Koreans fight for laughs

The non-verbal performance formula clearly works for South Korean martial arts show Jump.

Its storyline revolves around the antics of what seems like a stereotypical Korean family.

They spring into impressive martial arts displays incorporating traditional Korean taekwondo after encountering two burglars.

The show has travelled to more than 20 countries, including the United States, Israel and Spain, since its debut in 2003.

Created by the Yegam Theatre Company, it is back in Singapore for the fourth time this weekend. It was last performed here in 2011.

While the touring show largely adheres to the same format, actor Jo Hun Young, 29, who plays a wimpy son-in-law, told Life! through a Korean translator that audience responses differ across different countries.

"When I perform slapstick actions such as accidentally hitting my head against an object, audiences from the East are more likely to find it amusing," he said.

"On the other hand, people in the West would be more fascinated by the martial arts aspects of the show, since they have less exposure to it."

It might be tough trying to infuse comedic elements with complicated martial arts routines, but the actors, who all have at least four years of experience on the show, told Life! in a recent interview that they rehearse daily for at least two hours, which goes a long way towards sharpening their act.

Back in South Korea, they perform at least once a day.

Actress Jong Yeon So, 26, who plays a feisty mother, said that the biggest challenge is maintaining stamina and energy throughout the show.

"We all rehearse together as well, so if any one of us makes a mistake, we have to keep doing it over and over again until we get it right," she said.

Not all of the performers have a background in martial arts.

For instance, actress Kim Se Mi, 29, who plays the daughter, had aspired to be a musical actress before joining Jump. She is trained in dance and ballet.

"But we all learn from one another, exchanging martial arts and acting skills over the years," she said.

Non-verbal performances have become an integral part of South Korea's tourism and entertainment industry, which boasts more than 10 different types of shows in this genre, featuring different elements ranging from breakdancing to drumming.

Nanta, a show that mixes percussion acts with cooking displays, was the first non-verbal show when it debuted in 1997.

But director Jo Hyun Chul, 31, who has been in charge of Jump since 2004, said that the show, the first non-verbal comedy to incorporate martial arts, still possesses a unique appeal that stands out from the rest.

"You often see martial arts in action films, but rarely do you have a chance to see it live up close on a stage."


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Where: Festive Grand Theatre, Resorts World Sentosa

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