Sometimes, it’s good to be proved wrongThere are times when I feel glad to learn that I was wrong. I used to guess that my 30s would be an end to my fun because of my favorite poem, “Hitting Your 30s and the Party Is Over.” However, I’m glad that I was wrong, because, voila, I’m officially a 30-something now and the party has just begun. Also, I used to jeer at made-in-Korea TV dramas for their love of such cliches as a lead character suffering amnesia or some kind of an incurable disease. However, I found myself proved wrong again last year, especially with a bundle of well-made TV dramas by A-1 scriptwriters like Noh Hee-gyeong of “Good-bye Solo” and “A Miracle” and Kim Do-u of “What Are You Doing, Fox?”
Speaking of Noh Hee-gyeong, whom I have called “Mr.” in my past few columns, I have to correct myself as she is Ms. Noh. And I, who love being a woman, am immensely glad to say that we have another talented woman on the TV scene. After wrongly changing the gender of Ms. Noh, I had a call to correct me from a reader. Allow me to express my gratitude for her kindness to take the trouble to find my cell phone number and give me the right information. I have no excuse but to say I’m sorry about my mistake.
I was recently glad again to see my prejudices proved wrong by the TV history drama “Hwang Jin-yi,” which ended last week on KBS-TV. It told the story of Hwang Jin-yi, who was a legendary gisaeng of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). The gisaeng were a class of women who were allowed to learn arts including literature, dance, music and conversation, in order to entertain noble men during drinking parties. In the strictly Confucian society of the time, becoming a gisaeng was the only way for a woman to be allowed to study and display such talents.
The first few episodes appeared to be nothing more than picture-perfect “Welcome to Korea” style publicity material to promote tourism to Korea, as the drama showed picturesque scenes of the country with a group of beautiful women dressed in spectacular traditional clothes. However, as the story developed, the drama earned kudos for depicting the life of Hwang Jin-yi from a feminist perspective.
Based on bits and pieces of stories about the character, the drama built up the story of Hwang Jin-yi and her rivalry with her mentor and her contemporary gisaeng. In describing the rivalry, this drama did not rely on the cheap sure-fire strategy of a catfight, but instead, brought a spirit of professionalism to the gisaeng characters, as they refused to be called mere courtesans but artists. The rivalry between the characters was dramatic enough to catch viewers’ eyes, as the characters fought to compete in terms of talent, which they cultivated through harsh training.
The lead character Hwang’s mentor, Baekmu, had an icy cold attitude to her pupil yet still fostered her talent and professionalism. When Hwang Jin-yi faced a crisis, her rival, Buyong, asked around for help to save her life, with due respect for their rivalry-turned-friendship. Then they fight elegantly to pit their artistic talents against each other. There is a certain beauty to a catfight when the fighters are not mere kittens but fully-grown tigresses with both respect for each other and professionalism.
Another point of the drama was that the male characters played only minor roles. One symbolic scene in this sense came in the second-to-last episode, when Hwang Jin-yi told the love of her life, a noble man, to give her up, saying, “It’s better to shine in our own lives, instead of withering away slowly for each other and giving up our dreams and passions.” This was just one of many punch lines in the drama, which is now sorely missed on KBS-TV. However, now that we have a whole new year ahead of us, I’m keeping my fingers crossed to be able to see better-made dramas from now on.
Happy New Year!
by chun su jin