bride behind but promising that he will send for her. As time passes, however, a new, vindictive Governor is appointed in the province where Chunhyang lives. This new Governor pursues Chunhyang and when she refuses his advances, she is imprisoned and sentenced to death. Chunhyang’s only hope for being saved is her continued faith in the promise Mongryong once made her. A gorgeous and spirited film, Chunhyang is a classic tale of lovers torn apart by two different worlds, and the power and ultimate triumph of love over adversity." (text taken from Amazon)
Year Released
Running Time
120 min
New Yorker Video
Average: 4 (2 votes)


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Chunhyang--a mixed review

Field of Interest/Specialty: Asia
Posted On: 02/19/2013

This classic Korean tale of forbidden love between the classes, tells a beautiful story about true love and fidelity. The tale is woven from a dramatic recitation and live action film. The narrator and actors speak Korean, but the subtitles are in English.
Although based on one of the five original Korean tales of the oral tradition, it has undeniable elements of the ubiquitous Cinderella tale. Chunhyang and Mongryong find true love and marry secretly, only to be separated by their class obligations. Mongryong must leave to take his exams and during the time he is away a new governor is determined that Chunhyang will be his courtesan. When she refuses, she is beaten and imprisoned; scheduled to be put to death in honor of his birthday. Eventually Mongryong returns as an emissary of the king and punishes the corrupt governor and saves his wife from execution.
The movie receives excellent reviews, but I must admit that I did not find it especially enjoyable. I was distracted by the pansori narrator, whose recitation, to my American ears, was harsh. I also found the acting to be bit overdone, especially the servant, Panje, who played to the 1940s American stereotype of the guileless Asian. Some of the scenes with the young lovers bordered on bad soft porn. The scenery of Korea was, however, beautiful.
I will admit that I was fascinated by the portrayal of the civl service exams in the city and the silly behavior of the courtesans seeking the governor's favor. I was also not surprised to see that this story has been adapted to the manga format in 1996. Given the popularity of manga, it would be an interesting project to compare the old tales to their various retellings. Due to the graphic nature of the video, I would not recommend this below the college level.

Review by Tim Jekel

Field of Interest/Specialty: History
Posted On: 02/02/2010

Review by Tim Jekel.
The son of a provincial governor falls in love with and secretly marries a girl of a lower class and vows lifelong love. They are forced to separate for a time due to his family's objections. He vows eternal love and to return when able. During his long absence, a cruel and corrupt governor is appointed and tries to claim Chunhyang for his brothel despite her marriage. She endures torture in order to remain faithful and becomes a symbol of virtue in traditional Korean society.
While moving slow at times for a Western audience, the movie has many beautifully photographed shots of the Korean countryside. The movie is actually an outgrowth of an on-stage storytelling of this traditional tale. The live story teller is woven into the movie in such a way that the movie brings to life for modern and foreign audiences the power of the storyteller. The audience is deeply moved by his art, which must be lost on any non-Korean speaker.
As a caution, there is a steamy sex scene between Chunhyang and the young son of the governor. A sometimes entertaining love story, there are few ways this could be used directly in the classroom.

Korean traditional drama and love story all in one

Field of Interest/Specialty: Japanese culture
Posted On: 07/31/2009

Im Kwon-taek, master of Korean cinema, gives us a beautiful film with Chunhyang, telling the traditional story of lovers and the strength of a woman's virtue against all odds. The central story is told through two media: regular film narrative with the characters on screen acting out the story, and Korean traditional recitation performance (pansori) where a singer tells the story on a stage. The director switches between the central story and the stage performance and at one point has the singer's voice taking the place of the characters' speech: their mouths are moving as one would expect, but the voice is the singer's pansori performance. This melding of styles is not at all disjunctive but has the odd power of drawing the audience further into the action, in an immersive experience that was very new to me. This film can be used to explain many different things: pansori performance, the Confucian examination system, the social structure of Choson Korea (in the eighteenth century), what a Confucian scholar's room might look like, and also the importance of women's themes in Korean literature and other texts from the 18th century period.
With an older class you could also read the film as an allegory for individual strength set against an uncaring and oppressive state - very relevant for studies of contemporary Korea from 1945 in particular - or in terms of the triumph of love and optimism even within the bounds of a strict social structure.