I am enthralled by this drama. Utterly enthralled. And holy flying Gaksital!
It's hard to try and say what I like most about this drama, but I can say this: this drama is not afraid of bringing up unsavoury topics, and it's not afraid of the bad guys really becoming bad. I think though that more than anything I am mourning the loss of the good in Shunji. I just can't see him coming back to the good side at this point, but I would be more than happy if the drama proved me wrong.
All the death and destruction of this episode made me think of a John Donne (1572-1631) meditation:
Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that...No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminished me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris
And I think that is why I mourn Shunji's loss of innocence so much - he is a part of the greater whole of humanity,, and reminds us that we are also capable of becoming depraved. It just - hurts - so - much because we have seen his goodness. In the scene at the end of episode 20 where he forcibly hugs Mok Dan to get a rise out of Kang To - it felt so horribly wrong to me. It actually felt like a rape scene with clothes on - it had all the markers of the psychology of rape - and it made me feel sick to my stomach.
And I am totally getting to the point where I am rather terrified of Shunji - I would probably pee my pants if he came near me. (And my feelings on the freedom fighter choosing to blow himself up leave me with the same feelings, more on that in a bit though). We also see how he is losing his hold on reality even more by when he brings Mok Dan flowers, and when he goes to make sure that the circus ajhumma's funeral can be held respectfully. For goodness sakes! He had slapped Mok Dan, and he shot the ajhumma. And so far, the way he's handling the knowledge that his hyung, Kenji killed Kang To's mother does not bode well for a reconciliation with Kang To.
Rie's humanization adds a twist on Shunji's descent into evil. She has some really interesting conflicts going on in that pretty head of hers which makes her such an interesting character. I know that she doesn't believe that Kang To that he would save her again, but I am starting to think that he is becoming the kind of hero who would, and I think she senses some of that. She thinks (and rightly so) that Kang To wouldn't dave her because he has seen her try to kill the woman he loves, but he has also tried to kill the woman he loves, and maybe he understands her a little better than she thinks. Her Koreaness is a sensitive point for her, and it's causing all sorts of nice, juicy conflict for her. It will be interesting to see what she does with her love for Kang To now that she knows he's Gaksital. (And I am pretty sure this is the first episode where we actually hear Katsuyama speak - he has a voice!)
And really, what makes this drama tick: it's Joo Won playing Kang To. He really is doing such an amazing job! His transformation into a hero worthy of admiration is really beautiful to watch. I just loved the moment when Dam Sa Ri puts his hand over Kang To's and lets him know that he is not alone. It reminded me so much of King 2 Hearts where Jae Hae (Lee Seung Gi's character) says to the bad guy that what makes him strong and a good king is his people. Without his people, Jae Ha could not become a good king, a powerful king, a king worth following. And it's the same with Kang To. His transformation into a Gaksital worth following comes from the people who trust in him and believe in him. We see that so nicely with the scenes with him and Mok Dan, and in the scene where Juk Pa sacrifices herself to protect his identity.
Mok Dan has made it very clear that she will go to hell and back for him, and she knows it's going to be painful, yet she doesn't shy away from it. I am just so glad that she knows he's Gaksital, and she's choosing to love and embrace him despite his flaws and his previous atrocious treatment of her.
The scene where after Shunji has rape-hugged her and Kang To holds her hand, it broke my heart. He hates to cause her pain, but he knows that he has to accept her sacrifice to keep the cause alive. Actually, all their hand holding scenes, and scenes with both of them in them were filled with that beautiful, painful tension. If they make it out alive, they are going to need years and years of therapy. I am just afraid that she is going to die at the hand of Shunji, or something like that. Am I just being a pessimistic nervous wreck?
Another of my favourite scenes in these episodes was where Mok Dan comes to check on the injured Kang To/Gaksital. Not only do we have some beautiful, blue lamplit scenes (I ❤ you PD and camera-people for all the beautiful use of blues and soft lighting with Kang To and Mok Dan in those scenes), but what she tells him: "Gaksital has to live. Because Gaksital is a beacon of light to the Joseon people living in darkness. [Dam Sa Ri] won't want that light to turn off." Kang To as a man has become so much more, and Mok Dan is helping him to become that man. It just comes back to what I said before about K2H and how a people make the man.
Kang To really sees that in the scene with Juk Pa. Watching Juk Pa die for him is part of his melding into a hero. It is painful, beautiful, and awful. He watches this woman die for him - and really for what he represents, and cannot stop it from happening. The only way that he can make it worthwhile is to become the best Gaksital he can be. Oh, why is it so painful?
Speaking of pain. This drama really does not shy away from it. At all. War of any kind, whether civil, freedom inspired, guerilla, justified, or unjustified, it's all ugly. The freedom fighter chooses to blow himself up, and it makes my heart hurt. Is it justified? I don't know. It's such a tricky question of when it becomes justified to commit acts of terrorism, or really any acts of violence. All I know is that I agree with John Donne that any man's (or woman's, or child's) death diminishes me. As humans I believe we become less when we drop bombs on cities, when we commit acts of genocide, when we blow other people up - no matter how justified we can make it seem. The drama is not really saying that I think, but it's how I feel. It's part of the ugly package and parcel that is war. Which brings me to the comfort women.
I am so glad that the drama was not afraid to bring this up. It's not like the Japanese are the only nation to ever do this, but in this context, of course it is the Japanese doing this. The use of comfort women makes me sick to my stomach, well actually any kind of violence to women, especially using rape and sexual favours as a tool in war. It is just revolting. I couldn't actually finish the wikipedia article on it. Three quarters of comfort women died, and the remaining quarter were mostly left infertile, and suffered great sexual trauma. It's not like the Allied powers and nations other than Japan haven't also been guilty of using women for prostitution/and or sexual comfort during wartime (Madame Butterfly is an example of that to some degree as well as rape in the DRC). I probably shouldn't have opened this can of worms, but it really disgusts me how sex is used as a tool and a weapon during wartime, and well at any time. It's inexcusable. Okay, that's enough about that.
On a lighter note though, I could probably make a post titled "The 101 Faces of Kimura Shunji" and still have plenty of screenshots left. Park Ki Woong is really doing a phenomenal job.
Bring on the next episode Gaksital!!!
To The Beautiful You: SM's Problematic But Seriously Enjoyable Hana Kimi Makeover ▶