Sunday, June 26, 2022

K-drama: Turning Points

Let's think of the storytelling form of K-drama as a labyrinth.  A labyrinth is not a maze. Rather, it is a path that winds in and around itself, never getting lost.  It is a single path, with no dead-ends. We would not have to train rats to run a labyrinth. That is why they are so good for meditation.  It is a sure path, taking you somewhere. You can depend on the path and let your monkey mind rest.  

A key to a labyrinth is that there are turns. Each of people in the K-drama is, we might say, walking their own labyrinth, and turns come up.  In this classic 7-cycle labyrinth, you can follow the paths and see that you have to turn.  What makes it possible to turn?  In Chocolate, a lovely story about two highly traumatized people who make their way to one another, Lee Kang, the hero, literally turns and grabs the arm of Moon Cha-young to confess his feelings for her.  But before he turns, we have seen the slow movement of his feelings, from icy cold to passionate.  It is the discovery that she is his first love that breaks the final barriers.  It is a moment of grace for him, as he asks a series of questions and learns that they'd met before as children. It permits him to breathe. 

A little later that evening, he silently acknowledges that he can't push her away, this person who is so important to him.  And he turns.  What is fascinating in scenes that follow the turn is that he starts to smile and laugh.  He reveals his passion.  While he had been a smoldering icon -- one woman described his as a perfectly proportioned statue, Michelangelo's David -- he becomes a living rock star (which the actor actually is). 

Moon Cha-young still has trauma to resolve, so she says she needs to go away. He says, "Don't get lost." She sends him a text expressing her love and says, "I have never gotten lost because you guide me."

Though rarely expressed so bluntly, this is the point of the labyrinth and the point of the show. Lee Kang's voiceover at the end of the show, after they have reconnected, tells us, "That is the end of our story.  We know there will be ups and downs, but we will pull through as long as we have hope."

One commentator complained that she wanted to see more of the couple when they have finally come together. While that would be fun, as they are a sexy and adorable couple, that's not the story that's being told. The story -- from their childhood encounter, through their traumas, to their healing and reconnection -- is one of hope, and it ended there, reminding us to eat lots of good food!  Wow, what a set of ending scenes! 

Sunday, June 19, 2022

K-drama: Escape

The K-drama One Spring Night, which I've written about before (here and here), concerns itself with what happens after two trapped people meet. Their unexpected encounter, and instant mutual recognition, perturb their networks. This show, which does not make a big deal about Wisdom teachings, lets mentors, friends and family speak the Truths that free the lovers to be together.  The ordinariness of these communications is depicted in the cell phones, which everyone has constantly in hand, reading texts and making calls: Wisdom as a text thread we might each be on.  

Yoo Ji-ho is locked in because he is a single father, while Lee Jeong-in is trapped in a dead-end relationship. Their situations are underscored by the cinematographer's choice of picturing them on the other side of bars, as in a prison, from which they must escape and the scriptwriter's use of characters who intone, "You can't..." 

While it is not the message that love conquers all, the show does want to show love as a force. Literally from their first meeting, they can't stop wanting to be together and finding ways to accomplish this. "I wanted to see you," the hero says at first.  Then as they become more intimate, "I missed you." The love is not something they can stop but this is not a story of love as obsession. Rather the story is of love as freedom and joy. The hero says, "I feel like she is the first person to see me as 'Yoo Ji-ho.'" 

In the K-drama My Only Love Song, the princess uses a spoon to dig her way to freedom. 

In One Spring Night, Ji-ho and Jeong-in need help. They must learn to depend on each other, which is challenging. Ji-ho is quite gentle, but from time to time sets limits with Jeong-in -- he says she is a fool, and this is not entirely unjustified. She rages against the machine and needs to have both a home for her passions and limits. 

Ji-ho, for his part, has been highly traumatized by the events that left him in the stigmatized position of single father. He holds himself so firmly in check that this has to fall apart. It is a fraught traumatic defense, not a healthy way to live.  

But they need more than themselves. They need a tribe, which gathers like people coming across the dessert for some weeks of wedding celebrations. Some members of the tribe carry its wisdom. Ji-ho's friend Park Yeong-jae and Jeong-in's sister Jae-in start dating. Separately and together, they are voices of the solution. Jeong-in needs people to mark the boundaries, and Jae-in does this for her, as do her mother, older sister and friends at work. Ji-ho leans heavily Yeong-jae, who just knows about people and is very kind.  Ji-ho is also helped by his mentor at work, Wang Hye-jung.

In the context of this support system, crucial shifts occur. Jeong-in, who describes herself as selfish, is helped by Jae-in to see that honoring her heart's desires is not selfish, but pouting is.  When Ji-ho falls apart, Hye-jung says to him, "Good for you. You look less dependable but more human." He is predictably flustered by this. These screenwriters do not think that shifts occur in the conversation, but rather in the processes that follow, those of reflection and trying on new ideas.  The conversations are not indulgent, even when the protagonists ask for that.  "No whining, no excuses," is the distinct subtext. 

The Wisdom of the tribe is not a lightning bolt of revelation but rather a process of interaction. This series of scenes at the end of Episode of 15 illustrates this. 

  • When Ji-ho falls apart, he asks Jeong-in if she's really committed. 
  • This makes her question herself. 
  • She then wants to take a break from the relationship, which freaks Ji-ho out.
  • Jae-in and Yeong-jae discuss this, and he says, "It's not a break-up, just a break. I can see both sides."
  • Jae-in tells Yeong-jae they have to take a break because she has to stand by her sister.
  • Jae-in scolds Jeong-in that she should be taking care of Ji-ho, who's having a hard time. 
  • Jeong-in takes this to heart and goes to the pharmacy where he works. 
  • Hye-jung recognizes the moment of reconciliation and hides her in the backroom of the store. 
  • When Ji-ho comes back, Hye-jung pretends to scold him and tells him to lock up. 
  • He goes in the back to do this and finds Jeong-in there, which leads to their making up (and making out) and the joys of Episode 16. 

K-drama is ambivalent about happy endings: it prefers to acknowledge the ongoing reality of life. But sometimes, when the tribe shares its Wisdom and the protagonists listen, things shift enough to lift some of the weight on life. This is a show about that: it ends with waltzing.  

Sunday, June 5, 2022

A Conversation about Music City

Brandon Duong of Shelterforce interviewed Margaux Simmons and Doug Farrand, leaders of the University of Orange Music City Project about their work.  It's full of analysis and anecdotes about the organizing that goes on to produce the spring Music City Festival and the fall Remembering Rosa concert.  It is a wonderful interview that is full of insights into asset-based community development and creative placemaking!