For her college graduation project, known as her graduation thesis, Harvard University student Julia Riew wrote a full-length musical that became popular on social media.
The 22-year-old Korean American student released parts of the musical, which is based on a Korean folk tale, on TikTok. The short videos that show her transforming into a princess quickly became all the rage.
The supporters started to create visuals and animation to help bring his story to life.
Riew even caught the eye of Hollywood and theater producers.
“Honestly, I always feel like I’m dreaming,” she said recently. “It’s heartwarming to see the reaction, especially among the Korean American community.”
Comforting is a term that means to cause pleasant feelings or happiness.
Riew hopes the musical will follow the same path as other musicals that have had success on TikTok in recent years.
“Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical” was released in 2020 as a charity concert after the idea developed for months on the social media platform. There was Adam Lambert, Wayne Brady and other stars.
Last year, the girl group known as Barlow & Bear became popular on TikTok with a song inspired by the Netflix show “Bridgerton.” This led to “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical”, a 15-song album who is now up for a Grammy Award.
The interest and attention Riew received led her to believe that the musical might become a film or a stage production.
“It looks like at this point the project will move forward,” she said. “I don’t know yet if that means as a stage production, as a India movie or whatever, but there’s definitely been some interest.
“I felt like a fake Korean”
Riew’s musical is inspired by the Korean folk tale “The Blind Man’s Daughter,” about a young woman who tries to restore sight to her blind father, but finds herself in the distant kingdom of dragons.
At Riew’s version, young Shimcheong spends years growing up in the Magic Kingdom before setting off on a return trip. Along the way, truths are revealed, problems are solved, and there’s no shortage of laughs and fun songs.
If that sounds like many of Disney’s most famous works, that’s the point, says Riew, who grew up listening to Disney and Broadway songs. She started writing her own songs and musicals at a young age.
“What struck me is that it’s the story of a young woman who goes on an adventure,” she explains. “There aren’t many stories in Korean folklore about women, especially the ones where they go on adventures.”
Riew says she considered the idea of a musical drawing of her Korean heritage for a long time, but didn’t start working on it in earnest until after the coronavirus pandemic. She ended up going home because Campus was closed.
Riew admits she sometimes struggled to write the story and wondered if it was right for her, as a third-generation Korean American, to tell it.
“There were times when I tried to quit, where I felt like a fake Korean,” she said. “But I realized in the process that we can only really represent our own history, and that’s absolutely fine. There’s no one way to be Korean.
The TikTok videos didn’t just help bring attention to the project, they also helped her grow and change it.
Riew says she changed the character from Lotus, Shimcheong’s friend and the comic relief of the story, from a dragon to a nine-tailed fox from Korean folklore. This change was based on helpful messages from supporters.
“It’s been invigorating,” she said of sharing her work under the sometimes-critical eye of social media. “It was eye-opening to realize how many people would love to see this happen.”
I am John Russell.
Philip Marcelo reported this story for The Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for Learn English.
words in this story
folk tale – not. a traditional story
animation – nm a way of making a movie using a series of drawings, computer graphics, or photographs of objects (such as puppets or models
album – nm a long musical recording on a record, CD, etc., which usually includes a set of songs
India – adj. not related to or created by a major music or film producer
version – nm a form of something that differs in some way from other forms
Campus – nm the area and buildings around a university, college, school, etc.
character – nm a person who appears in a story, book, play, movie, or television show