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Korean Hahoe Masks and Theatrical Performances

Written By: herbrunbridge - Oct• 15•12

Mask carver Jung Sung Am uses a multi-step process, beginning with a rough block of wood

Hahoe (pronounced “HOW-hey” in English) is the name of a particular variety of play in South Korea and is also a term used for the genre of masks used in the performances, as well as the village in eastern Korea from which the masks and plays originate. Hahoe Folk Village is located just outside the city of Andong, and each year the Andong Maskdance Festival  is held in September and October in which one or more Hahoe plays are performed. To date, there are no books in English dedicated to the plays or the masks. Hahoe masks as decorative items can be purchased at numerous places in the Andong area as well as in Seoul, on Insadong-gil street. Authentic performance masks made by master carver Jung Sung Am can be purchased at his Talbang shop on Insadong street (contact information below).

The following information has been derived from the Talbang shop as well as a number of other resources:

Hahoe Tal (masks) were originally made in the middle of the Koryo Dynasty Period (11-12 century ACE, according to legend, by Mr. Huh, from the village of Hahoe-dong, Poong chun-myun, Andong-gun, Kyungsangbuk-do. Today, they make up Korean National Treasure No. 121, as catalogued by the Korean government’s National Museum Collection. Hahoe Tal is used in the Hahoe-Pyolsinkut Korean folk drama. Hahoe Tal includes nine Tals (Yangban Tal, Sonbi Tal, Chung Tal, Baekjung Tal, Gaksi Tal, Bune Tal, Choraengi Tal, Imae Tal, Halmi Tal, and two Chuji Tals (lion or monster mask). Each Tal expresses its own unique expression and deep inner world. Hahoe Tal encompasses the legend that the maker, Mr. Huh died under the curse of a deity before completing the jaw of Imae Tal because of the blunder of a young woman who had been deeply attached to him.

Characteristics of Hahoe Tal masks

The technique applied to Hahoe Tal is realistic and exaggerated, expressing the symbolic look describing a momentary expression of a specific person.  A notable characteristic of Hahoe Tal is that the jaw of four of the masks is separated from its face, connected by a hinge. The actor then can change the expression vividly by changing the angle of the jaw by using his mouth to work a string that is attached to the moveable jaw. In the case of Tals from which the jaw is not separated, the expression is changed by the tilting of the head. The masks are described as follows:

1) Gaksi Tal (Bride mask): It appears at the wedding ceremony and is used to depict the role of a tutelary deity. It is said to have a typical Korean woman’s features, having broad cheekbones and shows a sorrowful expression with its closed mouth.
2) Yangban Tal (Nobleman mask): It shows the vanity of a nobleman, with a chuckling expression, with a hooked nose and large nostrils.
3) Sonbai Tal (Scholar mask): It plays the role of the scholar and and has a conceite and haughty expression.
4) Bune Tal (Young Widow mask): It appears in the role of young widow and is said to have the shy expression of a Korean woman.
5) Baekjung Tal (Butcher mask): It appears in the role of a butcher who slaughters cows  and shows a sinister look.
6) Chung Tal (Buddhist Monk mask): It symbolizes an apostate Buddhist monk and shows a crafty and tricky expression, smiling and with narrow eyes.
7) Choraengi-Tal'(Hasty Servant mask): It appears in the role as a nobleman’s servant and expresses a hasty and flippant, characterized by an imbalanced facial expression.
8) Imae Tal (Foolish Servant mask): It appears in the role as a scholar’s servant and expresses foolishness by drooping outer corners of the eyes.
9) Halmi Tal (Granny mask): It appears in the role of an old woman and expressing the grudging look of a vain life, marked by old age and distress.
10) Chuji Tal (Lion or Monster mask): This mask symbolizes a lion or monster which captures and eats tigers. There are male and female forms of the mask, which represents the faces of animals. Theses masks are not worn, but are held in front of the body, and are activated by an open-and-shut jaw mechanism.

Examples of Hahoe masks, in order: Young Widow, Buddhist Monk, Nobleman, Bride, Butcher, Foolish Servant, Granny, Scholar, Hasty Servant, Lion or Monster

To buy authentic Hahoe masks by master carver Jung Sung Am, visit:

Talbang (Traditional Masks)
Insadong-gil street
Seoul, South Korea
Tel: (02) 734-9289
Directions: Go to the Anguk Metro station on Line 3, and take exit 6. Walk west on the main street, past the police station, then turn left at the third street, which is Insadong (there’s a Tourist Information Kiosk there if you need further help finding the shop). Walk down Insadong, pass three streets on your left, and on the block betweenInsadong 14-gil and Insadong 12-gil you’ll see an awning that says “Traditional Mask,” which is the shop.

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