Friday, October 27, 2006

Kim Il Passes Away

One of Korea's greatest professional wrestlers, Kim Il has passed away. Kim, who was better known in Japan as Kintaro Ohki, was the man most responsible for bringing pro graps from Japan over to Korea in the 1960s.

Trained by Rikidozan (Kim Shin-rak) in the late 1950s, Kim Il made his debut around the same time as Antonio Inoki (handing Inoki a loss in Inoki's debut match) and the Giant Baba, although he never acheived the heights of fame and popularity that either of those men did.

While professional wrestling was for many years extremely popular in Korea, it never quite reached the insane levels it did in Japan. And then in the early 1990s, when the local TV stations revealed how wrestling is "fake", the sport's popularity plummeted and never really recovered. Now, the WWE does okay when it swings by here once or twice a year, but there is very little local wrestling (despite what THE FOUL KING might have you believe).

I find it incredibly interesting now Korean audiences were never able to come to grips with the unreality of professional wrestling, in a way that never seemed to bother Japanese audiences (or how acknowledging pro wrestling's scripted side only made the WWE more popular in the late 1990s). Why does that bother some people so much? Who gets upset when they learn that Arnold Schwarzenegger is not really a robot or that the actors playing Romeo and Juliet are not really dead at the end of the play?

(This is not an exclusively Korean problem, of course. In the late Middle Ages/Early Modern era in Europe, when Morality Plays were first catching on, the Church objected to plays largely on the grounds that people would not be able to tell the difference between the story and reality. It is a concern that lives on, from THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST to THE DA VINCI CODE, from THE PRESIDENT'S LAST BANG to DEATH OF A PRESIDENT). (End of digression).

Professional wrestling, at its best, is extra-large pantomime... telling stories for thousands of people without using any words. Plays might feature a duel or sword fight or whatever to advance their stories, but pro wrestling is basically making the entire play out of the duel, stripping away the words. Sure, it can be vulgar and simplistic and have the air of the Roman Colosseum; but at its best, pro wrestling is fantastic theater.

Anyhow, a Youtube clip of Kim Il versus the Giant Baba, featuring plenty of Kim Il's famous headbutts. Sweet. Not so sweet, however, is how that Youtube match ends.

(PS: Sorry for the lack of posts, but in this case it is a good thing -- the book has been going well. And the book always trumps all over tasks.)

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