"Hero," Yun Ho-jin's piece on Korean independence activist An Jung-geun (1879-1910), will be staged at the Opera Theater of Seoul Arts Center through Feb. 16. / Courtesy of Acom International
History row between Korea and Japan creates new critics of An Jung-geun musical
By Kwon Mee-yoo
"Hero," Yun Ho-jin's production about Korean independence activist An Jung-geun (1879-1910), has been regarded as one of the better works of Korean musical theater since it was first performed in 2009.
But with public sentiment about Japan souring over Shinzo Abe's continued attempts to sanitize Japan's wartime aggression, some theatergoers here are beginning to question why the musical refuses to demonize its main Japanese antagonist.
An shot and killed Ito Hirobumi, then the Japanese governor of Korea, on a railway platform in Harbin in October 1909 and was executed by the Japanese six months later.
In the musical, Ito appears in An's dream after he is killed and is angry with An for assassinating him. Ito claims that he shared An's passion for peace in Asia, but as a dominant political figure in Imperial Japan, believed that peace could only be achieved through a strong Japan. An responds to him and the two characters end the scene in a duet.
Yun asserts that the scene is critical for giving Ito's character another layer of depth and also highlights An's thoughts about ''Pan-Asianism,'' which separated him philosophically from other nationalist independent activists. He also wanted to describe the lives of An and Ito as creations of their time and environment.
Still, some in the audience in a recent staging seemed to find the scene confusing, especially after they reacted euphorically when An shoots Ito and shouts ''Long live Korea'' as he is taken away.
For theatergoers it is possible to embrace the musical as it is, Hero is an all-around solid work. The script by Han A-reum is intelligent and the music by Oh Sang-joon effectively amplifies emotion. The musical was generously-received in its 2011 run at the David H. Koch Theater at the Lincoln Center in New York, although the New York Times wrote that ''good and evil are too clearly defined.''
Korean audiences of 2014, however, will probably disagree. Yun didn't employ many changes for the current staging at the Opera Theater of Seoul Arts Center.
The musical begins with An vowing to fight for Korea's independence as a lieutenant of the Korean resistance army and then follows his journey towards the fateful moment in Harbin.
Kang Tae-eul, who alternates as An with JK Kim Dong-wook and Kim Seung-dae, portrayed the character convincingly with sophisticated but understated expression.
"Hero'' runs through Feb. 16. Tickets cost from 30,000 to 70,000 won. For more information, call 1566-1823.