masterly master lee

a home for forgotten and famous korean pulp, its heroes, its heroines, and its pulpeteers

Wrestling nostalgia

leewangpyo.jpgProfessional wrestling is seen as entertainment rather than a form of sport, but Master Lee says it may just be the purest form of sport there is. After all, sport is not just about winning; it is for the true sport aficionado as much or even more a question of how the game is played. The outcome comes second. Matches in pro wrestling are fixed. Without the outcome as a factor he can determine, the athlete puts everything he has in how he plays the game – or rather, how he fights the fight. As such, professional wrestling is a pure sport, rikidozan3.jpgnot spoiled by such trifles as outcome, rankings or points. And wrestling culture is as pulpy as you’ll ever get it.

The story of how professional wrestling came from the US to Japan is interesting. I’ll leave that for somebody who knows a wee bit more about Japanese pop culture than myself, but permit me to draw attention to the person who introduced puro resu プロレスin Japan: ex-Sumo wrestler Rikidōzan力道山 (1924-1963). Rikidōzan’s real name was Kim Shillak 김신락 金信洛 and he was Korean. There are many reasons to write about puro resu, Rikidōzan or his Korean student Kim Il 金一 (whose Japanese name was Ohki Kintaro), but the immi-am-a-korean.jpgediate reason for this post was that I received a wonderful North Korean biography of Rikidōzan called I Am A Korean. For anyone interested in Rikidōzan’s life and times, you can either go to Pyongyang and buy the biography or rent the 2004 South Korean movie Yeokdosan 역도산 (that’s Rikidōzan in Korean), starring a very buff Sol Kyunggu 설경구. The movie is a bit on the longish side, but it gives the story fairly straight forward and doesn’t get bogged down in nationalist wailing over Rikidōzan’s rikidozan_aff.jpgethnicity.

Anyway, back to wrestling. Professional wrestling (peuro resseulling 프로레슬링) used to be the biggest audience drawing sport in South Korea in the 60s and 70s. It may be hard to imagine now, but when “King of the Head-Butt 박치기 왕” Kim Il fought against Japanese and American wrestling champions, the whole nation was glued to the TV screen. Kim Il, once South Korea’s greatest hero, died last year. Newspapers carried his obituary, but in all, his death went almost unnoticed. Peuro resseulling survives in Korea: the WWA Heavyweight World Title once held bykim-il.jpg Rikidōzan and later by Kim Il has been revived and claimed by Kim Il’s student Lee Wangpyo 이왕표, a title he defended against Canadian wrestler King Man at the occasion of a memorial fight in honor of Kim Il. But pro wrestling culture as it was died a long time before Kim Il’s passing.

foul-king.jpgPro wrestling in South Korea is marginalized, but Master Lee does not despair! One of the best Korean movies ever is about wrestling: The Foul King 반칙왕 (2000) starring the inimitable Song Kangho 송강호 and the delectable Jang Jinyoung is an absolute must see! And watch the fork! (I really shouldn’t mention this, but the success of The Foul King immediately spawned an erotic spoof called The Pygmee Foul King 따라지 반칙왕… And no, Master Lee has not seen this movie about four female wrestlers who find out they have been duped into very strange wrestling practices indeed). Yeokdosan is a more serious movie about the origins of professional wrestling in Japan (and Korea) and its length will be as daunting as Rikidōzan must have been in his prime. And if you’re reallylike-a-virgin.jpg desperate for a film on Korean wrestling, you can always watch Like A Virgin 천하장사마돈나 (starring charisma cannon Baek Yunshik!), which is actually a really good movie once you get past the premise of an overweight teenage boy imitator of Madonna who enters a wrestling tournament in order to use the cash prize for a sex change operation… Master Lee was amused.

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1 Comment»

  masterlymasterlee wrote @

What a fabulous piece of world history! A classic one that picture of Kim Il is… Thank you, Lee, continue to be my Master you do.

Yo Da (with special thanks to the officially crap romanisation system)


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