Among futuristic drone shows and dazzling fireworks displayed at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, many viewers focused on a giant puppet of a human-faced bird.
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The giant mythological creature, called “Inmyeonjo” in Korean, appeared onstage following the countdown. It soon moved to the center of the stage, surrounded by the Four Guardians- blue dragon, white tiger, red bird, black tortoise - and dancing women dressed in costumes of the ancient Korean kingdom of Goguryeo. The animal's long neck and dragonlike body, combined with its human face, grabbed the attention of many spectators.
“I got the idea from murals in old Goguryeo tombs,” the opening ceremony's executive creative director, Song Seung-whan, said in a press briefing on Saturday. “Through the scene, I wanted to depict a world where humans live in peaceful harmony with ancient nature and animals.”
Inmyeonjo is a fantastical animal known to travel across the land and the sky and live a thousand years, symbolizing longevity. Based on the Buddhist legends that it has a bird’s torso and a human face, Inmyeonjo in the opening ceremony closely resembles the drawing on the walls of Goguryeo tombs in Deokheung-ri, South Korea.
Immediately after the ceremony aired worldwide, Inmyeonjo quickly went viral on social media. The word “Inmyeonjo” trended on major internet portals in South Korea including the biggest website Naver as well as on Twitter.
The response was mixed. While some commented that the unfamiliar creature was creepy and even frightening, many found it hilarious and uniquely charming. The bird also gained unexpected attention in neighboring Japan as internet users posted parody pictures and memes online.
Bae Il-hwan, the art director who designed Inmyeonjo, thanked the crowd for the attention a day after the ceremonies. “I’m really surprised about this unexpected reaction,” he wrote on Twitter. “Thank you so much for loving our kid.”