Mask–dance dramas, or talchum, originates from morality plays by Buddhist monks and for exorcism in Korea. Today, they are played throughout different regions in the country as forms of entertainment, gradually losing religious meaning. For instance, contemporary mask–dance dramas may portrayal the foibles and misadventures of a group of apostate Buddhist monks; a foolish aristocrat outsmarted by his servant; and dangerous tigers who gobble up unsuspecting children. These dramas encourage audiences to laugh at themselves through acting while performers rhythmically jump, leap and squat to the sounds of a small percussion group.
The village of Hahoe is most famous for unpainted wooden masks, while groups in Bongsan (North Korea), Yangju (Keongkee province) and songpa sanpaenori in Seoul (capital of South Korea) frequently perform with grotesque and brightly painted papier–mâché masks. Overall, Bongsan mask–dance dramas are known to be more active with larger movements. Popular mask–dance dramas are: old monk’s dance, leper dance, young Buddhist monks’ dance, and the Lion Dance.
The old monk’s dance is performed by a dancer wearing a gray frock and a hat made of moss or fern. A long string of prayer beads dangle from his neck and he holds a large fan in his right hand and long staff in his left. The movements are characterized as slow and gentle.
The leper dance expresses grievances and miseries of the leper. The dancer wears a leper’s mask and reveals his sorrows and struggles through tottering and reeling steps.
The young Buddhist monks’ dance was originally performed by males, but is more commonly performed by females today without masks to freely display beautiful facial features. The performers wear Buddhist costumes with white hoods and the dance is considered the most feminine and delicate of all monks’ dances. The technique is a mixture of charming and quiet movements and is performed with adopted styles for heightened artistic expression.
The lion dance originates from China and involves one lion made up of two persons (one at the front and one at the rear). The lion dances around a large circle. Common actions of the lion include: sitting, walking, or jumping in the centre of the stage while turning its head left to right; swishing its tail; and scratching its body. Some mask dances incorporate two lions that face each other to engage in play with one another.