21 August, 2012

Why So Marvelous? Gaksital Episodes 21 & 22

Argh! I LOVE the conflict with Rie and Kang To - so beautifully painful! I love his loveline with Mok Dan, but I love that Rie and Kang To share this electrifying connection. That he saved her once before (and possibly he will again?) makes her saving him that much more poignant. 

My heart just goes out to her in this scene. She loves him, and knows that he doesn't love her back, but she is not ready to completely give up. She is really at a cross roads.

I also love that he understands where she is at, and that he doesn't hate her for wanting to kill him. He wants to help her, he wants to try and save her again, but this time from herself.

When he has to knock her out, the way he cradles her, holds her close is really quite tender. It's this surprisingly sweet moment, but also so full of heartbreak and pain.

Her self-loathing, distraught conflict makes for some wonderful drama. She loves her saviour, but now he has turned out to be her enemy. She has to take a long, deep look inside and see what motivates her, and where she wants to go. 

She knows he doesn't love her, she knows he was getting close to her for information - and yet she cannot help loving him, and it messes with her psyche.

When she begs him to stop being Gaksital, it just got me right in the heart. She is trying so hard to save him and herself, but keep going on her personal trajectory of revenge and whatever she has planned. The whole situation though is pulling her to change. I'm not perfectly sure what it is she has in mind, and what motivates her to have become Japanese, but she is going to either have to forsake it, or kill Kang To. I think it could go either way. And I love that Kang To gets it. He gets her. When she challenges him that he must have a part of her in his heart, his reply was so touching. He does care about her. He cares very much about her actually, and feels compassion for her because she is just like he was. He has faith that she will see she is being used as a puppet by Chairman Ueno, and that she will choose the good. I really, really hope that his faith in her to choose the right path is rewarded, and sooner rather than later.

I think that she knew that he would refuse to stop being Gaksital. I also think that she's terrified of really looking deep inside to see what she really wants.

There is a nakedness to her grief at not being able to get him to stop, and it is this beautiful, naked grief. I don't know if it's weird to call grief beautiful, but her vulnerability here is beautiful.

And Katsuyama. He loves her. But she always shuts him out. I am fascinated by how he will play into her story arc. I can see him sacrificing himself for her. And I can also see him going against any orders from Chairman Ueno that would harm her. What makes him so loyal to her? Is it only love, or is there is also something else?

And then we have Rie and Shunji. They are another electrifying couple onscreen. I would love to see them in a drama together (one where there electricity can play off of each other in a not "I am going to kill you" way. His relationship with her in some ways shows how power hungry, cold, and abusive he has become.
(Look at those gorgeous angles! Ah! *dies from happiness*)

Even though she's definitely not in a position of power anymore with Shunji - she is still fighting. I love that! I am also really, really interested as to how long she will protect Kang To.

I am just so impressed with this pair of actors and their ability to portray such turmoil, distress, and anguish on their faces. Han Chae Ah is just doing a phenomenal job as Rie. And Shunji, my new name for him is shifty-eyes-Shunji. Dude, that man has the most expressive eyes (and eye-brows) ever!
I think that one of my favourite things about the following scene with Shunji and Rie is that we get these wonderful angles that tell us so much. Rie's perspective is always shown from a low angle, looking up to Shunji, while he gets these lovely high angles. It displays so well how he has shifted/is shifting into a more powerful position - and his growing power with Chairman Ueno shows that particularly well when he goes to ask him if he can kill Rie.

Check out that disdain and defiance! Love it!

Again, drama - beautiful camera work!

I think my heart really did break for Rie when Chairman Ueno gave Shunji permission to kill Rie. It just shows how heartless he is, and how much he doesn't view her as his daughter - she is a puppet. I hope that she realizes it, and joins team good guys because I really like her character too much for her to have a tragic ending. Though I guess that would also add some narrative beauty for her character arc. Though I do think Mok Dan's death would be more tragic narratively, particularly if it were at the hands of Shunji. Please, don't get me wrong, I don't want either of them to die. I want some happiness in my drama, but so far this drama has shown that it's not afraid to go dark places narratively, and that has helped it have really wonderful development. And sometimes when bad things happen, the story can be more meaningful - though happiness is meaningful as well. It's just different for this context. Happiness for everyone might be too trite for the serious, difficult, and painful history of the Japanese occupation. And we cannot diminish the reality of that by having happy endings for everyone.

Even though the scene breaks my heart, I still love the camera angles. 

Just look at that man?! His character arc has been absolutely fantastic.  I am not sure if his character at this point can even experience any kind of redemption. Not that it's impossible, but I don't know if he wants to change. (And I can't help but think of him as shifty-eyes-Shunji.) Park Ki Woong's ability to play Kimura Shunji as absolutely creepy and chilling whether he's smiling, sneering, or snarling, has left me breathless. And totally creeped out. I am TERRIFIED of Shunji. The brutal new police chief I don't like much either, but Shunji - OH MY GOODNESS!!! Shunji, you make my skin crawl so badly. When he discovers the letter for Dong Jin...ack! that creepy smile! Shunji if you had played the bad guy in King 2 Hearts...I would have wet my pants with every episode. Will Park Ki Woong ever be cast in a happy role again? (okay, okay, I know he's in Full House 2). Oh Shifty Eyes Shunji...you creep me out big time!

I really want to know what has made the transition from the kind, loving, pacifist Shunji to the abusive, manipulative, and evil Shunji possible. What is really motivating him? Can he even see that what he does is terrible? There are moments when he seems to realize it, (like when he tells Mok Dan that he wouldn't have shot her adoptive mother if he had known that Mok Dan loved her) but still - how can he do all these horrible things and still sleep at night? He just seems to enjoy it too much for me to fully buy that he loves Mok Dan at all anymore. There's the element of revenge with his hyung's death, but that has become so twisted. Kang To realized the things that he did wrong, and he has changed - Shunji just went the other direction. I think that one of the things that scares me most about Shunji's transformation is that it shows just how easy it is for people to become depraved. The possibility that each one of us could become like that becomes even more real when we watch Shunji. 

I must digress for a minute. I was just struck my the amazingness of the camera work and lighting in this episode. So much was said with so few words, and that to me is one of the beauties of film as a medium for storytelling. It really is an art. I feel like the drama is doing better and better with it, or perhaps I am just noticing it more. Here are some shots I loved, and then we can get back to Shunji.

*swoon* dies from beautiful lighting

Okay, that last one was just comical, but back to Shunji, well, Kang To and Shunji - AH! My skin crawls at their pretend friendliness. If I hadn't watched the beginning of the drama I would never know that they had been friends. And really, how many facial expressions does Park Ki Woong have? I swear he could just not talk, and act with his face and I would still know exactly what was going on in his head. That's talent. Even when he finds out that Kenji killed Kang To's mother, he doesn't even take a minute to think - wow, that's terrible - it's all - does Kang To know this? did Kang To hide this from me? man, if he did, I am going to kill him! Yeah - even when he smiles now, I get totally creeped out. Kang To is also rather eerie when he's around him. It really is an interesting atmosphere with the two of them playing mind games with each other. They say words - but they in no way reflect what is actually being said. And poor Kang To - that man must be so bruised and cut up. And probably Joo Won too. I have so much respect for these actors. They are pretty phenomenal for what they do to bring us such fabulous entertainment.

Shunji, I know you kind of hate Kang To these days, but please, just help him stop getting so beat up. Yeah - it's completely wishful thinking on my part.

Ack! Can someone just punch this guy in the face? I love that Kang To still stands up to him. It's wonderful!

*swoon* beautiful camera work and lighting and colour

Dang it, why so clever Shunji? And why are you so good at being evil?!

Run away Gaksital! Swoons at another great camera shot

I love how this shot frames how Shunji is trapped in a perspective that only allows him to see others as wronging him. Shunji - trapped in a vicious prison mostly of his own making.

Don't trust him Kang To-ah!

Shifty-eyes-Shunji is setting you up for a terrible trap. Please don't trust him ever!
Okay - this evil sword guy might be scarier than Shunji.

As I am sure you have figured out by now, this post is not so much about the chronology of the episodes. Which then brings me to discuss the freedom fighters for a bit. There is just so much going on with themes of redemption, delivery from evil and oppression, liberty - and the freedom fighters provide that context from a historical perspective. Whenever I learn about freedom fighters from any country, I am always astounded by brave men and women who defy danger and work to bring freedom to their peoples. It really is admirable - but it is also tricky, and messy, and bloody, and painful. We have seen that in so many ways so far in this drama. But here are some beautiful moments amid that pain.

I am glad that the drama has had some bad Koreans (girl spying on Mok Dan being one of them) and the flag scene with the Korean boxer was really moving, and I'm not even Korean, but this is something that's been on my mind.  Über-patriotism can get really dangerous...when any country starts to say that they're all good, and another country is all bad - it leads to dangerous dichotomies which lead to more war and more suffering. Please, don't get me wrong, the Japanese occupation was terrible, horrible, awful, despicable, and I can probably find many, many more adjectives to describe how bad it was. I am glad that drama hasn't shied away from showing the Koreans who sided with the Japanese (particularly those who helped gather comfort women). Unfortunately though, many of the pro-Japanese Koreans, like the count and his wife have been portrayed as silly and ridiculous. That diminishes the evil that they did. And to me it's not really about whether they were Korean or not, but that too often the bad Koreans have been a bit too comical for my taste.

When it comes down to it, human beings were evil and did evil things - that they were Japanese or Korean did not make them more or less evil. Our good or bad actions cannot be ascribed to a nationality - which in my opinion is such a subjective term anyway. I am not Korean, yet I love Korean culture, language, food, and forms of entertainment. I also love other cultures' for many reasons. Whether I act well or poorly has very little to do with my nationality and ethnicity. Or anyone for that matter. So I really hope the drama does not end with painting all the Koreans as saints, and all the Japanese as evil - because that would demean Koreans more than the Japanese.

I am so glad the freedom fighters have so much love for each other. And that they share that love with Kang To - he needs lots, and lots of love. The path he walks is so lonely and painful. And that eating the potato scene - I was tearing up when Yang Baek was peeling it, and when he explained how his mother had dug up the potatoes, and wanted Gaksital to eat them. And then Kang To started crying, and it was so touching and beautiful. The pain of knowing he killed his hyung must weigh on him terribly, and he bears such a heavy burden being Gaksital. And those loving looks Yang Baek and Dam Sa Ri gave him, it just made my heart swell with happiness. On a side note, I love how Joo Won is not afraid to sob with potato in his mouth. It's not necessarily pretty, but it is beautiful. I also love how much trust they have in him. It helps him be the hero he is. Yeah, LOVE this scene so much!

LOVE the hero worship he has for him - though I sort of want to see his face when he finds out that Gaksital is Kang To...

Okay, what is up with all these ridiculously good looking freedom fighters?! It's like you can't be a freedom fighter and be not good-looking (though Katsuyama is rather gorgeous too  - I guess it's a drama thing) but wow!

He's too good looking not to be a freedom fighter, come one someone, recruit him quickly!

Okay, I'll be serious again. I am glad that the drama didn't abandon the theme of comfort women. Yes, some of the women were saved, and it fires them up to want to help the cause, and make sure other women don't get caught, but Shunji's nanny's granddaughter doesn't escape. And her loss of innocence is symbolic of what so many women lost.

This drama is about loss. Loss of loved ones, loss of innocence, loss of peace, loss of hope, loss of freedom, loss of evil. It makes any redemption that much sweeter and more powerful. And in many ways that is what a hero brings. Redemption. And I also love that in this drama, the hero has to receive some measure of redemption before he can help others. I am glad that there are those around him who forgave him for the wrongs he committed, and are helping him become a better man, and a better hero.

I loved the comical moment when Kang To comes to talk to Mok Dan while the circus group are doing laundry - and they go all spastic trying to hide the flag from him. It was just really funny because all Mok Dan probably wanted was to run to him and hug him, but she had to pretend to be all "What?" and had to pretend to be bad guy Kang To. It was just cute and funny.

I am glad that we get respite from all the turmoil when Kang To and Mok Dan are together. She has become an anchor for him amid the chaos. You can just hear the love and concern in Kang To's voice when he talks to Mok Dan. It's also there with Rie, but you can hear it especially with Mok Dan. And the moments with them are small oases of happiness and peace, and I appreciate that. Kang To needs some love devoid of strife in his life.

Let's hold onto that moment of happiness before we plunge into the turmoil of the final episodes.

And because I really couldn't resist a million screen shots for when Shunji discovers Kang To is Gaksital scene, I saved them for last.

Okay, I seriously want to marry this camera person! I LOVE the lighting for these shots; I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the angles, and the lines, and, and, and...seriously, camera person - are you married?

You can just see the fatigue, and pain, and exhaustion in Joo Won's face. Even behind that mask that he says is so difficult to see through for him.

Look that that beautiful shot! Ah!

And the one below, those angles, so lovely!

I might just have died when I saw this shot. So beautiful! Seriously, someone needs to kiss this camera man, or whoever sets up these shots, PD?

And this - oh - so - AMAZINGLY - suspenseful - beautiful - awesome - spy-like. And the colouring!

*swoon* really, I want to marry this person. Look at the phenomenal shot!

My favourite thing (other than the camera work) in this scene is that you can see the torture and conflict in Shunji's face.

You can see that there is this part of him that really, really does not want Gaksital to be Kang To. It was just a beautiful thing to watch. There is some part of teacher Shunji and best friend of Kang To Shunji that fights to be felt. What evil Shunji will do though waits to be seen.

This scene was soooooo different from when Mok Dan took off the mask - then I was cheering. With Shunji - I was maybe dying from fear.

I think I was having a heart attack at this point. Really. Gaksital is not good for my health.

HE KNOWS! HE KNOWS! HE KNOWS! Now what the heck is he going to do?

Someone, please give Park Ki Woong an Oscar, a medal, something for the amazing array of faces he has, and his ability to say so much with his faces. He needs to words. He is marvelous!

Oh Gaksital!

It's going to be okay, it's going to be okay, it's going to be okay, it's going to be okay...*rocking back and forth*...Wednesday needs to come to relieve my poor nerves!

This drama so far has been fantastic, and I love it! I really, really, really hope it won't flake out on us at the end though. Please drama, stay amazing, okay? If you don't stay awesome until the end - I...no wait - Gaksital will never forgive you!!!

◀ To The Beautiful You: SM's Problematic But Seriously Enjoyable Hana Kimi Makeover
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