REVIEW: KASA Culture Show 2024 — Seoul Shadows

Landing itself at the tail end of the year, the KASA Culture Show presents a grand finale to the year. KASA stands for the Korean American Student Association, a cultural/social organization that seeks to bring together a Korean American community and celebrate Korean culture. The night was full of wonderful performances of music and dance, but the true highlight was the screening of a popular K-drama remake. This year, KASA showcased their remake of the film Door Lock (도어락).

Before I get into the film, I’d like to highlight how amazing the music performances were. Sinaboro started off the night with a bang (of a janggu) performing a traditional Samul Nori (사물놀이) ensemble. Samul Nori is a genre of traditional Korean percussion music that utilizes four instruments: the kkwaenggwari (꽹과리), a small gong, the jing (징), a larger gong, the janggu (장구), an hourglass-shaped drum, and the Buk (북), a barrel bass drum. The precise rhythms and clangorous quality of Sinaboro’s performance brought a part of Korean culture that was unique and very interesting to learn about/experience. Additionally, Seoul Juice gave a stellar performance, although I am not completely familiar with their set list, each song filled the theater with pleasing harmonies that the band is well associated with. Personally, I’ve seen Seoul Juice perform multiple times and they always deliver, by which I mean every single member gave their all.

Seoul Juice Mid-Performance

Now the film was no doubt the highlight of the night, as it captivated the whole audience in its masterly-made production. Door Lock is a horror movie about a woman’s victimization by the hands of a stalker. Carrying heavy themes about sexual assault, stalking, and kidnapping, the film is one that leaves the audience in horrifying suspense about the identity of Kyungmin’s stalker but also woeful concern about her safety. By all means, the most fun part of it was the audience’s reactions as everyone screamed in terror, gasped in shock, and aired their frustration that she would just let that guy in her apartment. The way the film was shown to the audience was also unique and fascinating as it was cut into parts, progressively being shown between performances. It left us in the audience with cliffhangers, red herrings, and terrible suspense.

However, I do note that there was one problem I found to be pervasive: the overrepresentation of Kpop in Korean culture. While I absolutely adored the flawless formations and power of Female Gayo, the baddie energy and captivating visuals of Humi, the stylishness and effortlessness of DB3, the uniqueness and ingenuity of UMTKD, the focus and freshness of K-Motion, it felt like the heavy presence Kpop has overshadowed other important aspects of Korean culture. I would like to emphasize that Korean culture is not just the Kpop that it is often represented with, and a culture show should be a space to celebrate diverse representations of culture, not just a popular facet of it.

Despite this criticism, I found the KASA Culture Show to be a great time. The energy from the audience gave me life, and every time the dancers were only shown through silhouette I audibly gasped by how cool it looked. In summation, I love performances and the multimedia showcase of the KASA Culture Show was exemplary in all counts quality-wise.

REVIEW: Elizabeth Cree

Some criticize opera for its long-winded and shallow storytelling—but Mark Campbell and Kevin Puts are determined to obliterate those expectations with their thrilling adaptation of Elizabeth Cree, a new opera based on Peter Ackroyd’s 1994 novel The Trial of Elizabeth Cree. At just 90 minutes, Campbell and Puts craft a vigilant and intriguing operatic narrative about female angst, murder, and socioeconomic expectations.

The scene is set in 1880s London, in a grimy Victorian town reminiscent of a Sweeney Todd-like “Fleet Street”. The story follows the titular character Ms. Elizabeth Cree (formerly known as Lambeth Marsh Lizzie), in her younger years and after meeting her husband, John Cree. It begins with Elizabeth standing trial for the murder of John, and then traces her cautious trail backward from daughter to performer to wife, culminating in the climax of the opera where she is discovered as a mass murderer.

The Department of Voice and Opera double-casts leading roles in their performances, so this review is regarding the Thursday/Saturday performance of Elizabeth Cree. This performance featured Aria Minasian (Elizabeth Cree), Robert Wesley Mason (John Cree), and Katelyn Brown (Aveline Mortimer, Elizabeth’s ex-colleague at the troupe).

Minasian’s portrayal was truly spectacular—her Elizabeth was deep and seductive, precociously balancing beauty and terror. Her luxurious contralto voice pulled the audience into Elizabeth’s madness and gripped until we were left begging for more. Mason’s complement to her was grounding, with a voice effortlessly demanding attention.

Campbell and Puts are true trailblazers for the next generation of American Opera with their work on The Manchurian CandidateSilent Night, and Puts & Greg Pierce’s wildly new successful opera The Hours. Puts created a whimsical score for chamber orchestra in Elizabeth Cree, bringing a hauntingly dark narrative into a world different from our own yet totally understood. Campbell’s libretto brings ultimate life to the characters with mystery, wonder, and grit. Elizabeth’s libretti was specifically complex and refreshing, with many female opera roles lacking depth in older works.

The Department of Voice will return in November with Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel — a story making up for its lack of murder with candy and witches.



Read more about Elizabeth Cree in the Dramaturgy Packet here.

Photos thanks to @umichvoice on Instagram.

REVIEW: Tiger Stripes

7:30pm • Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023 • State Theater

Directed by Amanda Nell Eu and brought to Ann Arbor by the annual Halaloween film festival, Tiger Stripes follows Zaffan, an 11-year-old girl living in rural Malaysia, and her friends Mariam and Farah. When Zaffan has her period, drastic changes begin occurring in her body and she becomes a social pariah, only to discover her own power.  Tiger Stripes captures the fraught experience of adolescence through a combination of thoughtful character development and body horror. 

In the beginning of the movie, scenes where Zaffan dances for TikTok videos in the school bathroom and rough-houses with her friends develop her feisty, rebellious nature. At the same time, Farah’s disgust and Mariam’s admiration for Zaffan’s behavior set the stage for the relational conflicts which occur later in the story. Something I thought was brilliant in the way Eu portrayed the friends’ responses to Zaffan’s rebelliousness, and then her period, was how they hinted at the process of socialization and the intergenerational transfer of beliefs and values. Farah’s story about how mad her father was when her older sister bled on the couch revealed how Farah’s personal experiences informed her understanding of menstruation. 

Also brilliant was the way that Eu projected beliefs and values about purity and cleanliness present in Zaffan’s community directly onto her body. When Zaffan gets her period, the first thing her mother says is “You’re dirty now,” shepherding Zaffan into the shower. Later, Zaffan’s former friends bully her, saying that she smells and questioning whether she is taking showers. Zaffan becomes afflicted with angry red rashes all over her body, her nails peel off, and her hair begins falling out, a physical manifestation of her friends’ teasing. Zaffan’s fear and disgust at the changes occuring in her body reflected the feelings many girls experience during adolescence.

Even in the midst of all of these horrors, Zaffan remains true to her bold, joyful identity, emerging from the trials of adolescence as a powerful, liberated new version of herself. Eu brings moments of levity into the story using tongue-in-cheek special effects and comedic jump-scares that seem to infuse the movie with Zaffan’s bright personality. I loved the way Tiger Stripes brought joy and humor together with horror to portray adolescence and coming of age. It was a new experience for me to embrace horror as a genre that can be playful, even funny, and made me ask new questions about the balance between serious subjects and making fun out of their representation. I cannot recommend this movie enough, and encourage you to watch it if you have the opportunity.

Review: Seoul Station

*Played at the State Theatre on October 6th and 12th*

Despite being produced in the same year and by the same director, Seoul Station (2016) is the lesser-known prequel to the famous movie Train to Busan (2016). Interestingly enough, Seoul Station is an animation whereas the latter is a live-action film. The director Yeon Sang-ho is well known for his brutal stories, and while I haven’t seen Train to Busan yet, Seoul Station certainly did an excellent job of portraying not only the brutality of a zombie apocalypse but also the social disparities between income classes, especially emphasizing the discrimination against the homeless community.

There were three main characters: Hye-Sun, her boyfriend Suk-gyu, and her father Ki-woong (in the featured image, Suk-gyu is on the left and Ki-Woong is on the right). Like a typical zombie movie, the plot revolved around survival. However, Hye-Sun and Suk-Gyu were in the lower class and that was already enough of a struggle before being further exacerbated once hell broke loose. To me, what was most interesting wasn’t their endeavors to live, but rather the humorous character dynamics and the focus on economic differences, which I felt to be the true horror highlighted by the writers. The wealthy were rarely, if not never, featured. 

In Seoul Station the color palette was very grim and muted; even the bright pink of Hye-Sun’s dress appeared gray. I enjoy watching animated films, but I haven’t seen many Korean ones. The character designs were realistic and diverse, which I felt made the animation pop due to their facial expressions. The voice acting hit differently, too, because the characters had similar voices to people I know. However, the animation itself didn’t flow as smoothly as I expected. In the beginning, it felt clunky, but I quickly adjusted and didn’t pay much attention to it afterward. My favorite part was the incredible plot twists, which were so shocking I couldn’t stop talking about it with my friends after. In fact, a majority of the audience gasped at one specific scene and the excitement rose in the theater. 

I heard from others that although it’s meant to be a prequel, the two movies are surprisingly disconnected from each other. It apparently didn’t add much to the storyline of Train to Busan and would’ve been normal to be a separate world. Since I haven’t seen Train to Busan I unfortunately can’t compare the two very well, but I’ve always wanted to watch it. I’m excited to see more of Yeon Sang-ho’s work, especially since it’s such a praised movie. If you’re looking for a funny horror movie that also implies a deeper meaning, I recommend Seoul Station! It’s a shorter movie, around an hour and a half, so it’d be a good film to engross in during a busy time like midterm season!


REVIEW: The Shining

As the night grew cold and the streets of Ann Arbor became quiet, horror enthusiasts and casual moviegoers alike herded into the beautiful interior of Michigan Theatre. The theatre’s 10 pm screening of The Shining was a part of their Late Nights at the Michigan series, promoting one-time screenings of classic films across all genres. I was particularly drawn to The Shining; I’d seen it before, but I’d never had the chance to watch the film in theatres, where it was intended to be viewed in all its horrifying glory. The theatre’s vast open spaces and elaborate antique decor mirror the atmosphere of The Shining‘s infamous Overlook Hotel, in which the film takes place; a troubled family lives in the vacated hotel for a long winter, falling victim to the effects of isolation and the hotel’s dark history. In addition to the actual venue drawing me into the movie, the experience of the big screen and immersive sound made the viewing experience infinitely better than the other times I’d watched The Shining on small screens at home.

One thing I’ve noticed about moviegoers at Michigan Theatre is that they truly love movies. The crowd reacted collectively to the scariest moments and even laughed at parts, appreciating the film’s quality while keeping a lighthearted attitude. After the two and a half exhilarating and exhausting hours, applause echoed throughout the room, moviegoers excitedly discussing the experience. If you’re looking for a passionate group to appreciate artistry with, the Michigan Theatre is the place to go.

The Shining was a wild ride; Jack Nicholson’s warped facial expressions are infinitely more terrifying when his face is twenty feet tall, and the huge screen has the same effect on the empty hotel’s menacing interior. I love The Shining for its simplicity relative to other popular horror flicks; it relies on psychological manipulation, incredibly slow build-up, and just enough context clues to keep the audience scared of the mysteries that lurk behind each corner, rather than constant jump-scares and disturbing imagery. The few scenes that revolve around actual violence and horror, rather than the threat of it, are so powerful and wisely executed that they are all timeless images ingrained in pop culture. Even the cast is minimal; all three main actors deliver incredible performances, so the film never feels phony— sometimes Shelley Duvall’s terror felt too real.  From Jack Torrence’s cold “Kubrick stare” to the motif of the axe and a blood-filled hallway, The Shining has found a way to be beautifully simple and avoid horror overkill while reigning as the king of horror for forty years, scaring generations to come.

Although this screening was a one-time event, Michigan’s Late Nights at the Michigan series continues through February. Tickets are only $8.50 for students, and they’re selling fast, so be sure to check out upcoming screenings for an exciting way to spend a Friday night!

PREVIEW: The Shining

On January 21st, Michigan Theater offers a very special and spine-chilling event: a one-time late-night screening of The Shining. When it comes to psychological thrillers, no film will have your heart racing like this cult classic.

Loosely based on a real setting, the 1980 film follows a family that moves into the snowy mountains to act as caretakers for a seasonally empty hotel. Without much to keep them busy, the family encounters an array of sinister forces, falling victim to the darkness of the hotel’s history; from psychic powers to hallucinations to isolation-induced insanity, the horrors accumulate as the winter progresses.

The film has gained a large following since its release, bits and pieces of it permeating pop culture. From the quote “Here’s Johnny!” to the image of two ghostly-looking girls standing in an empty hallway, each moment of The Shining offers a memorable piece of artistry that stands the test of time. Everything is intentional; after watching this film a handful of times, I still notice delicately placed details with each watch— and the electrifying acting (or was it even acting?) of Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson will never fail to keep me on the edge of my seat.

Experiencing a cult classic and visual masterpiece on the big screen is a rare opportunity that can’t be passed up. The lavish interior of Michigan Theater slightly parallels the elegant atmosphere of the film’s infamous hotel, adding another dimension to the immersive experience. If you enjoy horror, snowy days, big hotels, and human villains who convey demonic evil, you’ll love seeing The Shining at Michigan Theater. Grab a couple of friends and spend your Friday night celebrating an old gem.