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Musical 'Yujin and Yujin' captivates Taiwanese audience

Dec. 5, 2023 - 19:22 By Park Ga-young
Lee Ling-Wei (left) and Da Tian perform in the Taiwanese version of "Yujin and Yujin" on Nov. 23 in the Experimental Theater at the National Theater & Concert Hall in Taipei, Taiwan. (C Musical)

Taipei, TAIWAN -- On Nov. 25, about 160 seats of the Experimental Theater at the National Theater & Concert Hall in Taipei, Taiwan were full. In front of the audience were two Taiwanese actresses -- Da Tian and Lee Ling-Wei -- and a cello and piano duo. The actresses sitting facing the audience on two simple chairs turned into two characters, both named Yujin: "Big Yujin" and "Little Yujin."

With their lines and dramatic songs, the two actresses led the audience into the minds of two teenage girls, both victims of sexual abuse as children, and trying to work through their trauma in different ways.

Centered around the monologue and conversation between the two, the actresses assume versatile roles, embodying characters that include their mothers, boyfriends, and friends.

The show was meant to mimic a cold reading of a Mandarin version of the Korean musical, “Yujin and Yujin," but felt like a full performance and absorbed the audience. Sobs filled the air toward the end of the 110-minute show.

Based on the 2004 novel of the same title by Lee Geum-yi, the story follows two middle school girls, Big Yujin and Little Yujin, who were sexually abused in the same kindergarten. After several years, the two girls become classmates in middle school but Little Yujin doesn’t remember Big Yujin or the horrible incident. Meeting with Big Yujin brings back Little Yujin’s memory.

The musical was introduced in Korea in 2021 by Nangman Barricade. The company’s founder, composer-producer Damiro decided to begin his own production company after his proposal to turn the novel into a musical was turned down many times.

The local adaptation of the work for Taiwan was done by Taiwan’s C Musical, founded by musical enthusiast Chang Hsin-tzu, who fell in love with musicals after watching 11 musicals in three weeks while she was in Seoul. Since its founding in 2016, C Musical has introduced several Korean musicals to Taiwan’s nascent musical market, adapting them for the local Taiwan market.

"Yujin and Yujin" tested its potential in Taiwan as part of a showcase arranged by Korea's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Korea Arts Management Service. The K-Musical Roadshow introduces well-made Korean musicals to overseas markets including the US, Japan and China.

Taiwan’s growing musical fans

Chang Hsin-tzu, the founder of C Musical (from left), and actors Lee Ling-wei and Da Tian participate in a conversation with the audience after a performance of the Taiwanese version of "Yujin and Yujin" on Nov. 25 in the Experimental Theater at the National Theater & Concert Hall in Taipei, Taiwan. (C Musical)

The Taiwanese version of the South Korean musical “Yujin and Yujin” ran five times in four days from Nov. 23-26 in Taipei, Taiwan.

After each show, a conversation with the creative team took place, providing valuable time for the audience to delve into the minds of the Korean creative team including the author Lee Keum-yi, composer Ahn Ye-eun, director Lee Gi-ppeum and producer Damiro. The conversation also featured the founder of C Musical Chang Hsin-tzu and actors Lee Ling-wei and Da Tian.

Despite its limited run, the musical was well-received by the local audience.

"After Thursday's premiere, it began to spread by word of mouth," C Musical's Chang told The Korea Herald. "Taiwanese people tend to wait and see how a performance is received before attending in person,” she said.

One instance was Chang Mu-en, an attendee who inquired during the conversation session about the emotional transition of Big Yujin as she shifts between various roles.

“I became curious about the show because many people told me that it was great after the first show,” Chang said. A fresh college graduate, he said that he follows C Musical’s productions. “I need to take some time to digest this topic, but I experienced the process that (child sex abuse victims) go through."

“The reaction from the audience is great, and I hope to introduce 'Yujin and Yujin' in earnest. Performing at schools is one idea," C Musical founder Chang added.

Chang, who became a musical enthusiast while studying in Seoul as an exchange student, noted that Taiwan's musical market can be divided into two parts.

One portion of fans would only go to big musicals by overseas production companies, such as “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Cats,” “Lion King” and “Romeo and Juliet.” The second growing portion consists of those who love original musicals, or smaller but creative musicals.

Chang is part of that effort. C Musical is behind bringing Korean musicals to Taiwan, including “Rachmaninoff” in October this year and "Little Prince,” which attracted those who are not typical musical fans. It is set to introduce another Korean musical, “Let Me Fly,” next year.

At the same time, C Musical has introduced several original musicals, including its first original musical, "Non Reading Club," which was first introduced at the Daegu International Musical Festival in 2022.

“Taiwan has good actors, although the pool is not big enough, and great technical teams. Right now, we don’t have enough theaters for longer projects, and we have to rely on government funding,” she said.

Despite some challenges, Chang has a clear goal: “I want to introduce great works to Taiwanese audiences and to create a long-term project that can provide stable positions for actors and staff.”

From left: Chang Hsin-tzu, the founder of C Musical; Nangman Barricade Founder and CEO Damiro; and "Yujin and Yujin" author Lee Geum-yi pose for photos after a performance of the Taiwanese version of "Yujin and Yujin" on Nov. 24 at the Experimental Theater of the National Theater & Concert Hall in Taipei, Taiwan. (C Musical)