Mar 4, 2008

Fumi-ssi on Korean Culture and BYJ's Talent as an Actor

Originally posted on JOB on Feb.25, 2008

Hello everyone. I think you remember Yong Joon himself claimed, “I do not have the ‘ki’ as an actor.” I explained the meaning of this ‘ki’ a few times in the past, but it is a word that is difficult to explain.

(flowerbossa's note: pls refer to my previous post

In Korea, there is a traditional genre of music called Samul nori. It is performed with a few instruments such as the janggu (a traditional portable drum) and jing (another traditional instrument). I would think that those of you who are interested in Korean culture have had the chance to see this. Incidentally, an artist by the name of Kim Duk-soo is famous for the performance of Samul nori.

I once heard something like this from an expert of this area.

“The Korean Samul nori traditionally did not have rules or patterns, and was performed according to the artists’ feeling. For this reason, it was impossible to perform the authentic Samul nori when one did not have ‘ki’ (natural talent). It was Kim Dak-soo who established the rules, patterns and score for this genre and by doing so, ordinary people without special talent became capable of playing this music. The number of groups that came to perform Samul nori increased, and it was also introduced abroad. I think Kim Dak-soo’s achievements in giving this art a form for the purpose of making it more accessible should be evaluated highly. However, I want to make it clear that it is not the authentic Samul nori.”

I thought what he said explains some aspects of the traditional Korean culture. Taking the gardens for example, unlike the Japanese or English gardens, the characteristic of the Korean gardens (as seen in the Jongmyo Shrine) is something that is “removed from nature in its original form to the home, with nothing added by man.”

I think there is a part in Korean culture that dislikes formalization. Perhaps you can say that traditionally, our culture has always valued ‘ki’ (the talent in that particular field). (To add, Korean Confucianism abhorred and denied embellishments. I believe that is why we have come to appreciate and value things which are natural, art that is created naturally through a genius who do not depend on formalized styles, born musicians who perform by feeling without scores etc.)

Today, in terms of actors too, I think we tend to regard people with natural talent, in other words, actors with ‘ki’ higher than those who strive to improve their craft. In Korea that is. As YJ himself said, I think few people consider YJ a “genius” as an actor

But here is my opinion. Just who among the Korean actors can be called a genius – who possesses the so called ‘ki’? Personally, Moon Sori always came to my mind in terms of a talented actress with ‘ki’. I do not think YJ is a genius as an actor. However, I would like to ask everyone (who is not a fan of YJ) - do you think your favorite actor is a genius?

I personally cannot come up with any Korean male “to be a born actor (someone who really has ‘ki’).

Therefore, ‘ki’ in the true sense means an innate talent as an actor, and in reality, it means someone with the personality cut out for an actor.

There are many actors in Korea who I think are cut out to become an actor, but I can’t think of anyone who is a true genius. This of course is my opinion.

In YJ’s case, his personality is not really cut out for an actor, nor is he a genius. So, I agree with what YJ said about himself that he does not have ‘ki’.

But, in Korean culture and in everything else, what is most important is soul.

It can be beauty of form, effort, or whatever, but in order to exert effort of a significant amount, you need soul, and works and performances which are created with a significant amount of effort is penetrated with soul.

This is what I think.

What traditional Korean culture really demands is not a genius but soul. And very rarely there are those who are blessed with this soul from heaven, but it is basically something that is born through effort.

Form is created so that people who are not geniuses are able to attain a certain level, and the beauty of form is brought forth through effort.

Because YJ is not a genius, it is through his strenuous effort that he shows us the finished beauty of form, and the beautiful world that it expresses. There lies soul- everything is penetrated with soul when an extraordinary amount of effort is exerted for it, and we who feel this soul are moved.

On the other hand, we can be moved by something a genius created in just 10 minutes.

Koreans tend to favor geniuses.


I ask, please show me a genius.
There aren’t any.
I like YJ.
He’s no genius.
But what has he taught me?
That effort brings forth soul.
Soul moves me more than a genius does. A genius impresses me too. But I cannot determine who among the Korean actors is a genius.

That is why I like YJ. I like him even more for being a man who frets over not being a genius. That’s right, you are not a genius. But, you move me with your effort, and the soul that is a product of that effort. I would like to enjoy the performance of a genius too, but I cannot acknowledge any. So…. we come to the conclusion that Bae Yong Joon, there is only you.

This was fumi, thinking I must continue to analyze the soul of Yong Joon.

(from flowerbossa:
Samul nori is a genre of traditional percussion music originating in Korea. The word samul means "four objects" and nori means "play"; samul nori is always performed with four traditional Korean musical instruments.

from wikipedia)


bb said...

thanks much much, flowerbossa!

i was so hoping that someone would translate this :p

personally, i've always been fascinated with this topic of 'ki'... i remember fumi had raised this topic at least a couple of times in the past few years, and i think this is his best piece yet. he's managed to explain more clearly what 'ki' is all about, and i do share his view about how part of wuri yong joon's charm is how he strives to be better in his craft despite not having natural 'ki'.

thanks again!

HeippieH said...

Deeply moved by this article. Thank you bb for pointing me to here and thank you flowerbossa for translating and sharing with us. I always like to read Fumi's articles, agreed with bb, this is one of his best. He expressed what is on our minds so precisely, for the reasons we like/love BYJ. We love the soul of BYJ (as well as his body of course!).

gosijo said...

Dear Flowerbossa,

I too enjoyed this translation of Fumi-ssi's recent JOB post. It brings to mind two points:

1) Beyond Korea, do we know any actor, living or not, from anywhere in the world, who has/had 'ki'? For example, does Merryl Streep possess 'ki'? Worth paying attention to, going forward.

2) When it comes to dear wuri Yong-joon and the enormous amount of soul and work he pours into any acting project, how did he manage during those last few days of filming TWSSG, when time was so short and his physical condition did not allow him the luxury of multiple additional takes? Search as I might, I cannot find any instance where his acting then was any less fantastic than earlier (in one of her MVs, LL showed one of the final scenes shot as seen from the sidelines and then as seen in the drama and his facial expression is so spot on, it's extremely hard to believe he was in excruciating pain while acting this out). Therefore, I ask myself: could it be he found 'ki' or, at least, something close to it? If so, was it just for those few days, was it just because he had immersed himself in the Damdeok persona for so long, or is it still with him?

flowerbossa said...

Hi bb,

Like you, I was happy to see fumi-san taking up this topic again -
with the examples he'd given, I was able to understand that the Koreans do value this 'ki' more than I thought. (After all, we all know that it takes a significant amount of talent to become a great artist in any culture. But according to fumi, the Koreans seem to emphasize this point.)

Take care^^


flowerbossa said...

Hi HeippieH ,

Nice to know you enjoyed this. He was born with that beautiful body
(lucky him!), but then again, he is doing a great job in keeping it in shape!

Thanks for coming by, and have a nice day♪


flowerbossa said...

Hi gosijo,

Thanks for raising these questions:

1) One actor that comes to mind immediately of course is Charlie Chaplin.
But we all know that even he gave everything he had and more to give that performance.
Speaking of Chaplin, at one time I was really into Robert Downey Jr. for his performance in Ally McBeal (Robert starred in the film "Chaplin"). He's another actor I think who has 'ki'.
I think it's impossible to be a good comedian without having 'ki'. But Robert too claimed he worked
so hard to become Chaplin himself that the after effects was pretty powerful.

2) I don't think I have the answer to your second question because I have not seen the whole drama yet,
but I would think that with all that time he had to build that character, Damdeok must have become a
great part of him at that stage. I don't know if that was 'ki'. It was interesting that
composer Joe Hisaishi mentioned that YJ and Damdeok have a lot in common. I for one would like for
him to try a totally different character in his next project (preferably a film).

Thank you for you interest!