64 Minds

Anna Cho (Han Ye-seul) in 2006 Hong Sisters Drama Couple or Trouble / Fantasy Couple

A plot device employed by legions of storytellers, from George Orwell and Kazuo Ishiguro to creators of the Final Fantasy video game series, amnesia can be used to probe the reproducibility of character traits and relationships while adding tension to the narrative. It is when the trope is repeated so often with previous character growth swiftly retraced, romantic ties dutifully reaffirmed and memories miraculously regained, especially in the span of a few episodes, that the intended emotional impact of witnessing love that overcomes tremendous adversity becomes lost on some viewers. Alternatively, amnesia can be introduced right at the start of the story, without disclosing the lost memories to the audience, to create mystery and intrigue. Not only does this type of amnesia offer open-ended developments, it speaks to the modern man’s search for purpose in life and questions about his true self.

A third use of amnesia may also keep the audience in the loop like the first, but opens up a philosophical question as well by forcing a character to live with two selves. Continue reading

A Beautiful Tumor

Gu Seo-Jin (Hyun Bin) and Jang Ha-Na (Han Ji-Min) in Hyde, Jekyll, Me (2015 Korean Drama)

Hana (left) reconciling with the Robin in Seo-jin (right)

“I think, therefore I am,” proclaimed René Descartes.

The reality of our existence is a topic that has intrigued philosophers across the ages. Whereas Aristotle and his followers accorded great importance to knowledge derived from the senses, Descartes argued that the senses could deceive us even in matters that were most taken for granted. An omnipotent being, he suggested, could be manipulating our perceptions to make non-existent objects and even basic mathematical patterns feel real. The one thing we cannot doubt, though, is our act of thinking, and thinking signifies our existence.

Even so, what exactly does this existence amount to, beyond the presence of our minds?  Continue reading


Slow Leaps, Fast Dance

Dance Scene Featuring Song Sam-dong (Kim Soo-hyun) and Go Hye-mi (Suzy) in 2011 Korean Drama Dream High

Slow Food, Slow Design, Slow Travel, Slow Living—calls for decelerating paces of production and consumption have emerged from various corners of society and made headlines in recent years. Though frequently associated with leisure pursuits and the creative and recreation sectors, such downshifting initiatives have made inroads into the heart of economic life at large too, with advocates campaigning for Slow Schools, Slow Science, Slow LeadershipSlow Work and so on. But before modern life as a whole slows down, can any individual truly afford slow success?

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The Presumption of Innocence

Last Scene in the Finale of 2013 Korean Legal Drama I Hear Your Voice

“Because only 80 out of 100 pieces of necessary proofs were in place, a [dangerous] criminal was once let off scot-free despite the overwhelming evidence against him. […] Yet a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle depicting an elephant will not look like a cat or a lion just because you only get 80 pieces correct.  With 80 pieces, you can already see that it is an elephant.”

“The prosecutor likened this case to a jigsaw puzzle with 20 missing pieces. Of course, we cannot say that an elephant picture will turn into a lion picture just because the jigsaw lacks 20 pieces. But without the 20 pieces, we are unable to tell whether the elephant was crushing someone with its front foot or kicking a ball with it. What happens if upon seeing that it was kicking something, we assume that the elephant has killed a person and execute it, only to discover later that what lay under its foot was a ball not a human? A dead elephant cannot return to life.”

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Misaeng (2014 Korean Drama) - Scene of Jang Geu-rae at Home

Life seems unfair to A-grade students who forsake sleep and leisure only to find themselves working for C-grade students who get to shine with their vision and creativity precisely because they do not bother as much with mastering rules. But life seems unfair as well to the majority of C-grade students, who far outnumber the number of business leaders and innovators society supports. From the point of their conception, they may be laden with genetic and/or cultural baggage, coupled with losing numbers in the parent lottery, that compromise cognitive capacity, stamina, maturity and even the inclination to work hard in school.

Jang Geu-rae, the protagonist in office drama Misaeng, was an A-student who chose to specialize in an economically unrewarding discipline, which made him both a beneficiary and victim of unfairness in life. Forced to abandon the study of Go in spite of his top standing and take on a full-time job after his breadwinner father’s demise, Geu-rae assumed a contract position at a large international trading firm with just a high school diploma under his belt. His under-qualification, together with the fact that he entered the firm through connections, brought him scorn and ostracism in the office. Nonetheless, his willingness to learn, ability to connect with people, stoicism and the wisdom developed through years of mastering Go eventually allowed him to pull ahead of his more “educated” peers. Unfortunately, the rigid promotion system in the firm, which prized credentials over actual performance, prevented him from becoming a permanent employee, so he had to leave the job at the end of his term. This raises the question of how a system should be designed to give people treatment they deserve .

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The Office Narrative

Misaeng (2014 Korean Drama) - Scene of Jang Geu-rae and Oh Sang-shik on the Rooftop

There are office dramas. There are office dramas like Misaeng. And then there is the social grapevine.

In a significant proportion of workplace dramas, office life serves as a vehicle for romance, comedy or both. In these subtypes of the genre, work is a secondary element that adds color to a character, indicates his/her social status and/or drives emotional conflicts. Occasionally, reality is disregarded to such a great extent that a lead character can excel in a management role even when he has no knowledge of basic economics or turns up for work only two days a week. On the flip side, there are many dramas that focus squarely on office work itself, while recognizing its tedium and moral gray areas. Nevertheless, protagonists frequently get to save the day from within a byzantine bureaucracy at the end of the tales, even if they are mistreated newbies or corporate outcasts. These are worlds of immaculate suits, pulsating energy and infinite possibilities.

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Merciful Lies

Pinocchio (2014 Korean drama starring Park Shin-Hye and Lee Jong-seok) - Poster

A serial murderer is roaming about the town, searching every nook and cranny for the next intended victim on his target list. He knocks on your door, asking if you have seen the man. Unbeknownst to him, the person he has been searching high and low for is indeed in your house, hiding himself up in the attic after telling you about his situation. Now, you can choose to remain silent when you open the door but that would be the same as giving the murderer an affirmative reply. You can also refuse to answer the door or stall for time to call the police but both options heighten the risk of the murderer barging in to hunt for the man. Do you commit the cardinal sin of lying or do you effectively give up the man’s life in this version of a classic philosophical paradox?

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The Truth as a Candy Wrapper

Jin Kyung as Song Cha-ok in Pinocchio (2014 Korean Drama)

Truths often enjoy an exalted status in social thought. The Romans considered veritas, the Latin word for truthfulness, a personal virtue and personified it as a goddess. One founding father of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, stated that “honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” English essayist and statesman Francis Bacon felt that “no pleasure is comparable to standing upon the vantage ground of truth.” The quest for truths, in fact, lies at the heart of scholarly inquiry, around which societies worldwide have built a great many institutions with inspiring traditions and tireless knowledge workers. The veracity of utterances can therefore confer on them an aura of dignity and righteousness.

What, then, is wrong with the following statements, assuming that they are factually accurate?

  1. Children from low-income households are faring well, with 55% of them moving on to college this year, compared to just 15% three decades ago.
  2. Men carrying promiscuity genes have an evolutionary edge over those who do not.
  3. 7% of hit-and-run drivers have not been nabbed. (as opposed to “93% of hit-and-run drivers have been caught successfully”) (Pinocchio episode 10)
  4. A police officer is suspected to have caused a major fire claiming 40 victims, including deceased persons, at a waste disposal plant in Hangang district through his negligence. (Pinocchio episode 14)

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