Sunday, September 9, 2012

Preview: The Music of Jo Hyeja (조혜자의 음악) 2012

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. 

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  1. The first two sentences of this entry are incredibly ignorant and insulting.

  2. I'm sorry you feel that way Anonymous, but what exactly did you find insulting or ignorant of what I wrote. I'm a fan of Lovecraft's work so I'd like to know what I wrote that was incorrect.

  3. Hi,

    I am the screenwriter mentioned above!

    Nice piece, and thanks for mentioning. The film just screened in L.A. today (a few hours ago in fact) and was apparently well-received, though I've not yet heard all the details. :)

    As for the comment by Anonymous (not me) I would say that actually Lovecraft's probably become more popular now than ever before: certainly there is a profusion of tributes to old HPL and anthologies calling for Lovecraftian fiction, and I've seen a lot of energy in that area, so much so that some authors and editors (like Jeff Vandermeer) are now arguing it's time to move beyond Lovecraft to other angles on Weird fiction. When people are saying somehting is over, that's when you know it's really succeeded.

    But you know, that's how it looks within the world of SF, and specifically the publishing world. I will say that most non-SF-fandom people I know recognize Lovecraft's name more readily than a lot of speculative fiction authors, but I don't know how popular his work is out there right now. I will say I'm seeing its influence in more and more films as the years go by, but that's also subjective...

    As for a screening in Seoul, we'll be looking into it soon... hopefully a little later in the fall. Not sure where, but we'll figure it out. (It'd be nice if a festival took it, but the Korean festivals seem not so interested in it so far.)

    Oh, and actually I composed the film's score. "Naburak" is used in one scene, but the rest of the score (really, mostly soundscapes and sample manipulations) is my work, in part built from original samples of playing by Jambinai's haegeum player.

  4. Hey gordsellar,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read my piece. When I first stumbled on the trailer to your film several weeks ago I was genuinely intrigued by the film, both as a fan of Lovecraft and korean cinema. COngratulations on the positive reception of the film in L.A. Hopefully "The Music of Jo Hyeja" gets to screen in Seoul relatively soon cuz I am dying to check it out.

    Sorry for the incorrect music credits. According to Brutal Rice productions website the film "features the music of the Korean indie band Jambinai" And there was no mention of any other person.

    I am curious though about the progress of your monster hunter series. Will that start shooting in the next couple of months? What's your distribution plan for the project?? straight to DVD? Web streaming?? Or are you gonna try to get a TV network to pick it up? I'm really excited to check that out also.

  5. Hi Rex,

    Hey, it was fun to see how others imagine this kind of project. Thanks for the congrats--we actually ended up getting the Audience Pick Award (Best in Fest), which was very flattering for a first-time director/editor and her first-time screenwriter/audio-music guy.

    No worries about the OST credit, it's complicated. The haegeum player from Jambinai actually recorded some music I wrote, which I then cut up through sampling and turned into the soundtrack... most of the soundtrack was made that way, aside from one song we used by the band, near the end.

    As for the film's future, we're trying to get it screened at more festivals. Korean fests seem not to have been too interested prior to it getting the award, maybe they'll be more curious now.

    We're working on setting up a screening in Seoul, and will eventually either find other short horror film directors in Asia for an omnibus thing, or else put it online.

    The monster-hunter film project is in development, probably shooting this winter if we can scare up some funds through Kickstarter or Indiegogo or something. A concept trailer will go up to help get some interest in the project. But we also have a couple of SF projects planned (one short, one feature-length) for the next few months. It's going to be a busy fall/winter/spring for us!

    I recommend either liking the Brutal Rice Productions page on Facebook ( or following the Twitter feed ( as all our announcements will be made in those places, along with on the website...

  6. Hi Rex! I said I'd let you know, so I am: "The Music of Jo Hyeja" will have its Korean premiere at the Cthulhu Festival of Film on Thursday, 28 Feb. 2013. There's more information here!