▲ The actual magazine that blackwashed the Report Guide incident. Provided by kdemocarcy.or.kr.
The Korean government of the 1980s attempted to thoroughly suppress and control the media and the press within their country through a method called Report Guide. It referred to the set of guidelines delivered to all media outlets every morning before publishing a newspaper. The monitoring was strikingly severe, to such an extent that it instructed newspapers on what to report and what not to report, as well as where to place each item. This period was literally the Dark Ages of Korean journalism. Report Guide, a play bearing the same name, depicts this tragic era in the most realistic way, though the plotline itself is based on a fictional story.
Plays are the spiritual hope of that era; that’s because earnest words have strength and force by themselves,” says Kim Jung Bae, one of the main characters within the play, Report Guide. Report Guide is a courtroom drama based on the reinterpretation of the Report Guide incident, which occurred in South Korea for real when a journalist was sentenced for imprisonment due to the fact that he blackwashed the existence of coverage guidelines from the government to the press. The play itself, however, emphasizes the point that its plotline, as well as all the characters that appear on stage, are fictional.
Report Guide progresses in such a way that the audience becomes the spectators of a trial, and the characters, each one a defendant, lawyer, prosecutor, judge and witness, are consequently accusing and defending themselves of a crime event; here, the defendants, lawyer, prosecutor, and judge are all connected from the past to the present, when they had all been members of the same college theater club.
▲ The two main characters of the play holding a press conference. Provided by news. kmib.co.kr.
One of the most attracting factors of the play is that it places frequent direct communication with the audience throughout the whole plot. In fact, in the beginning of the play, the audience is able to literally take pictures of the court, as if the play were an authentic occurrence, with the audience taking an influential part. Adding on, it is highly intriguing that two characters, a man and a woman, do not take any specific role, but rather play various characters from the past to the present time of the plot, constantly asking the audience’s opinion on certain issues, as well as offering their own.
Though the theme of the play deals with a highly controversial and sensitive political issue, it is quite notable that several devices of comic relief are placed here and there within the act. It seems that the actors and the producers are aware of responsibility to their social roles, reflecting the present times, whether they had been tragic or not. True, some members of audience may be discomforted by the play’s distinctive political views. However, as the poem “Long Live Kim Il Sung,” displayed within a past scene of the play, reveals, only through understanding and acknowledging even these extreme viewpoints can we ensure our rights, our freedom of speech, the liberty of the press.
The flow of the play, not to mention the acting skills of the actors, is also noticeably appraisable. Being a courtroom drama, the performance, by any possibility, could have been quite monotonous because of the fact that it has no change in the setting. However, the story cleverly overcomes this weakness by going back and forth from the past to the present, in terms of the time period. Not only that, but observing the characters gradually going through psychological changes and ultimately, changes in their value systems, also contribute in heightening the tension of the plot. Here, the actors delicately express the phrases that their characters went through.
In literature, there exists a genre called “magical realism,” where false actions and events are derived and depicted in a real- life incident, as if the fake story were a part of the genuine one. Ironically, however, this device is used in order to represent the phrases of that time period in the most realistic and effective way; the truth had been so unrealistic that the best way to reflect it is through faking the truth. Report Guide’s emphasis on the fact that its storyline is a fictional situation seems to be along the same line; through utilizing a fake device, the play is able to depict the Dark Ages in Korean journalism in the most effective way.
▲ One of the characters defending oneself in the trial. Provided by news.kmib.co.kr.
When the judge of the play laments on the fact that the situation could have changed only if he had taken different actions, the woman firmly states that placing assumptions on history is the most cowardly thing to do. This seems to be precisely the reason why the play constantly endeavors to connect this incident to us, the audience: to connect the past with the present. More than 30 years have passed since the Report Guide incident occurred in Korea. The wielding of undisputed power concerning the 1980s South Korean military government looks as if it had shaded away into history textbooks.
But then, did things change? Is the play merely based on an incident of the past? The play Report Guide, however, does not draw any conclusion for the audience, but rather forces the audience to deeply contemplate upon this issue. Along with that, the judge states in the beginning and the end of the play, as well as the court session, that the main goal of this trial is to “narrow down the gap between the thoughts and ideas of the prosecution side and the attorney.” Both sides assert that their actions are enacted on the basis of securing their nation, and fighting for justice. Here, the true meaning of justice is solely left for the audience to define.
Place: DCF Daemyung Culture Factory, Soo HyunJae Theater Running Time: 1 Hour 45 Minutes Date: March 26, 2016 - June 19, 2016 Ticket Price: 50,000 won
(University students are offered the tickets at a 40 percent discounted price.)