Tag: contradictions

Wow

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.

defiance-3

Han

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”

Flying Dragons

Just a few episodes to go, of the best historical drama I’ve seen… a show that has been a vehicle to learn so much Korean history, and more importantly, has gotten under my skin with its surging and delving story lines and layered, duplicitous characters. How horrifyingly beautiful humanity seems, when taking in so many sides…

Bang Won’s obliterating ambition and ruthless willingness to betray anyone who presents an obstacle, coexists with a high-minded, and at least at first, softhearted calling, to take hold of and make a new world. And Yoo Ah In is an actor able to carry that role… able to allow the child, the future king, the idealistic adolescent, the ruthless prince, and everyone in between, to ebb and flow across his face.

Bang Won 2

He is not the only stellar actor in this series. SFD has transformed my impressions of an actor who plays harsh mother roles too well in other dramas, an actor who played a flat character-ed ex-boyfriend in a disappointment last year, and an actor who was ‘just okay’ as a lead after being a marvelous ensemble actor in Misaeng. It also gave a perfect opportunity to an actor I like, who isn’t always liked in general. Shin Se Kyung was the reason I was first drawn to the series, not immediately recognizing Yoo Ah In from Secret Love Affair.

Boon Yi

I love passionate takes on history, especially histories of places like Korea, which has fallen into the background of other histories (China, Japan) so often. Official writings are gleaned from not without skeptical inquiry, understanding the power dynamics of the times in which they were penned. This allows for revisiting of scenarios and flawed, majestic figures like Jung Do Jeon, the first Prime Minister of the Joseon Dynasty he co-conspired to establish.

Approaching this kind of material originally, I had hopes of gaining a better understanding of Confucianism in practice, Silhak especially, of which Jung Do Jeon was said to be the first, though unofficial, scholar. I’ve not had much luck in that regard. By the time I come to this subject matter, it is through so many other subjects, all of which have left indelible imprints, each necessary to understand the other therefore not so easy to parse apart.

Six Flying Dragons spans from the end decade or so of Goryeo, into the founding of the new country designed to be ‘for the people’, rather than for the corrupt leaders. At least in this telling, the issues of the time bear resemblance to current political discourse around inherited wealth and power, and the cycle/system which shuts out and exploits common laborers.

Sambong’s revolutionary vision (Sambong is Jung Do Jeon’s pen name) was meticulously written out and had begun to be implemented with King Taejo on the throne, before what is called the first ‘Strife of Princes’, when Lee Bang Won raises forces against Jung Do Jeon’s influence, killing he, and two of his younger brothers, one of whom was named Crown Prince. Still, Jung Do Jeon’s writings, left behind, and the vision contained within, would be the blueprint for the next 500 hundred + years.

Previously, my impressions of Lee Bang Won had been limited to the awful figure of a father shown in Tree with Deep Roots, which follows Six Flying Dragons chronologically. That drama centers on the scholarly and most highly praised of all the kings of Korea’s history, Sejong the Great, who was the third son of King Taejong (who Lee Bang Won would become), an admirer of Jung Do Jeon’s philosophy, and who created the Korean alphabet Hangul.

Had I done a little homework back then, I might have had more regard for King Taejong’s complexity, but instead had resigned him to the category of brutal dictator. SFD rights that error in spades, by giving many reasons to fall in love with his sense of righteousness early on. He had me when he asserted his desire to be not good, but just.

“I looked for you” he says to Sambong, when meeting him for the first time. “I have seen all your thoughts; my heart raced again.”

idealistic bang won

And although drunk with power as he takes the lives of his enemies, there is also the reaching in for something like prayer, somehow the sense of sacred duty as he acts, and as he accepts his actions and what may result. His willingness to act, and to accept responsibility and blame, is key to our almost understanding him.

Bang Won

I love also, when a writer is able to sneak something or someone in, and in just a few scenes, impart another entire captivating story line, as these have done with Cheok Sa Gwang.

Cheok Sa Gwang

The elegance and brutality of the fighting, the high regard for each character’s skill and dreams; rarely granting their wishes but rather giving them Roles, often of honor, within wider, overlapping landscapes.

Bang Ji

All the while (48 episodes out of 50, so far, and never losing momentum!) watching I’ve held a sense of shared values and trust, like I had with Misaeng. Blends (fact and fiction, fantasy and history, romance and trajedy), are my favorite genre; not much else makes sense.

Even the music is fittingly haunting.

And, in spite of the serious tone you might gather from these glimpses, this is also a world with warmth, love, and humor, that even allows for a character like Hwarang Warrior Gil Tae Mi.

Gil Tae Mi

And warrior Moo Hyul, the supremely tenderhearted…

Moo Hyul

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.

Tradition and Approach

When in a very friendly mind, I see that consciously chosen traditions tap something beyond beyond personal identity and agendas, which is how it felt to me over the last few days while attending a Buddhist seminar. Within all teachings there are generalities, and examples given that one takes personal exception to, so I consciously chose a way of approach – to rest the scrutinizing intellect appropriately engaged when in other contexts – to hear in a different manner.

There is support for that quieting in such a setting, and I was reminded of a scene from a book about a famous (in the west) Tibetan master, where he asked to clear the room because it was full of gossip. No person had heard a thing said aloud at all, but nonetheless the environment was full of chatter.

That’s how it is: one can drop deeper to a level of intention and something else may be going on.

So I tried to do that over the last few days, appreciating the Rinpoche’s smile lines and hearty laugh, his earnest aspirations coming forward as he pleaded for everyone to take the work of better establishing the dharma center seriously. There was a strong sense of presence in the room as he told stories, and I couldn’t help but see many others coming through his expressions, a long lineage of devoted teachers peering through his eyes at times. I may have heard the forms of these stories before, may reason that such are not very applicable in today’s world, but I chose to focus on sincerity.

What he was saying was ‘true’ in a heart-of-the-matter way… a way that blooms forth in one’s own understanding rather than being grasped at. There is merit… one of the biggest aspects of Buddhism that secular friends take issue with, and I think rightfully so.

At times it feels the work of spreading the dharma is busy and about external accomplishment – a second arrow that the dharma itself encourages us to reevaluate our loyalties to.

I can’t even explain to myself entirely, why I find such pleasure in what others I respect see as cumbersome religious trappings, and I too wrestle with hierarchies. Simultaneously, I think that although there is a rightful reaction against rigid class structures and privilege, there is such a thing as what I’ve heard called “supportive hierarchies” that can be cultivated. It benefits a child to know there is a teacher to turn to, for instance, and we are usually smart to submit to one with more expertise, be they doctor, pilot, or Compassion.

Will I attend the temple on a regular basis, take it on as my personal work? I’m not sure yet. I can’t in good conscience entirely check my scrutiny at the door… there are things I’m not comfortable with and may not want to become comfortable with, having bought in to ideologies for the sake of community earlier on.

Buddhism is highly appealing for its intellectual astuteness, yet in our time we seem too seldom to put down one thing to taste another. We want it all, all at once.

Both sides of the coin (tradition/no tradition) have value.

Practitioners can understand from their own experience that practice is helping them. No other proof is necessary