This documentary is Australian jazz giant Simon Barker’s journey to discover the influences of a Korean drummer/Shaman named Kim Seok-Chul. Director Emma Franz takes us, sensitively, along. Simon is not allowed by his contact, Kim Dong-Won, to see Seok-Chul right away. There is a lot of resistance there although Simon doesn’t know, at first, why. Is the master drummer, who is regarded as such a national treasure by his country that he is Intangible Asset Number 82, being protected from the foreigner? Is he not worthy?
The truth was that Kim Seok-Chul was very ill and in hospital but also that Dong-Won wasn’t sure it would be right to present Simon to him. Would the Australian drummer actually understand the honour? Would he be worthy? So, as a process, Dong-Won goes on a trip with Simon to visit other musical Shamen. The singer Bae Il-Dong is one. This is a singer who lived in the wilderness in a hut he built beside a waterfall for seven years, singing up to 18 hours a day. Learning to out-sing the noise of the falls. Il-Dong considers the mountain as yin and the valley as yang with the waterfall the holy place where yin and yang meet. His is a powerful, raw voice that seems too big and too much noise for the Western ear. But he sings pure nature and without fear or ego. I would love to hear him in concert.
Simon also learns about drumming with his entire body. To begin throwing himself down on the ground as if in mourning to learn to let go and relax into the music. And to listen to his own heart for true rhythm.
Near the end, Seok-Chul has left the hospital and Simon does get the chance to visit with the master three days before he dies. We, as voyeuristic companions, get a rare glimpse into some of the final hours of a man revered by his family and society. It is impressive and touching.
I learned, in the end, a great deal about South Korea and music in this wonderful and powerful documentary. I whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone!
This was the first of the five documentaries I saw during the 2009 Guelph Festival of Moving Media.
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