A worthy adversary
The presence of the Joker, the villain who has been played by Jack Nicholson, the most nominated male actor in Academy Awards history, and Heath Ledger, a young star who tragically passed away in 2008, almost overwhelms the hero in the Batman series.
The same goes for Lex Luthor, the evil genius who is Superman’s archenemy, as well as the Goblin and Dr. Octopus, the greatest enemies of Spider-Man.
We love our heroes all the more for how bad the bad guys are, and there are countless examples of this.
James Bond would be nothing but an attractive playboy if it were not for Dr. No in the first film, which was named for the villainous character, and Le Chiffre in “Casino Royale.”
Similarly, a Western film without a villain is lifeless. Lee Van Cleef was unrivaled in playing the role of the outlaw. In “High Noon,” in which he made his film debut, his villainous appearance, along with a ticking clock, added tension to the already dramatic atmosphere. It is the death of his character that helped give birth to the hero, played by Gary Cooper. In “A Fistful of Dollars,” we cheer when Clint Eastwood, the good guy, kills Van Cleef, the bad guy. That film was so good that Korean director Kim Ji-woon based his film “The Good, the Bad and the Weird” on it.
Korea also has its share of villains. Misil in the historic drama “Queen Seondeok” comes to mind. Although the queen is the heroine, Misil steals the show. She is such a compelling character that by the end, it is a moving spectacle to watch her cry after she loses power.
What happens to villains in real life? Do the winners in a fight emerge on the side of good, even if they played the role of the villain?
In the novel “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” the villain is Cao Cao. By contrast, his mercilessness makes the virtue of the heroic Liu Bei stand out.
In history, villains have been both the instigators of conflict and the architects of change. King Taejo, who founded the Joseon Dynasty after defeating Goryeo, and King Sejo, who killed Danjong, the sixth king of Joseon, to ascend the throne, were villains like this.
Recently, a senior presidential secretary was quoted as saying that he is often cast in the role of the antagonist, just as comedian Heo Jang-gang and actor Park No-shik are. He went on to say, however, that bad guys like him are necessary for the country’s development, even if they sometimes want to play the role of the good guy, like lead actors Shin Sung-il and Kim Jin-kyu.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Park Jong-kwon