Tag: catharsis


Finally reaching the place I hoped it would, Scarlet Heart: Ryeo is officially far more than beautiful to look at, and IU officially an actress coming into her own. I thought the main players did wonderfully with episode 11, and that great care must have been taken by all involved, to do what Korean drama does best of all.



Han or Haan is a concept attributed as a unique Korean cultural trait which has resulted from Korea’s frequent exposure to invasions by overwhelming foreign powers. Han denotes a collective feeling of oppression and isolation in the face of insurmountable odds (the overcoming of which is beyond the nation’s capabilities on its own). It connotes aspects of lament and unavenged injustice.

The minjung theologian Suh Nam-Dong describes han as a “feeling of unresolved resentment against injustices suffered, a sense of helplessness because of the overwhelming odds against one, a feeling of acute pain in one’s guts and bowels, making the whole body writhe and squirm, and an obstinate urge to take revenge and to right the wrong—all these combined.”

(snip)The term derives from the Chinese term, hen (恨), a concept of deep hatred and resentment towards an aggressor who had forsaken the victim, a feeling of anguish and ultimate failure due to animosity that could only be relieved through revenge, which may seem like an impossible task. The hanja for Han is 恨. (from wikipedia)


[Spoilers!] Continue reading “Wow”


I was afraid it might happen – that opening a blog about K-dramas would shift my viewing style into a more scrutinizing outlook – and that I would not want to write that way. I can’t tell yet, but to have delighted in Oh Hae Young Again and yet not have much to say about it, or about Beautiful Mind, which I found a great deal of value in, brings me to question, “What is going on?!” Perhaps I am just thin stretched, since work for me is also writing. It can be tricky to erect proper boundaries.

And speaking of proper boundaries, W – Two Worlds.


This is a fun drama full of existential questions and rather seamless effects, so it is easy to believe in these characters, and to enter their worlds as though traveling through possible layers of existence. Gazing into my screen, in which they gaze and fall in to their screens… W is a story of coming fully ALIVE.

I’m facilitating a book discussion about similar questions, specifically the unraveling of one’s usual world that can happen as natural course when a wider or more potent context appears, throwing the former world into question.  The book uses terms like ‘thawing of reality’ and doesn’t suggest overthrowing the illusion a la The Matrix, but rather including what one can as perhaps differently real.

If you think about it, we do this with our past selves all the time… look back with new knowledge and work to embrace the innocence, or redeem the ignorance, in order to move forward. It is the work of self cultivation. Sometimes we re-cast characters whose motives weren’t apparent before, or give them alternate story lines.

Elon Musk is among those who are sure our very world is indeed a kind of sophisticated simulation, and while I’m not sure, there is something in the idea that rings true.


Update (SPOILERS): Very sadly, but not quite Cheese in the Trap sadly, the show has spun its wheels in less interesting ways during the second half, leaving my mind to wander. I liked these characters and these worlds, but the story doesn’t stay with meaningful moments long enough to feel harmonious. As I write this there is one more episode, so maybe I’ll have to eat my words when they come up with some brilliant redemptive conclusion?

Updated at finish:
With so much promise, W – Two Worlds still managed to devolve at the end, rather than opening fully.  Along the way I lost what was already a frail attachment to the characters and the story line.


It’s Okay


Due to little interest in new releases, I’ve been going back to re-watch the shows that come to mind often. My re-viewing this time is It’s Okay That’s Love, a compassionate and modern story that deals with a wide-ish spectrum of mental illness. Each character has a secret try to keep hidden, from themselves mainly, but is led toward openness and uncomfortable honesty, which I would call the main hope.

Much of the drama takes place in a shared house situation, where lines between private and public knowledge are paper thin. Very little is off limits, or dealt with in a charged way, which is playfully symbolized by house members often reaching into one another’s food.  Rather, there is a refreshing matter-of-factness between people, without expectations of perfection. In some ways it is a teachy drama, but not preachy. One friend said that it actually made her a better person.

I do dream of a world that aspires to understand the way others are eventually understood in this fictional universe of supportive intentional networks.

In one scene, two from the shared house are eavesdropping on a lovers quarrel outside, but their act is not intrusive. The reasons are rooted in loving responsibility for one another, and expected by those eavesdropped on within the larger context. One character is a young barista with Tourette’s Syndrome, and the other an elder Chief Psychiatrist with lingering feelings from a long-over divorce; they are the best of friends.

facing myselfIn the hospital, we meet a patient kept for treatment because she keeps returning to a home where she suffers physical abuse – parents and siblings not accepting her expression of gender. She doesn’t understand why she is kept for treatment until forced to take a long look at her most recent injuries.

It is self-harm to go back into brutal situations, even a sign of suicidal tendencies. Common sense, yet I hadn’t seen that before. That particular bit of wisdom about what constitutes self-harm must mean a lot to the writer, because it appears again and again in other scenarios, including that of the main patient in the show, who dissociates due to torturous guilt and misplaced sense of responsibility.

And then, there is the honest feeling but bumpy romance at center. Missing the magic, becomes the magic.

show and tell

This is complimentary material to an autobiography I’ve been making my way through, written by a woman who calls herself a cured schizophrenic. According to medical definitions this is impossible, however writing during the early part of the book takes us into her affliction in such a raw-yet-sensible way that it is hard to doubt recovery.

Perhaps we need to change our notions of recovery altogether.

changing hearts

What I learned from compiling my list of k-dramas (See top menu), is that a good rule of thumb is to watch a drama twice when able, if still curious about it. In more than one instance, I didn’t care for the couple that the writers chose, but the second time around was fully on board. If I’m being overly logical, it might mean that I have a hard time forgiving, but do stay open to a “belief reversal” or change of heart.

I found myself wondering whether it might be interesting to contrast with more Western TV, not just in the obvious ways, pointing out differences in restraint and virtue, but contrasts between specific shows, comparisons with specific actors. People have written about the obvious Jane Austenness of Korean drama, but where is this seen most clearly?

Well, the first image that pops up for me is from Emma Thompson’s interpretation of, Sense and Sensibility. Col. Brandon is at the door catching first sight of Marianne, who is playing piano. His hiding in the shadows is so clearly parallel to k-drama second-lead moments of adoration and brooding. In k-dramas however, this longing usually ends with something like #thanksnothanks, #sorrynotsorry.

In Sense and Sensibility, When Marianne lingers later, recovering from illness, Col. Brandon’s stance is the same, but her heart has actually changed. She has not settled, nor reasoned herself into a more stable affection. She has seen him with new, more fragile eyes, and thus truly appreciates his less showy devotion.


Which is something I’ve not seen fully realized in k-drama yet. I could search for “second lead gets the girl” but wouldn’t be the same as pulling off a genuine shift.


Kill Me Heal Me: K-Drama Ramble-not-Review

I’m not sure where to begin in giving an overview of my newly found TV appreciation / obsession. When I began watching Korean drama, I had favorites, but over time the shows have fallen into more complex categories.

The last show I loved, Kill Me Heal Me, was not on that first list of favorites, but is a good start to write about, since it is one I would recommend to a friend who doesn’t take themselves too seriously. It has the addictive and fun quality of Coffee Prince, which was my very first k-drama, and largely responsible for the rabbit hole I don’t wish to find my way out of just yet.

KMHM manages to be sweet and surprisingly poignant nearly all the way through, while introducing 7 distinct character dimensions under the umbrella personality of “Cha Do Hyun”. Each character becomes quite real and deeply loveable over time, which to me seemed a writing/acting collaboration miracle.

It couldn’t have worked without an equally strong counterpart who was able to react and respond quickly to all the lead’s antics, as well as creating her own. Everything is big: the impossible to pull off concept, the tight rope poignancy, the deeply cathartic revelations and emotions.

And so many wonderful lines, even in the music.
Kill Me Heal Me

I’ve been surprised to find that K-drama watchers are not necessarily women who like romance novels. The closest I myself get to reading a romance novel is Jane Austen, which is also more about intricate character details, subtle kindnesses and cruelties, and class distinctions. Even Outlander, which so many of my friends adore, I have not yet been able to finish. It just never took me sufficiently away from myself.

My hugest peeve is for a romance string to be tacked onto a project obviously after the fact, like I found to be the case with the film Interstellar. Others parsed apart the science, but I took no issue with that. It was the “moral of the story” that didn’t seem necessary nor appropriate.

So it is fair to say I’ve spent a good deal of time analyzing my interest in shows that can be cheesy, materialistic, and way outdated with regard to gender dynamics. Perhaps they get a pass for their unique-to-me cultural context, but it is more than that, because admitting these qualities, they still ring as more genuine than what I’ve come across in western media in a very long time.

I especially like the family dynamics in the less formal Korean drama households, seen in shows like Answer Me 1994/97. I like the small houses and taking good care of just a few things, because that is what I’ve aspired to more and more. I like the enthusiastic collective meals, where loved ones feed and tend to one another. I like that siblings take so much responsibility for each other, and that elders are expected to be cared for. I’m careful not to fetishize, or to forget that I am immersing in fictional universes, but I think we from the west have a lot we might learn.

While also examining things I have trouble with, such as:

  • The wrist grab, which in theory, I should hate, but often don’t.  It is a way of push and pull, the beginning of defining of boundaries. K-dramas almost never get physical quickly – it takes an average of 7 episodes before a kiss, if it happens at all, and even then it might be a kiss on the cheek or forehead. Holding hands can be erotic.
    Wrist grabs may come in episode one or two., and the main thing is how it unfolds between the couple – it matters that she allows it or not, that she or he lets someone reach into personal space for skinship. It is classic Pride and Prejudice, which a lot of the dramas have at core.
  • Sleep watching can be the sweetest or creepiest thing, depending on various factors. Most of the time it is used as a device to allow someone to share their heart without embarrassment, and the other may not actually be sleeping.

But here is an important one:

  • Class based bullying
    How I wish to have seen these shows before I was married quite young, and had to contend with what I previously thought of as antiquated class dynamics. Growing up casually, in a small family, it never seemed all-important to me, where one came from or how many generations of family had kept well to script. What I quickly learned is that the dynamics were just invisible.

    My own background was not exactly bohemian, and I would certainly never have been chosen as a good candidate for an arranged marriage. Still, even in the US I needed better preparation for large family politics and the unique weaponry, such as ridicule, that others were well-versed in. “Fake obliviousness” was not a good strategy.

    This is something I write with a smile, but to be honest I have far more understanding and appreciation for lineage now, thanks in part to K-dramas. Confucian and unapologetically hierarchical society was largely mysterious, so I’ve been ravenously hungry for every detail thrown my way.

  • I also find myself reading about military strategists and heroes, even down to equipment, with great fascination.Regarding societal expectations in k-drama, it isn’t uncommon for one character to remind another not to be too bold with their lately acquired American sensibilities. There is progression, but thoughtful regard for previous generations’ social architecture, placing high value on filial duties and marriage values.
    To do well in one’s place is as much an honor as to chart a new course, sometimes more so. “Remember that this is Korea” someone will say. The integration of times and classes isn’t easy for those experiencing it. When a wealthy family tries to buy off the poor-but-heart-of-gold love interest, as in Secret Garden, I rightly cringe and root for the underdog, but more and more, I also try to understand, because it isn’t easy to change beliefs once we are older, even when we can accept progress logically.
    We step forward, but maybe there remain contradictory or uncomfortable feelings, generation to generation.
  • Constraint
    This was something I experienced strongly when in Japan. Although we in the US can look with amazement upon so many people falling into strict order for schooling and career paths, and both admire/regard with horror the strictness of dress codes and personality homogeneity when it comes to assigned work roles, there is something grand about the dignity with which even simplest tasks are regarded.
    High creativity can emerge from strict constraints. Visitors may remark on the absence of litter in Japan, but it is far more than that. Ritual hasn’t been abandoned each time it has been questioned, so there remains a time stream to tap into … an unbroken transmission. No garbage, in a society aware of its surroundings in equal measure to self, is a given. I
    found it very restful.

It interested me to learn recently that with patients suffering from some kinds of epileptic seizures who have elected to have their hemispheres decoupled, there can be an entirely different response to the question, “Do you believe in God?” The left hemisphere might answer a sure “NO” while the right gives an equally enthusiastic “YES.”

WHICH brings my rambles back once again, to Kill Me Heal Me. The central character is suffering from Dissociated Identity Disorder, but is healthier than some who live in smaller compartments of themselves, trapped into prejudices that may be the natural effect of intellectual and psychological inflexibility.

Many of us break down to break free, and benefit from meeting persons who share like capacity. In KMHM there are several free-range characters, healthy, multi-dimensional, and kind.

Loving Me

So this is that kind of story.

Valid Love

This is the third time. Just when I was sure that that my curiosity was satisfied, a drama writer has taken realities that seem like cliches when I try to pin them down, and cracked them open into art. [small spoilers ahead for The English Patient, End of the Affair, and The Great Gatsby also]

hot hands

I have a special affection for the subject matter and question of how many one is allowed to love at a time, and know how hard it is not to compromise to please an audience when telling such a story… how hard it is not to confine complex choices under one or two headings to make them easily digestible / pay the obligatory taxes to confirm societal norms / seek acceptance. It is too hard, therefore worth mentioning when it happens.

Chances for greater completeness come to all of us – not always in the form of another person who evokes the previously unknown, but in the guise of a job opportunity, a health issue, a profound book or film. Even a TV drama. Thus one power of art is to come face to face with shadows. But when the shadows are too shadowy, it is too easy to set them apart from oneself as passing phases rather than pointers toward richness.

Every character in Valid Love is entirely sympathetic, unlike in The English Patient, or even Graham Greene’s brilliant End of the Affair, which both deal with similar themes and uncover a similar dilemma: one that there seems no completely cathartic out of unless someone dies to resolve the tension. It is also not like The Great Gatsby, where the second (first?) love is mere fantasy for one. And in that one too, well, you know.

So I tried not to be preoccupied with this question as I watched, but couldn’t help myself. I was so afraid that the ending would leave me in despair, but the writers had earned my trust already, through beautifully handled scenes such as one in which Carpenter Kim mirrors Il-Ri’s secret struggles back to her and thus forces her (and consequently the whole family, and we along with she and they) to see her self and her world in a way she could never un-see. Reality becomes so obvious that we ask how she never woke to it before, but the answer is, that’s what suppression means. Something is known, but ignored: ignorance.

Nearly every line of this drama is enriched with subtext that one can linger a very long time in.

valid love waking

It isn’t just Il Ri’s struggle that Valid Love gives us; we come to feel several characters’ reasons for the lines they’ve drawn around what they will know and not know. At times we want to close their eyes again. It can be a hard watch.

Strangely, what also comes to mind as I write, is an article Zizek wrote about terrorism in Paris… about the missed opportunities for the Radical Left being the same opportunities that Extremist Fundamentalists have seized upon. I wonder why. Maybe the old lessons of radical empathy as not luxury but demand.

Enlightenment is intimacy with all things.  – Dogen

Updated when the series finished [more spoilers ahead]:

My overall impression now, is a soft and reflective: “Yes, I can live with that.” There is only a tiny tinge of foot-stomping, a reaction having to do with my choosing to see a certain character at the center. The writers are more mature than I am.

I’m still digesting and questioning. Am I glad they didn’t give me what I thought I wanted? What about me – why did I want what I wanted? I longed to see the writers give her a completely new life and world, and show how that could be okay, morally — would have loved for the commenters (and that part of me) who couldn’t get past their right/wrong mindsets, to have had to applaud such an end.

Although, with one ending we are still left with the imagination of another. Thus the work feels whole, masterful, with both the small strokes and big conveyance coming through. And I did get to experience personally, the playing out of a question at the center of my own marriage’s end, because he comes to really *see* his wife, not just as, his wife. He comes to care for her happiness more than his ownership of that. I got to feel what that might have been like, which seemed like pulling off an impossible caper.

both sides now

Elizabeth Gilbert recently offered a flake of wisdom I liked, about soulmates. It is a term I try never to use, because I try never to use the word soul. She said (paraphrased) that it can be a mistake to try to make a soulmate into a life partner, describing her own life partner as supportive and comforting, in contrast to the soulmates of her life who have usually been disrupting, upsetting, intensely challenging.

Once I imagined introducing someone to my mom for the first time… how I might say, “He is me.” One doesn’t let a person like that into their heart, but rather finds them there. Like Elizabeth’s story, that person revealed a hidden side of me vividly, instigating a kind of hyper growth of character, although appearing for just a blip in time. I felt as though I had been poisoned and shattered by the experience afterward … heavy price for that intensity. I am not sure I would do it again.

I’m also not sure I had a choice in the first place.

My instinct is that a well-suited relationship can be chosen and cultivated intentionally with a person of like capacities — but I haven’t experienced that, yet. For now there are mirror fragments and deep wormhole-like fractals of such… along with an intuition of wholeness.