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Reviewed by:
  • Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits dir. by Park Chan-kyong
  • Jungmin Song
MANSHIN: TEN THOUSAND SPIRITS. Directed by Park Chan-kyong with Kim Sae-ron, Ryoo Hyoun-kyoung, Moon So-ri, and Kim Keum-hwa. In Korean with English subtitles. All Light Pictures, 2014.

Manshin, literally meaning ten thousand spirits, is a recognition of high accomplishment for mudang or Korean female shamans who are deemed capable of accommodating as many as ten thousand spirits as they conduct rituals called gut. The film Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits documents the life and work of one of the most renowned shamans in Korea, Kim Keum-hwa (b. 1931). Since the 1980s, she has been celebrated as a naramudang or national shaman and has conducted gut to comfort the spirits of those who have died in major disasters and accidents. Her craft as a ritual artist is recognized in her designation as Master of Important Intangible Heritage No. 82, the West Coast baeyeonshin gut and daedong gut, large-scale rituals conducted in a fishing village in the northern part of the west coast of South Korea to ensure a good catch and the welfare of fishermen.

Director Park Chan-kyong explained at a post-screening talk at the 2014 London Korean Film Festival that he was inspired to tell the history of twentieth-century Korea from the perspective of a mudang after reading Kim’s autobiography (Kim 2007). Park indeed not only depicts the life of a remarkable individual but also the turbulent history of the Korean peninsula including the North and South partition and the Korean War (1950–1953) and South Korea’s rapid economic development and political, social, and cultural changes. Park interleaves various filmic techniques to accomplish the ambitious project. Three actresses of different ages enact dramatized reconstructions of episodes of Kim’s life. Archival footage of performances and interviews [End Page 203] are sourced, and new performances of Kim’s gut rituals are produced, along with interviews with scholars and disciples and friends of Kim. Materials are not structured in chronological order, but according to issues faced by Korea in the twentieth century.

Kim was born in Hwanghae Province, now located in North Korea, during the Japanese occupation (1910–1945). Her earlier life was tainted by poverty and brutal discrimination against women. She was married off when she was about thirteen and then ran away from the violence of her mother-in-law. From an early age she was prone to blurt out predictions of fortune for those around her. She put off initiation as a mudang, which caused her an illness known as mubyoung, until she undertook naerim, the gut rite of initiation, at the age of seventeen and trained thereafter under her maternal grandmother, a renowned manshin of the region. Despite the hardship Kim went through at an early age, she reminisces nostalgically for the era when people lived with spirits in their everyday life and a mudang was appreciated and respected by her community.

During the Korean War mudangs were accused of spying and threatened by both sides, though shamanic help was sought when troubles arose. Kim often risked her life to perform rituals. During the war Kim fled from her hometown to the west coast of South Korea, and her identity as a gut practitioner is related to her displacement and the pain and trauma of Korea’s division. The film documents her 2012 performance of jinogui gut (a ritual to comfort the dead) for North Korean soldiers buried in a cemetery of “enemy graves” near the North-South border. In the ritual Kim and her disciples are possessed by spirits of dead soldiers and speak the pain and grief of those buried in nameless graves far away from home. Novelist Hwang Sok-young, jailed for five years for visiting North Korea, recalls the moment when Kim was possessed by spirit of Kim Il-seong (1912–1994), the first leader of North Korea, during a gut she performed at the border in 1998. After Kim was released from the spirit, she became concerned that she had breached South Korean national security law by contacting the dead North Korean leader.

During the modernization of the 1960s...


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