Sunday, November 07, 2010

Through Love To Humanity Part 1 - Introduction

            Yeah, cheesy title, I know. Don't care.
To all: this is my another personal, biased, filtered take on the drama known to all as Seongkyunkwan Scandal and among a small circle of slightly unhinged ladies as Omg, omg, I’m gonna... And to make things clear, and to remove any doubts, some time before I adopted new, revised system of Romanized Hangeul. This is why names are written not separately, but joined. And what usually is transcribed as “u” I use “eo”, because “u” is used to write the sound “oo”. And as we have our technical things done, time to move to this drama.
            First, a confession. I had no intention of watching it. I knew it was a period drama, so I was tempted subconsciously. I heard those voices telling me: “period drama, period clothes, period hair-styles…”, but still I showed my remarkable, well known to the entire world, strength and refused to watch. I’m dumb like that sometimes. The reason was simple, and now I’m really ashamed to say it. Idol drama. I was so biased I refused to listen to my mind. My mind is usually a lot smarter than my heart, so I often depend on its decisions.
I mentioned it while bashing Playful Dead Fish Kiss. I was simply not interested. But one day, bored out of my mind, I went to Hancinema to see who is actually playing in it and I saw Yu Ah-in in it. Because yes, such biased I was, to Hancinema I went not. I thought… umm, OK, it’s not appropriate actually what I thought, some minors may read this. I said, hell, if not for a story, I could watch one episode solely for him! For a pretty boxer from Antique. Turned out – this was my undoing.

            This drama made me watch it streaming with a bad quality and even worse audio. For one hour every Monday and Tuesday I was dead to the world. Good I have no one to take care of, because I would probably neglect it as well.
This is not just an idol drama (this tricky sentence doesn’t get rid of the “idol” status at all). It has layers that were more and more visible as it was coming to an end with a sub-light speed. As any drama shot in a hurry, it has its flaws, and it’s not like this drama is impeccable, no. But the strength of it lies even in those flaws, in those cracks. This drama is based on novels "The Lives of Sungkyunkwan Confucian Scholars 1 & 2" written by Jung Eun Gwol. Novels depict the lives of young people in difficult times. Some may say: lady, what difficult times? Joseon circa 1791 was a difficult period? No wars, no invasions, no nothing! And I’d say: gather your pants and run cause you won’t like me when I’m mad.
In 18th century, Korea (known then as Joseon) maintained its status as the “Hermit Kingdom”, but officials knew it is a mistake. Everyone at power knew about the pressure around, on waters surrounding the peninsula started to appear ships under strange ensigns. Foreign superpowers pressed on China, Japan, and of course on Joseon to open up and free their domestic markets for a plundering trade. On top of that, the society was rotting. Yangban stayed at power getting entangled in political struggles and they were more and more separated from the everyday people. They were enclosed in their little world not knowing and, what’s more, not caring about those whose hard work gave them profits. Plus, let’s not forget about the missionaries who secretly were coming to the kingdom. They brought with them the philosophy of the West, which showed totally different doctrines and triggered new thoughts in the minds of those who could think on their own accord. Only to the laic eyes the situation around the end of 18th century in Joseon was stable and boring.
All of those were shown in the drama either as a punch between the eyes or as subtle hints, a line or two, not more.
            In the society where women’s place was inside the house and the only books they could read were those of some sappy romance novels, where social classes were divided, where political factions determined ties and illusive friendships, in this very society stood Seongkyunkwan. Confucian School of Joseon. Established in 1398 in early Joseon Dynasty, it became a main source of the intelligence and wisdom (because intelligence and wisdom are not always connected). Motto of this school was (and still is) 인의예지(仁義禮智) Humanity, Righteousness, Propriety, Wisdom (that means: Pursue Truth and Embody Social Justice). All of those Hanja characters showed up in many scattered places throughout the drama.
There will be actually 3 parts of the review. Some may say: whoa, are you not over-productive on something that is not worth all this time and letters? And I say: well, maybe^^. During this drama run, I took the notes of points that captured my attention and I wanted to delve more into the matter. This is why I pondered, re-watched and added more conclusions. And it grew into a monster. Too many pages in the document to put it here in one post. So for the sake of our eyes, I split it in three. First part is actually a sketch of the drama. Second part – a presentation of the characters. Third part – conclusions about the plot, background and technical aspects of it. I wanted to do this QSD style – all in one, but it turned out that there is a lot more to say. QSD wasn’t, to be honest, that heavy with underplots.
Still, all filtered by me, so if you don’t like it, don’t read it. All parts will be ready by Thursday, November 11th,  I hope, so I can celebrate it with getting wast… umm… with a glass of wine.

Story outline:
            There was this man once. He was of a noble blood, brought up in a wealthy family of the Great Minister of the State. And as teddy bears weren’t in a mass use in Joseon then, the boy grew up not having anything he could attach his incumbent feelings to. His father was cold, mother probably had little to say in this matter, and the servant was basically useless. Gold-hearted and honest, but not much of a help. This man one day came to the point in his life when he had to take the exams to enter Seongkyunkwan.
And there was a woman once. If wisdom could be hereditary as wealth, she could be also of a noble family. But instead she was struggling to provide enough food and money for her mother and a younger brother. In order to survive somehow, she started to wear a man’s hat and robes, and as a man she wrote exam papers for some stupid and lazy yangbans’ sons, she delivered different books and tried to make a living.
            Some may say fate, but I don’t believe in fate, so let’s say a natural chain of events led those two to meet. And unlike many people think, it’s not a typical story of a poor girl and a haughty noble man. It’s more to it. They met, and our Yunhee (I will consequently use the pronoun “she” while referring to her) tricked by unbearably righteous Seonjun took the exam under her name, and not as a substitute writer. To make her horror even bigger, she was admitted by the King himself. With a sudden financial help from her bookstore owner, she could pay the debt her family had with Minister of War, and started a new chapter in her life. In all-men Seongkyunkwan. And here is where the first stage of the relationship between Seonjun and Yunhee starts. He was right beside her. Not a step behind, not a step ahead. This is what 99% of screaming fangirls missed.

            Drama wouldn’t be a drama if we didn’t get the second lead, the beta male. Beta male came as a ruffian apple-provider. He saved our girl who was struggling with robbers. And he dashed without showing a bit of politeness by saying “you’re welcome”. This way we were introduced to Mun Jaeshin, a rebel but with a cause. A gentle man that acts all tough around soldiers, but all soft around women. Then we had male gamma and… actually the whole Greek alphabet! It’s Seongkyunkwan, hey! The evil appeared wearing nice robe and not blinking at all. Apparently, Evil doesn’t blink. Ha Insu, the President of the school, feared by everyone, guarded by his 3 men, and all of whom shared one brain. And then there was Gu Yongha. Gu Yongha. At first, on Blinky… ekhem, Insu side, but quickly intrigued by two of the newcomers. Yongha… have no idea what letter would suit him the best. Maybe the most silken and glittering one?
Lives of those young people will be entangled, scarred, changed (or not), but well remembered.
Yunhee risked her life by entering the school, because females were prohibited from learning the Confucian classics, at Seongkyunkwan in the first place. She had Seonjun to always refer to, Jaeshin who was also there, Yongha who catalysed few events, and Insu who taught her (involuntary) to be tough. Oh, and one gisaeng who fell in love with her as a dashing young master. This drama is about dreams and change. Because when something doesn’t change, it withers and dies.

First part, short one. Next: Who is Who in Seongkyunkwan^^