Everyone has a favorite movie which thrills them simply by listening to the intro of its soundtraks. In the mid1980s, Asia experienced the heyday of Hong Kong’s Noir films, similar to the current trend of Korean wave. At its center was the movie, Yeongungbonsaek, starring Joo Yoon-bal and Jang Kookyoung. When the movie was released in 1986, it marked a milestone in the Noir action film industry with its sensational popularity. It was deeply imprinted into the hearts of the young viewers who were a part of that era. The movie Yeongungbonsaek captures the essential values of life, such as fraternal love and true friendship against the backdrop of a Hong Kong alley where loyalty and betrayal clash through the story of three main characters: Ja-ho, Jageol, and Mark. In 1986, it won the Best Picture Award at the Hong Kong Goldsmith Film Festival. The movie has maintained its reputation as a masterpiece of the era that dominated Hong Kong box office sales for seven years and nominated as the second-best Chinese film from the “100 Best Chinese Films”. Its popularity has even extended beyond Hong Kong to Korea. In particular, the sunglasses and trench coat worn by Joo Yoon-bal became so iconic and popular that they were often referred to as men’s essentials at that time. Due to continuous fame overtime, a musical adaptation of Yeongungbonsaek was released. The night view of Hong Kong seems fancy and full of joy on the outside. However, the musical begins on a gloomy backstreet tainted with treachery. Ja-ho and Mark march onto stage singing about their heydays in the gang and about true friendship. Ja-ho is a well-respected middle boss of a gang. Mark is a reliable supporter who always completes his tasks without fail. They all wear sunglasses and trench coats that highlight their manly appearance. The overall atmosphere is tense and rigid at the beginning. The musical maximizes this setting through an eye-catching LEDlit stage along with the great harmony of the ensemble orchestra. The background changes quickly depending on the actors’ movements and points of view. The powerful three-dimensional stage setting attracts audiences and makes them feel as if they have been transported to a backstreet in Hong Kong. Ja-ho cherishes his family as much as he enjoys the glamour of gang life. He has an ill father and a lovely brother beside him. However, the problem arises when his brother, Ja-geol, starts preparing to become a police officer. Having a brother who is the middle boss of an enormous gang remains a huge obstacle to Ja-geol’s goal of joining the police force. For this reason, Ja-ho decides to step down from his position in the gang. Ja-ho has some rough times, after being betrayed by his gang when he goes to Taiwan to perform his final duties. Eventually, he is locked up in jail for three years. In the meantime, the gang murders his sick father in front of Ja-geol. This incident greatly impacts the brothers’ relationship. Ja-geol blames his brother for their father’s death and concentrates solely on becoming a police officer. Meanwhile, Mark fights the gang members to seek revenge on Ja-ho’s behalf. This revenge scene is full of fiery anger from every character. The actors add tension to the scene by using stage props that forge the same effects as an actual gun fight. The LED-lit stage device is covered with red color and Mark mercilessly shoots the gang members. In his fight for revenge, he injures his leg and becomes disabled. Mark’s gloomy and trifling life begins at this point. This darkens Mark’s life, and he becomes severely depressed. Overtime, Ja-ho is released from prison, but there is no one to greet him. He tries to start a new life without looking back on his past. He endeavors to get a job and become an ordinary member of the society. On his new path, he meets Gyunsook, the owner of a repair shop. Gyunsook is helping ex-convicts rehabilitate and live on their own. Everyone in the repair shop sings joyfully about not giving up and evading the opportunity to maintain their new lives. The stage is full of powerful movements which make the audience feel a surge of energy to stand up again. Mark, who coincidentally runs into Ja-ho, recalls old memories and dreams of new revenge. He sings a song that they used to sing together, but Ja-ho leaves the scene as if he is running away in a hurry. When Ja-ho meets Ja-geol, he asks for forgiveness for causing their father’s death. However, Ja-geol does not listen and warns him of the collapse of the gang. Although he is a competent police officer at this point, he has been discriminated against his colleagues because his brother used to be a criminal. He often undertakes tasks that are extremely dangerous that no one wants for themselves. Despite this difficult situation, he falls in love with a woman named Peggi. Their emotions are maximized through a sweet song and dreamy stage settings.
Ah-seong, the gang’s new vicious and ruthless boss, strongly expresses his desire for complete power. Moreover, he is involved in a counterfeit money business. Ja-ho and Mark can no longer endure Ahseong’s crimes in the gang where they once were actively a part of. They finally plan on taking revenge despite the dissuasion of Gyun-sook. As soon as Ja-geol goes missing while on his secret mission, Ja-ho decides to return to the gang. The musical finally reaches its climax with these four men who are filled with the desire for revenge and the scars of betrayal. Ja-ho and Mark steal some evidence of counterfeit bills and use them to lure Ah-seong. Ja-ho threatens Ah-seong with the proof, demanding two million dollars and a ship for escaping Hong Kong for himself and Mark. The plan is ruined because of the unexpected appearance of his brother. Out of desperation, Ja-ho asks Mark to take the money and leave the port by the ship. Then a gun fight starts between the two brothers and Ah-seong at the harbor. The stage setting changes rapidly, and the overall atmosphere gets very tense. Moreover, Mark’s return raises the tension of the shootout. Eventually, Mark dies and Ja-ho shoots Ah-seong. After the uproar, only the brothers are left on stage confronting each other. It is a scene between a man who has long hated his brother and a man who understands it and asks for forgiveness. At last, Ja-ho puts handcuffs on himself and walks with Jageol toward the flashing lights of his police car. The previously mentioned unique stage setting of the musical makes the audience feel immersed into the story. The flashy LED stage setting provides various effects and brings the musical to perfection. It makes it possible to illuminate backgrounds in three-dimensions by controlling lights and shades. The musical Yeongungbonsaek keeps the storyline of the original film intact, while appropriately borrowing important events to add freshness to the plot. It arranges representative soundtracks in movies, adding nostalgia and arousing the sensitivity of the 80s. There are also characters that perform perfectly as dancers in each scene. They perform with accuracy in harmony as if they were a single person. It has elements of numerous genres of dance including modern, ballet, and sports dance. The musical Yeongungbonsaek is significant not only in Korea but also around the world, as it is the first musical adapted from the film Yeongungbonsaek. It captures the atmosphere and stunning action scenes of the original movie. The musical brings to the audience a portrait of true values that have not faded overtime through fallible human characters. It depicts the death of a tragic yet romantic hero based on the values of honor, loyalty, sacrifice, and friendship. Furthermore, it captivates the audience with spectacular action and sentimental music. As Ja-ho and Ja-geol hold each other’s hands and step into the next chapter of their lives, we can think about what our true values are in terms of living our own lives. Yeongungbonsaek reminds people of the days when they were watching a Hong Kong noir movie in the past. We must move onto a better tomorrow without losing the precious values of our past.
Date: 2019.12.17- 2020.03.22
Place: Hanjeon Art Center