Fusing media art and traditional Korean performing arts, the troupe and production team of “Sim Cheong” has created a magical performance that highlights filial piety – a virtue that’s highly valued in Korean society.
Seoul, the 600-year-old capital, is a bustling city that embraces both the old and the new. From architecture, cuisine to art, ancient traditions are skillfully blended with modern life to create something extraordinary; something that is only available in this city.
During my trip to Seoul, I had the chance to experience this unique combination in “Sim Cheong” – an art performance made by the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation. They have been devoted themselves to the preservation of Korean art performances for the past 36 years. The performance takes place at the Korea House, an institution at the heart of Seoul which introduces the Korean culture and lifestyle to visitors.
The show tells the story of a poor girl named Sim Cheong who lost her mother when she was little. Her father was visually impaired and thus couldn’t work. That’s why she had to take care of the family from a very young age. One day, Sim Cheong heard that her father could regain his vision if she offered 300 seoks of rice (43,200kg) to Buddha. But she knew she could never afford to buy all the rice.
At that time, some sailors wanted to buy a maiden for an offering to the God of the Sea. They were willing to pay as much as the girl wanted. Hearing that, Sim Cheong went to see the sailors and asked them to buy her. Finally, the day came when she had to set sail. Before leaving, she lied to her father that she is adopted by a rich family, in exchange for 300 seoks of rice. When the ship reached a deep part of the sea, as demanded by the sailors, Sim Cheong plunged herself to the sea.
The Return of Sim Cheong
Touched by her virtue, the sea nymphs put Sim Cheong in a lotus blossom and sent her back to land. There she met the King and the two immediately fell in love. Afterward, she became Queen and lived happily in the palace. But she couldn’t forget her father. Meanwhile, Sim Cheong’s father still couldn’t see despite the offering of 300 seoks of rice. And after hearing what Sim Cheong did for him to regain his eyesight, he wept for the loss of his daughter.
In an attempt to find her father, Sim Cheong organized a banquet for all the blind in the kingdom. When the banquet began, Shim Cheong was looking for her father. But she couldn’t find him. In the last hours, as she was just about to give up hope, Sim Cheong saw a tired and shabby old man enter the palace. She realized that was her father and ran to him. Both burst into tears when they held each other, and at that moment, the father could see again.
Before making the reservation, I wondered whether I can endure one hour of folk music. I have never been a fan of this kind of music, but I decided to give it a try. “Sim Cheong” turned out to be one of the spectacular performances that I have seen for a long time. One hour was full of surprise and pure excitement. From Buchaechum (fan dance), Pansori (musical storytelling) to Pungmul-nori (acrobatic dance), the producers have cleverly combined all kinds of traditional Korean performing art to tell a classic novel. In total, eight genres are performed throughout the show.
By fusing media art, the producer was able to enhance the visual effect, adding a touch of magic to the show. The language barrier was not a problem as the troupe mainly used mimes to convey the story. The only part that I might need subtitles for is the pansori. Even then, I can still follow it thanks to the facial expression of the actors and actresses.
Based on a classic novel that has been loved by Koreans for a long time, “Sim Cheong” does a great job in showing Korean tradition, in which a child’s filial duty to his or her parents is held in high regard. I would recommend this show to whoever has an interest in Korean traditional performing art. A ticket costs ₩50,000, but it’s definitely worth every cent.
Address: Korea House. 10 Toegye-ro 36-gil, Pil-dong, Jung-gu (Metro 3 & 4: Chungmuro)
This post is written based on my personal experience. It was neither sponsored nor solicited by the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation or any third party. All texts and pictures reflect my own opinions and are provided solely for informational purposes. I will not be liable for any errors or damages by making use of this information.