Witchcrafting Programmers

Composition with Color Planes (1917) by Piet Mondrian

Composition with Color Planes (1917) by Piet Mondrian

“To hell with logic! Do not talk to me about logic when I’m leading an absurd life anyway.”

Those words come from Shim Bo-nui, the computing whiz who first hunts down an extremely elusive bug in a recruitment contest held by game developer Zeze Factory in the surprisingly geeky romantic comedy Lucky Romance. Obsessed with superstitions, she fixes software hacks only after piling salt around the work station, sticks a talisman under her CEO’s desk, and initially rejects the firm’s job offer because the bad luck she receives there has supposedly caused her sister’s traffic accident. Most ludicrous of all, she believes a fortune teller’s claim that she has to spend the night with a man born in the Chinese zodiac year of tiger to save her sister. It is sobering to note, though, that the difference between Bo-nui and off-screen programmers is sometimes a matter of degree rather than kind. There is a number of possible explanations for such real-life eccentricity.

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A Geopolitical Reading of Knulp

Train to heaven in 2016 Korean drama Please Come Back, Mister / Come Back Alive / Come Back, Ahjussi

Identity has a peculiar relationship with itself. According to art and literary theorists, the act of naming or otherwise describing something replaces the true nature of the object with a representation which accuracy and comprehensiveness are constrained by human limits. Yet in public consciousness, one may contend, this caricature tends to be mistaken for the real thing in the long run. Thus, when a political subject assumes a cultural or national identity, he may inadvertently lose sight of his deeper identity—that which sometimes transcends ethnic, geographical and other boundaries or at least popular perceptions of such boundaries.

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Strange Waters

The sixth dragon Moo-hyul (Yoon Kyun-sang)'s dragon title scene in 2015-2016 Korean historical drama / sageuk Six Flying Dragons

“The Sixth Dragon – Joseon’s Top Swordsman, Moo-hyul”

Hong Kong fiction and its Korean counterpart, heroism and escapism, the corporeal and the illusory—entities in these pairs nestle within each other in symbioses at times wondrous and at times sobering.

Hong Kong martial arts fiction has made an impact on the South Korean popular culture scene since the 1960s. In 1967, the Hong Kong film Come Drink With Me, which tells the story of a swordswoman pairing up with a drunken kung fu hero to fight bandits, attracted a record-breaking 300, 000 moviegoers in Seoul and whetted the public’s appetite for more tales from the genre. From then till the mid-1970s, importers brought in more such movies from Hong Kong, producers responded enthusiastically with their own action films, major newspapers and publishers tried to out-win one another by serializing martial arts novels and comics, and radio stations aired adaptations of such novels. Hong Kong and Korean film directors also traveled to each other’s country to shoot martial arts series, exchanging professional insights along the way. The bubble burst after that, but in the mid-1980s mainland-born Hong Kong novelist Jin Yong brought on a second boom with his Condor Trilogy, selling over one million copies in South Korea and ushering in new imports of Hong Kong martial arts films.

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The Dark Sides of Education

Tomohiko Doi (Haruma Miura) in his soccer ball scene in 2016 Japanese drama Never Let Me Go / Watashi wo Hanasanaide

Kazuo Ishiguro is no Michael Crichton. Lying at the heart of his dystopian world in the novel Never Let Me Go, where human clones are raised as organ donors, is not futuristic speculation about biotechnology, but a metaphor for how awareness of the finitude of life influences ordinary people’s treatment of love and friendship. What also intrigues him are the stories we manufacture and share among ourselves to come to terms with mortality and accept our fate. Hauntingly, some of these stories and storytelling habits, together with constraints on human potential, may be propagated right in our education machines.

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Tagorean Victory

Wei Jiasen (George Hu). Mars / Zhuang Junnan (Jiro Wang) and Chem Momo (Raine Yang) in 2009 Taiwanese idol drama ToGetHer 愛就宅一起

If Taiwanese drama ToGetHer could be compared to a dish, it would likely be a hearty cheese and tomato sandwich topped with a soft and silky sunny-side up egg—nothing profound or elegant, but enviably more efficient than a typical philosophical tome at brightening up a wintry morning. All the same, this is not an ordinary sandwich, but one which yolk carries a small dash of the flavor of the sublime sun worshiped by the silence of a tiny flower’s purity under Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore’s pen.

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Citrus Rhapsody

Writing the Way to Happiness Today, the book read by Ha No-ra (Choi Ji-woo) and featured in episode 14 of 2015 Korean drama Twenty Again 필사의 발견 오늘, 행복을 쓰다 : 아들러의 행복과 긍정 메시지 99

Is it ever too late to chase a dream?

Twenty Again juxtaposes its 38-year-old college freshman heroine’s regrets about her past passivity with some of her youthful schoolmates’ indifference to their hearts’ desires. While she does not think it possible at her age to pursue the dancing career she had wanted as a youth, they, sticking to dogmas and cold pragmatism for the larger part of the show, are not always objects of envy either. As the show nears its conclusion, it shares these lines from a book titled Writing the Way to Happiness Today:

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The Dream Logician Spiriting Away Stairways

Monument Valley

Monument Valley, an elegant architecture game inspired by MC Escher’s designs.

Images of Maurits Cornelis Escher’s high school’s imposing stairways followed him decades after his torturous time as a floundering student there. Being no helpless hamster stuck on the wheel that was the past, however, the 20th century Dutch artist transfigured them and other kinds of stairs into epic landscapes which defy the laws of physics yet tantalize the mind. Nonetheless, art critics, even after his death, lambasted these lithographs and woodcuts for their emotional flatness and lack of aesthetic appeal. Mathematicians, on the hand, gravitated towards his geometrically sophisticated works like moths to a flame, reproducing them in scientific publications, deconstructing them and finding it astounding that they were created by a man who could not understand formal mathematics.

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Let There Be Light

Baek Seung-chan (Kim Soo-hyun) in 2015 Korean drama The Producers

War, opined German-Swiss author Hermann Hesse in his novel Demian in the aftermath of World War I, was a fortuitous opportunity to shatter old conventions and let humanity be born anew. This declaration certainly disturbed some critics who otherwise admired the soulful tale about a youth’s quest for spiritual fulfillment. Its somberness was also a jarring contrast to the lighthearted tone of workplace comedy The Producers, which younger leads bonded over the book as they struggled to find their place in the demanding entertainment industry. A commonality, though, lay in how, just as the drama tacitly accepted both the rewarding and the unreasonable sides of show business—as long as they did not escalate into physical deprivation and career downfalls—as everyone’s lot in life, Demian insisted on worshiping the good and the bad alike in human nature. Can we not rise higher than that?

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