Monday, November 09, 2020

KBS Drama Special 2020: Modern Girl

And KBS Drama Special 2020 kicked off... after leaving us stranded with the previous season and unfinished episodes. However, it started with a strong message - that no one has the power to decide your own future but yourself.
The action is set in the colonial period, which of course harks back to previous seasons - there were episodes set during the occupation as well. It's the time when modernity starts to hold sway over the life choices and emboldens characters through tribulations.

The clash of tradition and modernism appears very quickly - we are introduced into the story through putting on clothes, our protagonist, Shin-deuk is getting ready for a meeting, so she's dressed in a beautiful hanbok, with matching norigae and carefully chosen binyeo in her hair - clearly indicating she's married. And then, when she's waiting, with poise and grace, a modernity comes into the café. A woman having an affair with Shin-deuk's husband.

We know she's married as an asset and her husband's family is collaborating with Japanese forces. In itself it may not seem much, but I am glad that dramas can tackle this aspect of Japanese occupation, because in some movies we have only good Koreans and bad Japanese. And somehow in dramas there is a wider spectrum of grey. Some collaborated because wanted to be rich (like here) and some because they had no other choice to put food on the table. Condemning such situations en masse, according to 21st century standards of comfortable life in a modern world, without any attention to the gossamer web of circumstances, proves to be terribly myopic.

Shin-deuk is ridiculed by both her own husband and also by his mistress. She's made fun of because of who she is - an uneducated, obedient wife. And she is exactly this because society has taught her it's the only way of living for a woman. Also - she never had any point of reference, living almost a secluded life. It's like all of the people today, repeating only what they were shown, not knowing there are other ways of experiencing life. Because they have no point of comparison, not knowing you don't have to conform to rules that are no longer adequate to ever-changing times.
And then modernity hits like a ton of brick. She sees there is an alternative to her expectations as a woman living still in a Joseon prison of mentality. She starts to explore - she tries western clothes on and this scene is nearly a revelation - she does not feel awkward in them, au contraire! - she likes them. It's almost as if she entered another stage, discovering something outside her own little pool. She goes to school to learn, which also sets her on the path to both destruction and reinvention.

She mistakenly assumes that Ujin, a teacher at the school, has feelings for her, completely forgetting that when he was looking at her direction, somebody else was standing beside her  - Young Yi, her servant girl, a bright and bold young woman, who's not afraid of anything. And her entitlement reared its ugly head when she actually realized that Ujin was meeting Young Yi (she did not know the girl was helping him with the resistance). She didn't feel any remorse accepting Young Yi's poem as her own because in her fervent reading of erotic novels she forgot to write her own homework. She did not admit to it when she talked with Ujin afterwards. She was sure Ujin was nice to her and her only because of course why shouldn't he? She never considered Young Yi to be a rival and she spew her displeasure in the harshest way possible, reducing Young Yi to the position of a dust on the lady's shoes. To her it was obvious everyone would focus their attention on HER, so Ujin's affections towards Young Yi were of a personal insult.

And this led to Young Yi leaving Shin-deuk's house. Shin-deuk, to save herself from any punishment at school and at home, also betrayed Ujin's trust, giving him up as the source of the forbidden book the police found in her school possessions. While talking to Ujin, she tried to maintain her aristocratic stance saying that it's the master's right to show the servant's proper place to which Ujin broke the best statement I have heard lately - that she was attending school but actually learned nothing. Oh, this can be applied to so many situations...
Only then Shin-deuk's world started to crumble - she reflected on her mistakes, she saw the world around her with new lenses - she even demanded divorce (it was a nice subterfuge to mislead the informant and Japanese police, pretending to be Young Yi, which called for a more profound change - cutting her long hair, because Young Yi was abused in jail and her hair was cut as well).
In effect - we saw Young Yi with Ujin happily together after 3 years and managing a publishing house, and Shin-deuk becoming a true modern woman after the divorce - a successful writer, penning the novel "Modern Girl", being interviewed and living as the proof that everyone can change their life.
Except her husband who was cheating on his second wife. Again.
Summa summarum - I really liked this episode, it was uplifting, with a positive message and that's all we need in these weird times.