Image

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.

Continue reading

Advertisements
Quote

A Soldier Wearing a Ball and Chain

Yi Bang-won / King Taejong (Yoo Ah-in) in Jung Do Jeon / Jeong Do-jeon's cave in 2015 Korean historical drama / sageuk Six Flying Dragons

Eminent American judge and legal scholar Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once expressed the following disturbing opinion:

“If I were having a philosophical talk with a man I was going to have hanged (or electrocuted) I should say, I don’t doubt that your act was inevitable for you but to make it more avoidable by others we propose to sacrifice you to the common good. You may regard yourself as a soldier dying for your country if you like. But the law must keep its promises.”

Essentially, Justice Holmes believed that the importance of crime deterrence outweighs that of considerations about social circumstances which have led a person to go down a criminal path. Yet the idea of sacrificing a hapless individual to the common good runs contrary to modern notions of civil rights. This struggle between the individual and the masses is echoed in Six Flying Dragons, a historical drama about three fictional and three non-fictional personalities’ involvement in the establishment of the Joseon dynasty. In the dark times of the preceding late Goryeo dynasty, when many are already dying under oppressive politics, its characters wonder if their own political means are really worth more than the ends. As a 12-year-old boy, bright-eyed protagonist Yi Bang-won already had his own answer:

Continue reading

Quote

Heaven in the Voices

Jeong Do-jeon (Kim Myung-min) in 2015 Korean historical drama / sageuk Six Flying Dragons

“War should not be waged by the rich, because it is the poor who make up the casualties,” bellows Jeong Do-jeon, the man who will become the founding prime minister and master architect of the new nation Joseon. Pointing at the Goryeo prime minister and his cronies seated comfortably under the tent, he continues, “War should not be decided on by the old, because it is the young who perish.”

One by one, the massive sea of common folks, scholars and ministers in the square joins him in the rally against diplomatic ties with the weakened Yuan regime, which the elites are pursuing for personal benefits despite the risk of antagonizing the mighty Ming empire that has replaced it in China. Fights break out between the two sides, as the prime minister lets his armed guards beat up even the weak and the old to shield the Yuan envoys secretly present. Watching on with tears in his eyes, Jeong leads a Goryeo-equivalent of the crowd anthem, “Do You Hear the People Sing?” in the film Les Miserables:

Continue reading