Tag: valid love


[This is a re-post, originally written Jan 15, 2016]

I trust my fixations. When there is something I am drawn to strongly there is little that I’ll let divert me from pursuing that course of inquiry. Sometimes it is difficult to justify, and sometimes it is like some passive-aggressive tax I extract for not drawing stricter boundaries with other areas of life. More often it is neither of those things but rather a wind of inspiration leading into a place I couldn’t have known myself well enough to realize would be needed or liberating.

So right now, I’m re-watching a not-particularly-lauded series, Valid Love. It isn’t as gripping as it was the first two times when I found myself breaking apart at every other scene, but still profound.

beckon love

It has confused me that this drama wasn’t widely embraced, aside from the obvious, that Korean audiences tend to take a very strict view of adultery and divorce. Valid Love does not romanticize adultery, but Koreans are less separate from their society than Americans, I think, in the way of difference between growing up in a small town daily intertwined with one’s own and others’ families, as compared with growing up in a city so large that within even the same high school it is possible to change groups of friends several times without too much upheaval. My own life has been one of constant reinvention in a way that would probably be less possible in a smaller country more rooted in history and tradition.


[Valid Love spoilers] Continue reading “Both”

Spoilers Darling

This page is for me. Well, they are all for me, but this one uniquely caters to an experimental view that might not be as enjoyable for others as it will be for me writing it. Time will tell, but the reality is that one would have to have a deep familiarity with Korean drama to get the references and names to follow.

I’ll probably revise a lot, over a long period of time. The trouble is always where to start. There is just so much! And no real way to trace back to beginnings.


The first scene to float up is an image of Valid Love‘s Carpenter Kim, whose unusual, alien-like beauty makes him seem almost unreachable. When Il Rae catches sight and smell of Carpenter Kim she is immediately taken aback – we are too – and I believe that what appears to unfold later actually happens entirely in that moment. Another man had never entered Il Rae’s mind before, and this one appears with a beautiful, restful world, steeped in lineage – a place out of time and space.

The two are immediately nesting, and the sighting scene presents a whole reality that shows up at once, simultaneous to the one she is in, and still makes complete sense. Later at the police station, after Tae Hoo and Kim Joon have fought, and she is asked which man she will take responsibility for/who she is the guardian of, she answers “both.” Which strikes us as the truth.

I love sighting scenes, like Ko Dok-mi’s first sight of Enrique at the window, in The Flower Boy Next Door, or Dokko Jin’s surprise at finding Au Jung inside of his fortress-like house, holding his underwear (or rather, “panties!”), and discovering later that his foolproof pass code was easily guessed.

Enrique is an intrusion into Dok-Mi’s personal space, her dark apartment, even without entering. He is bright and unapologetic, and ignores only her false boundaries, even hearing thoughts she doesn’t share. And Au Jung stubbornly shrugs off Dokko Jin’s bravado, seeing the ordinary person along with his larger-than-life image. Yet she doesn’t choose between them, nor want him to.

Imagine sunshine coming through the window where the plant grows. The sun is not saying, ‘Please open the window I need to talk to the flower. Maybe the flower does not want me to shine on it.’ The sun has none of these doubts, nor does the flower.”
-Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

There are flavors of ‘imaginary friend’ in these encounters, in the sense that the bonds are choiceless, bound to occur. K-drama writers seem to understand this as rich ground. In Its Okay That’s Love, Hyde Jekyll and Me, and Kill Me Heal Me, where second, third, even fourth fifth sixth and seventh selves can’t be leashed by the safest and most acceptable-to-the-world personae, life is determined to fully live, and is indeed what happens when we are busy making other plans. (Thanks, John Lennon)

We must lose composure. We must “always be drunk” as Geu Rae learns in Misaeng. Tae Hoo must be brought down by the “sea anemone-like punk” and Seo Bom’s inlaws must give away the trappings they value most to be raw enough to love (IHTTGV).

Geu-rae: Be drunk. You must always be drunk. Everything lies in that; it is the only problem. To avoid the detestable weight of time that makes your shoulders give and makes you fall to the ground, you must be incessantly drunk. Whether it be on alcohol, poetry, or virtue, be drunk. Wherever you are, wake up from the hindering loneliness. If you get lost, just ask — the wind, water, stars, birds, time, everything that passes, everything that feels sadness, everything that runs, everything that sings, everything that talks — what time it is. They will reply. Now, it’s time to be drunk.

And now I’m sleepy, and want to post this although I’ve not nearly finished nor polished. The closing image is Hee Soo, dancing in the hospital corridor even as she lays in bed unable to move or speak, beginning to desire again – to dance, to eat. Il Rae may be the only real witness to Hee Soo’s rich inner thought life, and certainly her closest friend, again naturally crossing “impenetrable” boundaries. And again it isn’t that she chose her – it is what life itself decided.

In a cafe scene days before this one, Il Rae knows the taste that Hee Soo prefers and touches the foam of it gently to her lips. She makes sure to show her the beauty of the presentation, and to place her at the best vista. She lives inside of her, with her. It is love, and who gives to whom? Hours of my Life and Ando Lloyd face a similar contemplation: what is the value to a life that is not useful? What is the place for those who cannot earn their keep?

Hee Soo is the epitome of grace, class, and composure. No one asks her if she is able to give that away. There is no relief for her, no pay off. If there is a consolation prize, it is imposed, because we can’t bear the idea that there might be no justification at all.

“Hope?” she asks, “Give that to the dogs.” Even so, she dances.

hee soo

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.