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Legendary painter Hyewon hits silver screen

By Yang Sung-jin 

Published on The Korea Herald: Oct. 14, 2008

Shin Yun-bok, better known as Hyewon, is hitting the silver screen next month, adding to the trend of rediscovering the legendary painter from the Joseon period.

"The Portrait of a Beauty (Miindo)," directed by Jeon Yun-su, is the first big-screen movie devoted to the hidden life of the 18th century artist.

Last year, a novel titled "The Painter of Wind" touched off a Hyewon boom in the country's culture scene. A major television network recently followed by launching a drama series of the same title based on the novel. Both the novel and the drama are based on a wild supposition that Hyewon was a woman disguised as a man.

"The Portrait of a Beauty" seems to be a latecomer in the Hyewon frenzy, but Jeon set about the project several months earlier than the television adaptation.

One disadvantage for the film is that Moon Geun-young, a top-rated actress, plays Hyewon for the television drama series, a development that seems to put pressure on Jeon and other cast members.

"I am watching every episode of 'The Painter of Wind' on television and its unexpectedly detailed portrayals surprised me," Jeon said at a news conference held in Seoul yesterday. "But the movie version will have a very different impact on the audience because it depicts the dramatic life of Hyewon and human desire in a very colorful and dramatic fashion that will certainly overwhelm audiences."

Jeon made his debut with "Besa Me Mucho" in 2001, and solidified his career with "My Girl and I" (2005) before revealing his box-office potential with "Le Grand Chef" (2006), which sold about 3 million tickets.

As with the novel and the drama, the movie pins the key plot on the imaginative setting in which Hyewon hides her true identity while she works as a court painter known for his enviable talent in painting.

Kim Min-sun plays Yun-jeong, the younger sister who is later forced to carry on the life of Hyewon after he dies.

"There was a hunger for getting a title role in a movie that I really wanted to join, and I think I have waited for about 10 years," Kim said. "I instantly knew that this film is the very one that I was waiting for, and I made every effort to get a role, even going to the national museum to take a look at Shin Yun-bok's original paintings."

Even before the press conference yesterday, the film's marketers released materials highlighting what they call "sensational nudity" involving Kim Min-sun's role, which is a primary difference with the television series.

Kim said there was a moment of hesitation about the provocative scene, but the necessity of the footage for depicting Hyewon's life helped her make the decision.

In the film, Hyewon falls in love with Gang-mu (Kim Nam-gil), but their love affair runs into problems as Hyewon's teacher, Kim Hong-do (Kim Young-ho), is strangely drawn to the charm of his talented male student, and a female entertainer named Seol-hwa (Chu Ja-hyun), pulls some wicked strings in an effort to destroy Hyewon.

The movie, to be released on Nov. 13, will also feature some Joseon-period erotic paintings in connection with Hyewon's free-spirited style. Hyewon, born in 1758, built up his fame as a master of realism and satire, often inserting bold sexual symbols into his paintings with a touch of playfulness that was rare in the Joseon era.


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