The New England weird fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft is a man whose reputation precedes his actual work. Known by many primarily for his xenophobic fear of "the mixing of races" and also his influence on Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, it is very rare to see anyone reading his work now. Yet, the man that critics oftentimes looked upon as a second-rate Poe was a huge influence on the development of horror and supernatural fiction in American literature. His Cthulu mythos alone has inspired writers as diverse as Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, musicians like Metallica, and also sword and fantasy games, e.g. The World of Warcraft and Dungeons and Dragons. While in the realm of cinema his vast output has led to countless adaptations of his stories, many of which are of the low budget variety.
For Korean cinema-philes that are going to be in the Los Angeles area around September 28-29th, the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival will be screening The Music of Jo Hyeja, Korea's first foray into the dark atmospheric world of H.P. Lovecraft. The film, directed by Park Ji-hyun and written by Canadian expat Gord Sellar, is an adaptation of Lovecraft's The Music of Erich Zann, a short story about a poor university student who befriends one of the tenants in his building who night after night plays an eerie tune on his violin. The story being a pure product of Lovecraft's unique imagination the melody that the troubled violinist plays is a tune which keeps the demons and odd creatures from entering the world through the windows of the apartment.
From the information I could glean from Sellar's website and also the distribution company releasing Park's film (Brutal Rice Productions) the major changes to the original story are mainly cosmetic. Seoul instead of Paris, a down on her luck female student and lonely female tenant replacing the male student and decrepit old man in Lovecraft's short story, and a haegeum, a traditional Korean string instrument, instead of a violin. Aside from that it seems that Park and Sellars have kept most of the original story intact. Though this will be the first Korean adaptation of one of Lovecraft's stories, Park and Sellars made a very interesting observation about how the work of a white xenophobic New Englander living in the 19th century had something pertinent to say about present day Korea:
"Lovecraftian horror is existential horror, it’s about the meaninglessness of life, the uncaringness of the universe…Modern Korean history is arguably the experience of a kind of existential horror — the experience of a brutal dictatorship, and a post-dictatorship where, while immense wealth has been generated, the powers that be don’t give more than a fraction of a damn how much trickles down to the lowest of echelons, upon whose backs the wealth was built. When the protagonists are confronted with an intelligence from Beyond, they have no resources to call upon in order to effectively deal with it. The existential Lovecraftian horror is very applicable, in an allegorical sense, to Korean social issues, and the history that haunts the nation today."After their short film makes its world premiere debut in Los Angeles it will hopefully make the rounds in Seoul. As for Park and her screenwriter Gord Sellars, they are currently planning to continue exploring the work of H.P. Lovecraft with a six-part monster hunter series that has been described by Sellars as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer-meets-The X-Files, with a healthy dollop of criticism of the kinds pressures many Koreans face being the inciting force for the supernatural stuff that occurs in the story."
To whet your appetite a little, here are a few treats for you MKC readers. The first is a short trailer for the film and the second video is the song "Naburak" from the band Jambinai (잠비나이), who wrote the film's score.
Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema. For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office Update, Korean Cinema News and the Weekly Korean Reviews, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (Korean Standard Time).