The Scholar Who Walks the Night: Eps 2 - 4
February 25, 2021 4:13 PM - Season 1, Episode 2 - Subscribe

Ep. 2 trigger warning for Gwi's seduction of a child to be his vampire minion. The bite etc is suggested more than shown but it is very creepy indeed. //As well as his secret forest mansion Eumseokgol Kim Seong Yeol maintains a base at the gibang owned by his companion Su Hyang. Having learnt in Ep. 1 that even with his new vampire powers he hasn't a hope in hell of facing up to Gwi, he has spent the 100-odd years since lurking, observing, looking for Prince Jeonghyeon's memorandum and on the way acquiring an impressive library and a reputation as a mysterious book-buying scholar. Developed by the Prince and the previous vampire guardian, the memorandum is a strategy for defeating Gwi. With KSY's help it was just about to be put into action when Gwi discovered it and destroyed all but one of the plotters.

“The two princes who tried to face Gwi ended up losing their lives and I just stood by and watched.”

Seen at the gibang, the brothel, Kim Seong Yeol is rather saucy here – we never see him be saucy again – a characterisation taken directly from the manhwa. Books are the pivot around which the major characters first meet: KSY and the young bookseller, disguised as a man for her safety; members of KSY's household, Su Hyang and Ho Jin, being introduced to the audience here; the bookseller and the disguised Crown Prince Lee Yoon, who is searching for a long lost friend as well as for the means of Gwi's destruction. The Prince camouflages himself from Gwi in dissolute feathers, escaping from the palace to hang out at the brothel drawing naughty pictures and writing dirty books; Jo Yang Seon the bookseller suggests they collaborate, she can sell anything. Prince Jeonghyeon also wrote an anti-vampire expose disguised as racy stories. Somehow Lee Yoon knows about Jeonghyeon and has borrowed his pen name, Lustful Student, for his own writings. This is where the resistance begins as Lee Yoon makes sure his own anti-Gwi writings spread far and wide under the guise of pornography.

There's a theme going about banned books v. orthodox knowledge. Written history is acknowledged to be actively edited in favour of current authority, obviously a thing in the real world also but often covered over. The two princes who rebelled against Gwi, Jeonghyeon and Lee Yoon's father Prince Sadong, have been erased from the historical record and all Prince Jeonghyeon's works destroyed. Except …? It is Yang Seon (birth name Seo Jin) of the mysterious identity whose ability to find rare, banned or significant books persuades KSY to continue his association with her. Books are banned for being racy, or maybe just frivolous, or for being politically incorrect. Yang Seon teaches kids milling about on the streets how to read - the use of Hangul and a certain in-story historical parallel kind of dates the story to maybe the 18th Century. Yang Seon is also an author, pen name Moonlight Rebellion, busy with a romance about a mysterious vampire hero The Midnight Scholar.

Flashbacks and revised end-of-episode recaps are a feature of the storytelling, which with all the intrigue going on is not always clear. Kim Seong Yeol is of course, a tortured and self-hating gentleman vampire of principle. He is protected from sunlight by a magical black robe so that unlike Gwi he can go out in daylight. A woman appears who looks just like the dead fiancee from 120 years ago. Unfortunately she's the Prime Minister's daughter and one of Gwi's minions.

These episodes have to-ing and fro-ing, big hats, looking for books and hanging around brooding. There are complicated subplots, a rescue – no, two rescues - a chase; and a real life accident on location that put both leads in hospital, holding up production and plunging cast and crew into live shooting earlier than expected.

Sensibility warning for some of the vampire effects and some of the music. However once I'd committed to the series everything became ok, even though I can think of at least two laugh-out-loud moments that weren't quite supposed to come across that way. Also, TSWWTN promised to be some glorious campy nonsense full of flouncing, gore and irony. It doesn't deliver on that front because there is nothing cynical or ironic about it.

KSY's costumes:
* gray silk Hanbok with self coloured streaking, possibly ikat woven, on front skirt panel; worn under sheer black surcoat with scarlet frog fastenings and simple scarlet cord belt; tan and jade beads as before.
* Black sheer silk surcoat with asymmetric painted red flowers on left shoulder over turquoise silk hanbok, dark green elaborately knotted cord belt with beaded detail, tan hat beads as above.
Plain white mourning hanbok including white veil and white hat.
* Sheer smoky dark gray or dark turquoise surcoat over white hanbok. Long narrow tan-coloured hat beads separated by clusters of three small round beads: pearly green, smaller olive green, pearly green. Purple belt with white beads and ornate knots in a double string.
posted by glasseyes (5 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The Gisaeng House at Hwayanggak – a kind of brothel cum hotel cum theatre cum restaurant cum nightclub – is portrayed as being a really important social hub. Strangers, foreigners and merchants all stay here bringing all the news of the nation and abroad and mingling with the local elite who spread it about as gossip. It's the place to find out everything significant that's going on.

Additionally the lodgings are comfortable and/or luxurious as needed, there's food, drink and alcohol on tap, amusing and beautiful company, entertainment and arts, and sex. Even if sex is of no interest it still looks like the best place in town to stay (for a man) with guaranteed discretion from all workers. Su Hyang runs this house, and it seems owns it. Kim Seong Yeol treats the place as an occasional headquarters. More on this later.

Su Hyang herself displays the wonderful qualities of a courtesan. Elegant, beautiful, discreet, super-capable and efficient, unflappable, hard-headed and strategic, a very valued member of KSY's household. The scholar holds regular house meetings with Su Hyang and Ho Jin his steward who is also a scholar, discussing aims and strategies with them and taking their advice seriously.

Su Hyang in these discussions sits with her skirts elegantly arranged about her (all the guys in the beautiful hanboks sit with their skirts elegantly arranged around them) one elbow resting on her upright knee, and delivers well-thought-out advice, the hard-hitting nature of which isn't at all diluted by the tact with which she delivers it. What a fabulous skill!

Jang Hee Jin who plays her looks extraordinarily like the manhwa character and is exceptionally beautiful. Her costumes are styled somewhere between traditional hanbok as seen in sagueuk, gorgeous vivid patterned Chinese silks, and corseted Victorian evening dress. They are stunning. Also she too has a nice line in hats. In Korean terms her profession is given by her clothing, hairstyle and hats. What that profession is, by her costume, is formidable charismatic businessperson whose services you can't afford.

Was it possible to live independently as a gisaeng? I've read somewhere about the life of oiran and geisha in Japan that such were the expenses of the lifestyle the majority of them would be in hock to sponsors for life, paying off debts for clothing, training, make up, living expenses etc. Of course I can't find the link now. If the patronage system for gisaeng was similar an independent self-directed life would be difficult to attain, never a standard expectation.
posted by glasseyes at 4:18 PM on February 25, 2021

I am working on catching up, and will soon have some comments on the actual episodes, but a couple of comments about the costuming. First, it's gorgeous (as noted in the body of the post), and it almost serves as a character in its own right. The Joseon era appears to have had very rigid rules on who could wear waht, so there is a lot of information about the characters in how they dress. I suspect that Gwi's fairly casual way of dressing shows that he just doesn't care about human rules at all*, in sharp contrast to Kim Seong Yeol's usually impeccable and proper dress.

I don't know what to make of Su Hyang's occasional forays into wearing what looks like Victorian women's clothing.

I am also having trouble getting my head around what the beads on the gats mean -- the gat denotes status, and anything outside of the basic black version seems to have extra significance (red means military?), but I originally thought the beads indicated some closeness with the royal family. Now I think they maybe just mean the wearer is really wealthy (or possibly stylish). If there is a "language of beads," I'd love to know about it.

* Although some of it is to show off as much of Lee Soo-hyuk's torso as broadcasting laws will alllow, I expect.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:50 PM on March 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

When I wrote “ Kim Seong Yeol's usually impeccable and proper dress,” I forgot about the number of times he appears without a hat. Maybe vampires don’t care about headgear?
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:00 PM on March 6, 2021

I am definitely enjoying the series. As noted, you have to be willing to accept sincerity -- this is not a camp series. For all the slightly ridiculous plotting and over-the-top character moments, we should read this as entirely serious.

I am concerned that Su Hyang will betray Kim Seong Yeol. She definitely wants the vampire powers, and maybe Gwi will offer them to her?

There are a few too many characters with narrow faces and goatees for my slightly damaged facial recognition capabilities to track, but I am slowly sorting them out.

There unfamiliar convoluted elements -- the flashback information only given in the opening and closing sequences is a very different form of storytelling. You need to watch everything.

I hope we get more development of Gwi's character. Currently, he's just kind of villainous.

Lastly, I am surprised by how... horrible some of the sequences are. The child vampire is legitimately awful, despite the reserved framing of her transformation, then her appearance, then her dispatch at Kim Seong Yeol's hands. It's not graphic, but it has an impact.

I like the layers of "Lustful Students." No wonder Gwi is annoyed by all of it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:25 PM on March 7, 2021

Sorry GenjiandProust, I should check more often. I really appreciate your comments here, and glad you're enjoying the series. I didn't get round to posting last week so didn't see you'd commented till just now.

I am surprised by how... horrible some of the sequences are I KNOW, RIGHT?!? Not sensationalist though. It's part of the earnestness of the series, which I think might have contributed to the way it was received. You expect one genre but you're getting something very different. If you bring genre expectations you'll be disappointed.
posted by glasseyes at 8:23 AM on March 16, 2021

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