|Answer: Woo Jeong-sik
Korea’s first movie narrator is Woo Jeong-sik, who was once an actor. According to film historian Ahn Jong-hwa, he Woo Jeong-sik was selected by Park Seung-pil, who was a theater manager, to work as a movie narrator. However, he did not have a good voice and lacked education, which was why he was never very popular.
Movie narrators, who served as liaisons between silent motion pictures and the audience, were popular not only in Korea, but also in Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand. The U.S. also had movie interpreters similar to movie narrators in the beginning until the 1910s when they disappeared, but interpreters helped illiterate people and immigrants who were unable to read the inserted subtitles understand the movie. Other than that, movie narrators were mainly popular in a few Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand.
Movie narrators were around for about 25 years, beginning from 1910 until 1935 when the first sound picture (“talkies”) < The story of Chun-hyang (Chunhyangjeon ))> was made. There is no official record to prove the exact time the first movie narrator appeared in Korea but an article in Hwangseong Daily on January 19th, 1907 mentioned an interpreter for moving pictures and the newspaper began using the term ‘movie narrator’ regularly from its edition on June 24th, 1908.
Naturally, the appearance of movie narrators can be traced back directly to Japanese influences. In the Japanese traditional puppet show Bunraku and the traditional performance Kabuki, there is a movie narrator who speaks all of the characters’ lines and provides explanations about the characters’ thoughts and the development of the plot. Influenced by such traditions, Japanese theaters adopted movie narrators from the very beginning of their exclusive movie theaters. Taking into account that most movie theaters were Japanese owned in the beginning, it is only natural that movie narrators were introduced in Korean theaters as well.
As the movie was playing the movie narrator and his band would put on a performance. The band and the projectionist would either play the music or play the movie on the movie narrator’s cue, but they would often get confused and play “completely odd music” or play scenes ahead of the movie narrator’s lines. That is, the movie and the accompanying music were flexible to change according to the interpretations of the movie narrator or the intentions of the accompanist and the projectionist. In this sense, silent pictures were more like a single performance rather than the movies you see nowadays.
Movie narrators provided information on the customs, history, and culture of other countries, read lines for people who could not read subtitles, and interpreted the story for the audience, arousing their emotions and making them become more absorbed in the movie. Because movie narrators had an absolute influence over how people interpreted and understood the movie, the degree to audiences were touched by the movie depended wholly on the movie narrator’s abilities. And even the same movie narrator gave different performances each time. Thus, movie narrators were the 2nd screenplay writers and performers who completed the movies. More audiences went to the theater to see the movie narrators rather than just the movies, and they were paid more than actors and treated better. What is more interesting is that movie narrators began dividing themselves up into their own expert genres such as epics, arts, comedy, or romance just like the distinctive genres began developing further in movies. Popular movie narrators at the time were treated like the idol stars of today. Among the top movie narrators were Woo Jeong-sik, Kim Deok-gyeong, Seo Sang-ho, Kim Young-hwan, Seong Dong-ho, Kim Jo-seong, and Seo Sang-pil.
Some argue that movie narrators inhibited the development of visual language in Korean movies but others contend that they helped audiences ease into the movie and become absorbed in the story when most of them were not familiar with moving pictures.