by ParkChohwa, February 25, 2015

Currently Watching



Thanks for fortunes that this drama didn’t get scrapped. If the incident that happened on the set at the beginning of shooting caused the drama to drop, it’d be a great loss to the drama world, especially sageuks.


I resumed watching sageuks after a well-planned hiatus that failed because of this drama and Shine or Go Crazy. I guess that kind of plan never works.


The drama – which is my first work that fully addresses the issues of slavery and maids in Joseon - is comfortably sitting on the top list of this year’s dramas. And what a list!


Kook In Yub (Jung Yoo Mi) is a noble beautiful woman with great pride and a high self esteem. She’s strict to the social norms and traditions. She’s an educated and filial daughter. In Yub is even to be married to the man she loves; Kim Eun Gi. Her stable and happy life breaks down when her loyal father is accused of treason. Though unjustly alleged; In Yub finds herself a slave, with no family, status, money or the man she loves. Unable even to give up, In Yub decides to live her life to the extreme in the new circumstances; plotting revenge in her heart.


I’m not a fan of Jung Yoo Mi, and if the plot were not too arresting I wouldn’t have started the drama. Glad I did. She’s impressing me more and more. Her nobility that never fades away even as a slave, proving that nobility isn't of the rank but of the heart. The way she stands to herself and her principles. Her composed and calculating revenge. And at the same time, her honest and innocent spirit. Never imagined that I’d one day say this, but she’s perfect for the role.


Her fiancé; Kim Eun Gi (Kim Dong Wook) is a noble Sungkyunkwon student and the son of the Finance minister. He’s upright and outspoken. He doesn’t know how to hide his feelings or control them. He obviously doesn’t know how to compromise. When his world starts falling apart, he tries to fight back. But would that work?


Coffee Prince’s Kim Dong Wook is gone. In his place there’s a brave man in love. And he’s doing an admirable job.


Now the star of all; the hot, strong, proud, ambitious, talented, clever and dignified slave; Moo Myeong (Oh Ji Ho). Moo Myeong – who’s the dream of all women; slaves and nobles alike - holds a great status even as a slave. Behind his loyal mask hides a rebel. Whether his careful plans would get carried out and whether his life would involuntarily get interrupted, we never know!


I want to mention two more actresses, Jun So Min playing Dan Ji who doesn’t believe in succumbing to her maid’s fate and is trying to break away of that fate in whatever way possible. I’m admiring her talent. I realised she was a great talent in Endless Love and I’m loving her acting here.


The second is Lee Cho Hee playing Sa Wol. Now this girl made me cry three times already! She’s the most emotional person in the drama, and her honesty and loyalty is written all over her face. It’s so touching.


The drama tackles so many complicated issues. It’s loaded with deep universal and insoluble matters. I’ll try to spot the light on most of them.


I’ve always been intrigued by secret societies in history, literature and dramas. No matter how far from what I believe is right the societies are, they always leave me in awe of them. Man Wol here is the mysterious secret organisation in the drama. After 6 episodes, I still cannot figure out much about them except that they consist of slaves and might be plotting a coup. The mere notion that the most persecuted people would gather and establish such an organised society and actually give the government a scare is praiseworthy. Not sure how historically accurate this society is but I’m amazed all the same.


When I was a literature student and I read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, I literally fell ill. How could they execute someone because of an accusation and without further proof. I thought witchcraft condemnations were the most terrible injustice that might have ever happened. But watching more historical dramas and getting exposed to the terrible charge of treason, my definition of ‘’most terrible’’ is widened. Politicians back then knew very well that if anybody stood in their way they could simply accuse them of treason and they’d get rid of the whole family. Awesome!

Jun Noh Min's cameo as In Yub's father simply broke my heart.

Then they show you the elaborate torture in the interrogation room. What kind of faith is a person supposed to have in order not to yield to their accusations just to escape the hideous suffering?


Social classes… sigh

In the heart-wrenching scene when In Yub is dragged to slavery, and she is taking her anger out on Moo Myeong she screams asking, ‘’how can a human being do this to another human being?’’ Moo Myeong gives her a reply that sends the chills down my spine, ’’You are no longer a human being; but a slave.’’ Classes are just like Moo Myeong’s answer. There are two: human and others. The nobles have it all: money, power and land. The lower class has nothing. Slaves have less than nothing; they have no control or impact on their own lives.


In the words of the ugly black-hearted Heo Yoon Ok (Jung Shi Ah) – who’s perfectly getting on my nerves and grossing me out - slaves are talking beasts. They have no will whatsoever. They’re beaten up, ordered around, raped, and killed. The scene where the maid is killed because she refuses to abort her baby –who’s her master’s baby - sums it all too terribly.


In the class of ‘’human beings’’, there are sub-classes; superior and inferior humans. The superiors being males and the inferiors females. Even if she’s a noble, being a woman limits her life. While the man fools around and spends nights in gisaeng houses gambling and collecting mistresses, the woman cannot stir outside the house unaccompanied; much less go near alcohol. No matter how much terrible things the man does, his parents cover up for him. But if the woman commits the slightest folly, she gets cursed. Sadly; in many cultures in our modern world; that same scenario is still valid.


I have always wanted to discuss the role of gisaengs (geishas) in the political Joseon life. I’m even thinking of writing a whole article on the topic. In many dramas, many gisaengs are portrayed educated and talented. That no matter how lowly their position is, it doesn’t limit their knowledge of ambition. We see them participating actively in the political life; even if in the shadows. Ga Hee Ah (Lee Chae Young) here, is a shrewd and ambitious gisaeng who aims for control and is planning to become the king’s concubine. That spirit which never allows anything to stand in its way is admirable.


The drama raises many intellectual, psychological and universal questions. While people abandon their friends because their social status changes, is it possible – in that new and miserable social status - to make new friends who genuinely care about them? What’s destiny? Are there couples who are ‘’meant to be’’? How much of your fate can you change and how much is inevitable? Is there a right or wrong side? Or is it only the winner’s or loser’s? Can attachment and loyalty bring a master and a servant together in a sort of comradeship? Does despair really give us the strength to carry on and fight back? Is it possible to unlearn everything you’ve been taught and start a complete new life in worse circumstances? If your family stands in the way of your ambition, which one are you going to compromise? What if the whole world turns its back on you? Would you seek revenge? Is revenge really sweet? When your glorious and happy past and your dark present are laid right in front of your eyes, would determination make it possible to survive?

Many questions to dwell on. But all lead to another question; is life really worth it?