The Invisible Path to Liberty

Misaeng (2014 Korean Drama) - Last Scene

Social institutions (i.e. general mechanisms of society and patterns of behavior it supports) can trap individuals in predefined, ill-fitting modes of economic undertakings, relationships and conduct even as they establish order and preserve cherished values. In his early 19th century short stories collection Call to Arms, Chinese literary icon Lu Xun criticized the backward and “cannibalistic” practices of the oppressive, feudalistic system present in China at the time. “Hometown,” a semi-autobiographical narrative, was one of those satirical pieces that highlighted the plight of people marginalized by the system.

As the narrator, Xun, settled back at his ancestral home one desolate winter after spending the past twenty years away from it, he reminisced about a friend from his teenage days, Runtu. The son of a temporary odd-job laborer in his household, Runtu would regale him with descriptions of colorful seashells, jumping fish and fierce badger-like wild creatures at his seaside farm—stuff friends in the latter’s usual social circle did not know. As Xun noted trenchantly, while Runtu was at the seaside, he and his friends could only see the four-sided sky framed by the walls of their courtyards. With the revival of these memories, the man finally relished once more the beauty of his hometown. A surreal image of Runtu flashed across middle-aged Xun’s mind: a warrior-like pubescent charged at an exotic beast eyeing his crops with a pitchfork in a sand field while a golden orb hung above him in the deep blue sky. The beast, however, twisted its body and escaped under his legs.

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Finding Momo

Momo in My Name is Kim Sam-Soon / My Lovely Samsoon

Women tend to be subject to higher moral standards than men in many Asian societies. The ideal Asian female is widely envisaged as a pure, demure and virtuous lady, but whereas the image of a protective and responsible breadwinner with leadership qualities similarly exists as a paragon of manhood, penalties for deviating from this paradigm are barely as severe as those for women. A married woman who commits adultery, even if just once, is immediately deemed so filthy that her husband feels more than justified to divorce her swiftly and mercilessly. In contrast, a man who gambles away money for his children’s food and beats up his spouse often gets numerous chances to turn over a new leaf. The neighborhood is far more likely to ostracize the former than the latter. Continue reading

Otherworldly Propositions

My Love From Another Star - The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

How enduring can beliefs that can never be substantiated by logical proofs be? Literature, dramas, romance, friendship and, indeed, many endeavors in life require us to take a leap of faith and put time or effort in activities that do not always promise definite paybacks. Still, American author Kate DiCamillo writes dreamily in her award-winning work The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane of “fill[ing yourself] with expectancy,” “[being] awash in hope,”  “wonder[ing] who will love you” and “whom you will love next,” even as one season fades into another and years roll by without sight of anyone who reciprocates your feelings.

There are various motivating forces other than reason that drive people to believe in something. These include emotional appeal of a theory, obligation (e.g. trusting the integrity of one’s parents out of a sense of filial piety), tradition (e.g. adhering to the religion of the family or community one is born in) and even a simple desire that something is true. An obvious retort would be that, aside from emotional appeal, what these conditions generate are not genuine beliefs—adherents support the “beliefs” either unthinkingly or in spite of their true opinions (e.g. an investor wishing that his favorite stock would land him a windfall and insisting it would even though he knew that market conditions were unfavorable). While this argument portends to be valid in many instances, holding it as a general truth may, however, belittle the human power to pull wool over our own eyes. Indeed, cognitive dissonance—the mental discomfort stemming from contradictory beliefs, actions and/or decisions—can threaten our concept of self so much that we engage in self-justification strategies to reconcile the differences, and one such strategy may be to persuade ourselves, subconsciously or otherwise, of the soundness of the beliefs we adopt for whatever factor.

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Love Under the Spell of Spring

Big (Korean drama)

Ivan Turgenev’s “First Love” unfolded like a great many Korean romance dramas: a feisty and gorgeous heroine rejected a sensitive and mild-mannered suitor constantly by her side in favor of a cold alpha male. Along the way, Turgenev unveiled for the reader a rich and intense emotional landscape similarly reminiscent of the drama genre—the sweet sensation of falling head over heels in love here, the agony of forbidden romance there, the wild emotions that tugged at the heartstrings as a character uncovered one appalling secret after another. It should probably come as no surprise that the novel was referenced in Big, a drama penned by South Korea’s famous screenwriting duo, Hong Jung-eun and Hong Mi-ran (“the Hong sisters“).

In what came across as a foreshadowing effect, just one episode after the male lead flippantly uttered a line from the novel (“My son, fear the love of woman; fear that bliss, that poison”) in oblivion to its possible relevance to him, the drama had him running across the night streets to go to the aid of a heroine eight years his senior, while ominous words played in the background: “Kyung-joon, do not go to Gil Da-ran. […] There is only one person in her heart. Even if you go after her, she won’t even look at you. By allowing your feelings to go to her even as she does not spare you a glance, you’ll end up badly hurt. When you wake up, forget all about her.” A parallel seemed to be drawn between novel and drama: just as Zinaïda dismissed Vladimir as a child and had eyes only for an undeserving married man, Da-ran subsequently laughed off the high schooler’s confession of love and continued to mope over her apparently two-timing fiancé. For a while, the sense that the boy was meeting his doom as a young victim of noble yet unrequited love was palpable.

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The Other Secret Door

Secret Door

They came from starkly different backgrounds.

She from a family poor in wealth but rich in love; he from one with full coffers but stingy with affection for him.

In The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong, the eponymous crown princess of the Joseon Dynasty recalled with fondness how her parents used to sleep beside her right before she got married at the age of nine, caressing and consoling her when she cried at night. Her family descended from the eldest daughter of a previous queen and held ministerial positions in the Joseon government, yet their homely ways and general disdain for riches belied these illustrious roots. Unable to afford new clothes, her mother painstakingly sewed those she wore for the crown princess selection using fabric taken from old clothes. Meanwhile, as the crown prince, her husband Sado was left to be reared in a sprawling residence complete with multiple study halls for his personal use but manned by obnoxious servants and infrequently visited by his parents. His father was a fearsome king quick to pick on his flaws in front of large audiences, accusing him of wrongs he never committed and blaming every other misfortune, including bad weather, that came his way on the young lad. Not only that, the king excluded the prince from the royal entourage visiting the ancestral tombs for more than two decades and made a ritual out of calling on the poor boy after tending to official affairs and washing his ears right after hearing the response to rid himself of the unpleasantness of his day—which might have been more tolerable if not for the harsh contrast to the loving manner with which he treated many other members of the royal family.      Continue reading




Alice/Joo-won: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

Cheshire Cat/Ra-im: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.

Alice/Joo-won: I don’t much care where –

Cheshire Cat/Ra-im: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.

Alice/Joo-won: – so long as I get somewhere.

Cheshire Cat/Ra-im: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if you only walk long enough.


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