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Puppetry? Kkokdugaksi!

Watching movies is a common hobby these days and young people today are increasingly enjoying watching plays in little theaters, as Daehangno (where little theaters are located in a row) has become a popular place to hang out. But more specifically, a puppet play may not be that familiar to you. Even if it is not, you may have seen puppets somewhere around you. For example, , the fourth spinoff, screened in theaters last summer and it performed quite well in the sweltering weather. The movie is about a doll maker whose creation terrorizes a group of orphaned girls. Whether you have watched the movie or not, some of you can remember what the doll Annabelle looks like. Unsurprisingly, you can easily find similar puppets everywhere in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Annabelle's rough and scary appearance is a typical look of marionettes in Eastern Europe.

Puppetry Can Be Classified by How It is Operated

Largely, it can be grouped into hand controlled, rod controlled, and string controlled puppets. First, there is a finger puppet in the hand controlled group, and it is just what you've imagined. You need only an index finger. This kind of puppetry is generally performed for preschoolers.

Hand puppets (or glove puppets) are divided into one-hand-controlled and two-hands-controlled. In two-hands-controlled puppetry, the left hand manipulates the puppet's upper half of the body and the right hand operates the puppet's hands. The one-hand-controlled puppet is put on like a glove, operating the puppet's head with an index finger and the puppet's arms with a thumb and a middle finger. As they are much easier to manipulate compared to other puppets, hand puppets are widely seen in Asia, the Middle East and Western Europe. They are categorically called 'Budaishi' in China, 'Burattini' in Italy and 'guignol' in France, as well as the characters of "Punch and Judy" in England.

A rod puppet has a central rod piercing the puppet's body. Puppeteers control the metal rods attached to the hands or other limbs of the puppet. Sicilian style puppets are the prototype of string puppets, what we call 'marionettes' these days. Sicilian puppets are composed of a rod supporting the body of a puppet and only a string attached to the hands of the puppet. They are in the group of rod puppets and also in the group of string puppets at the same time.

Puppets controlled by wires or strings are called 'marionettes'. They are complex and sophisticated to operate, requiring greater controlling techniques than finger, glove, or rod puppets. Puppeteers operate marionettes by using a vertical or horizontal control bar in different forms. The attachment of the strings also varies according to its character or purpose. Czech puppets are representative of marionettes. They are similar to Sicilian ones, but also have strings for the arms, legs, and even for the mouths and ears. Czechs also have marionettes that have no central rod and strings that are attached to the head, shoulders, and back. These are what we imagine when hear the word 'marionettes' today. This kind of puppet is the most difficult one to manipulate due to the absence of the central rod.

How about Korean traditional puppets? Most of you may think you have no relation to them, so let's go further back in time for a while. I guess there are some readers who have memories of school plays in their ages of 6-8. Dressed in colorful children's Hanbok (Korean traditional dress), you may have danced with a rhythm on the stage. Some of your parents might have recorded videos of it. It is called 'Kkokdugaksi', which means 'puppetry' in Korean and also means Korean traditional puppetry.

The Only Traditional Puppet Play Descended to Korea

These days, the term of 'Kkokdugaksi' is more regarded as a children's performance usually seen in schools, especially to be shown in front of their parents. However, Kkokdugaksi is actually the name of character in a puppet play called 'Kkokdugaksi Nol-eum'. It is the only traditional puppet play of Korea handed down by Namsadangpae, a group of travelling artists from the late Joseon Dynasty to nowadays. Namsadangpae traveled all over Korea and entertained people with their various techniques. Kkokdugaksi Nol-eum is one of them.

Kkokdugaksi Nol-eum is composed of several episodes and each episode is divided by 'Geori' which plays a role like an 'act' in a play. The episodes are not related to each other and vary a little according to whom recorded it, but it does have common Geori among them. , , , , , , commonly appear in most records. Each Geori is named after its main character or the background of the scenes.

In Kkokdugaksi Nol-eum, we can find three kinds of puppets above: hand puppets, rod puppets, and marionettes. Puppets are usually made of wood. The central character of this play is Park Cheomji. He appears in almost every scene as the narrator who explains the scenes to the audience. As Park Cheomji plays great role in the play, his puppet has the biggest face with many wrinkles and his jaw moves up and down. In the main puppet is Ishmi, which means a monster shaped like a huge snake, which failed to transform into a dragon. The puppet of Ishmi is made of cloth so it can move its body freely. In there appears a hawk puppet and a pheasant puppet. These two puppets are made of wood, but the pheasant puppet is a rod puppet and the hawk puppet moves with a string. Marionettes controlled by only strings do not appear in Kkokdugaksi, but most puppets are rod puppets with strings to manipulate some parts of the bodies of the puppets like their arms, legs, and mouths.

Each episode of Kkokdugaksi Nol-eum has its lesson. Pijori in , known as Park Cheomji's niece, lures monks. This geori is the story about a monk who broke some Buddhist rules, so he is punished by Hongdongji. Hongdongji has a red-colored body, which makes it easier for the audience to recognize the character. Kkokdugaksi is the main character of and she is Park Cheomji's wife. And there is Park Cheomji's concubine. They are in conflict and Park Cheomji give most of his property to his concubine, not Kkokdugaksi. This makes her furious, so she decided to leave her husband and become a monk. This Geori satirizes the unreasonable custom of polygamy (which means someone can be legally married to more than one person at the same time). There are a few more stories, including one about a person who doesn't take care of his parents, one about the immorality of a governor, one about prayers for peace and happiness through constructing a temple. The play mainly tells stories related to the social life of common people.

As with the Kkokdugaksi of Korea, many traditional puppetries around the world satirize their societies. That's why many puppets look exaggerated and funny. As well as traditional puppetries handed down to us, modern-style puppetry appears in various places these days. Children's TV shows like 'DingDongDaeng Kindergarten' in Korea or 'Sesame Street' in the U.S. have maintained their popularity for decades. This shows that puppetry is near and familiar to many children. As there is no one who was not a child once, puppetry lives in everyone's mind.

Yoo Dayoung  dpqxkaa@gmail.com

<저작권자 © 홍익대영자신문사, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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