Unfinished Words is Modern Korean Literature Dramatized Beautifully in Seoul, Korea

By Bryan Stubbles

From September 27th to October 8th, Unfinished Words – an adaptation of a Korean short story – had a run at a small black box theatre in Daehangno, Seoul.

First off, this is quite different than what one would normally see in Utah. The Daughter  (Seon Seung-su) spends much time on the roof ruminating.  As her family watches TV together, waiting for the dad (Jeong Jong-hun) to return, she wonders what the first memory of each person is. One scene has the Father recounting his 10 failed businesses. Another has the family visiting a crab restaurant they cannot afford. The family visits the World Motel, where each room is named after a country. The most expensive rooms are France and America. The family must choose between China and India. Because India is further away, they choose India. The next day, Grandfather (Jeong Heon-gi) disappears, only to reappear with a printout of the best restaurants in town.  This is pretty much how the story goes. A story involving family which may or may not be connected to the previous story. The adaptation emphasizes the role of the family during the era of the individual.

The acting was all-round stellar. Jeong Jong-hun  gives a deftly manic hyperbolic performance of a Father who is more concerned with the five seconds in front of his face than the longer scheme of things. Han Hye-su plays the long-suffering Mother, basically a woman who is happy that her broth doesn’t overflow. She brought some serious pathos and sense of duty to the role. Jeong Heon-gi played an over-the-hill Grandfather who shares stories and scenes from his youth – running up and down mountains, for which his overaged body isn’t up to the youthful task anymore. An interesting layered performance. Jin Yeong-seon plays the Older Brother, one so dulled by watching TV and simply eating and being scolded by his Mother that he lacks ambition. A nuanced performance of one emotionally stunted. Park Seon-hye played the vivacious Daughter/Narrator. Her liveliness and curiosity set her apart from her family. The adult actress did a good job of conveying the worldview of a teenager. Seon Seung-su played several parts well, from a restauranteur to a hotel clerk to the brother’s friend. All his characters seemed to represent the outside world to the family.

Art Director Kim Sol made apt use of the limited space (the venue appears to seat about 50). Through blocks, ladders and desks the world came to life. There was also a conspicuous TV – so the audience could see what the characters were watching. Lighting Designer Park Min-han did a remarkable job changing the scenery into something else. Through mere lights, the regular set suddenly became a war zone for Grandpa’s flashback. Another interesting device was the use of plastic crabs in the crab restaurant scene. The actors also amplified this by what can best be described as synchronized eating. Interesting stuff. The use of the TV was an adequate if minimal multimedia intrusion. Perhaps the most interesting set up was the “India Room ” where the family checks in at a hotel. Lighting, patterned rugs, sitar cues and incense gave a tongue-in-cheek imitation of an imitation of India. The lights, design and stagework were among the strongest points of this production. The direction by Kim Ji-eun was both straightforward and imaginative – again making great use of the limited space.

Unfinished Words is an interesting adaptation of modern literature put on by supreme professionals.

Bihangsul Company presented Unfinished Words written and directed by Kim Ji-eun, based on the short story by Yoon Sung-hee.

The venue So-geuk-jang is located in the heart of Daehangno (Seoul’s blackbox theatre district). On the third floor seating about 50 people, it is very intimate theatre indeed.
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A translation of the original short story 





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