Monday, April 26, 2021

Kdrama: Gu Jun-pyo's lunchbox

Probably the most striking change in my life during Covid is watching television, which I basically never did before and now do every day. I'm not very handy with all the controls, but my remote has a "Netflix" button. After I tired of American TV and Brit Box, I thought, "Why not try one of these kdramas Netflix is always advertising?" The rest is history, as they say. I have been thinking about my profound love of melodrama -- which these writers completely anticipate -- and how satisfying it is to worry about these fictional characters whose lives will move to the next thing in 16 or so episodes even though mine will not.  

Lately I've been caught in a love-hate relationship with Boys over Flowers. Very chaotic -- the two lovers at the center of the drama rarely had more than two calm minutes of connection before the next crisis took off. This disturbed my sleep, as you might imagine. The only saving grace was that Yoon Ji-hoo was devoted to Geum Jan-di and always showed up to her rescue (and mine). Not that he got to have the girl in the end... 

This is not the kind of tidy show that Crash Landing on You is. This was more like the erratic brainstorming of people who just needed to find the next fix of terror for the audience. So a question like, "Why does the plutocrat Gu Jun-pyo love commoner Geum Jan-di?" can never be answered except maybe "It made good television." But there is one exchange on this topic that is helpful. She asks, "Why me? I'm not cute, or smart, or wealthy." He replies, "I have all that: I'm handsome, smart and rich. I don't need anything. So just be you." Which evades the question -- what is about her that has captivated him?

I believe the answer lies in the humble lunchbox, which shows up, by my count on five occasions, and leads me to assume that the archetype here is the Snow Queen. The frozen boy immediately recognizes the warmth Geum Jan-di exudes and sees in everything about her life the possibility to be engaged and friendly -- literally, to be warm. He wants to eat her lunch from the first time he sees her with her lunchbox. He asks her to make it for him. The first time she does, he has been dragged off by the Snow Queen. She sits waiting for him: eventually Yoon Ji-hoo arrives and takes her home. The second time they do get to picnic and he loves the lunchbox, but it is the occasion for her to say she can't take the no-holds-barred battering she is getting from his mother.  (This image is from Cooking Gallery)

An aside: She's actually not that forthright -- his mother's attacks on her friends are more than she could take so she retreats. These shows are very roundabout and key people may or may not ever know what's "really" going on. People have to have their own moral or emotional compass; alternatively, a very strong friend network will suffice and might share the news. 

The third appearance of the lunchbox is not in person, but in Geum Jan-di's recounting to the Snow Queen what her son likes. Gu Jun-pyo has been injured in an accident. As soon as he is pronounced out of danger, his mother turns to leave. His sister screams at her, "Do you know anything about your son, like what he likes to eat?" Of course she doesn't. As she walks away, she suddenly feels weak and sits down on a bench. Geum Jan-di sits down next to her and explains that Gu Jun-pyo likes to go on a picnic and have rolled eggs. Geum Jan-di smiles with deep joy at the memory. The Snow Queen, who has done her best to destroy Geum Jan-di, feels the warmth of this young woman: it is the exact moment when the ice in her heart melts.  

Gu Jun-pyo recovers from the accident but has amnesia about Geum Jan-di. The fourth appearance of the lunchbox is Geum Jan-di's effort to get him to remember her. She leaves it by his hospital bed while he is sleeping. Gu Jun-pyo recognizes the taste. Unfortunately, a snow princess (the fifth!) has snuck into the action and claims that she made it. He falls for this, of course. He likes it so much he asks her to make it again. In the fairytales this is when her falsehood would be discovered, but not here. Snow princess pulls off the deception for a bit more. This fifth appearance of the lunchbox was, for me, the most terrifying of all the terrors in the 25 episodes of the show, because snow princess would freeze Gu Jun-pyo for good. So much evil. Geum Jan-di finds the way to his heart and all ends as well as it can in kdrama, which falls short of my standard for happily ever after. And perhaps especially with this anxiety-provoking show -- can we please let these two have a couple of years of joy??? 

Back to the humble lunchbox. In another scene, Gu Jun-pyo insists that Geum Jan-di make him her special ramen. She brings it to him on fine china. He says, "Where's the lid? I want the lid." By this he means he wants to eat it from the pot, using the lid as a plate. His joy at eating it that way is world-encompassing. These small objects -- the lunchbox and the lid -- enable him to be alive in a way that is denied him in his silver-spoon world. At one point, his sister, recognizing the dilemma he is in, asks, "How far will you go?" Meaning "Will you give up all this?" The survival of his family depends on his answer, and ultimately he finds a way that is consistent with his principles. 

As my favorite reviewer noted, Boys over Flowers is rough, but ultimately I am grateful for the experience. I wish I could have watched it in 2009 with all of Korea -- it was a tad lonely to go through all this melodrama on my own, which is why I'm sharing it here! And that's a wrap! 

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