The Scholar Who Walks the Night: Eps 9 - 12; followed by a personal view on cultural parallels
March 16, 2021 8:38 AM - Season 1, Episode 9 - Subscribe

Gwi offered power to the Joseon monarchy in return for … loyalty, some deference, regular victims, a place of his own. His lair is a cavern under the palace where evil Prime Minister Lord Choi and his other toadies visit him. There he slouches on a throne made of roots and rocks, beneath a macabre trophy. I mean, it's not as though the Underground Palace, as they call it, looks like a very nice place to stay.

I realised just now that Gwi is styled as an archaic being in black, red and gold long robes that are probably evoking a more ancient period than Joseon.

Kim Seong Yeol, the hero, a good vampire.
Jo Yang Seol/Seo Jin, a young woman disguised as a youthful bookseller.
Choi Hye-ryung, Lord Choi's daughter and Gwi's minion, the physical double of
Lee Myung-hee, Kim Seong Yeol's former beloved.
Lee Yoon, the Crown Prince.
Lord Choi, the Prime Minister and a Very Bad Man.
Gwi (which means Monster) the villain, an evil vampire.
Su Hyang and Ho Jin, Kim Seong Yeol's Agent and Steward, his protégées.

The events of 10 years ago that set the current situation in motion are revealed in flashbacks: Prince Sedong had discovered the memorandum and tried to implement it, all involved were discovered and either fled or were killed. Sedong was put in a dry well and left to starve until Gwi killed him. Fan commentary suggests that this references the story of real life Prince Sado, executed by his father by being placed in a rice chest until he died - a royal was not allowed to be physically touched with violence at that time. The parallel loosely confirms TSWWTN as happening in the latter half of the 18 century.

The flashbacks solve some ongoing mysteries. Who is bookseller Yang Seol? Why is the old King so macchiavellian? Why is Crown Prince Lee Yoon so constrained? KSY, lurking but powerless, had snatched a word with the prince before he died and had learned from him 'It's the people who will defeat Gwi'.

The memorandum is finally discovered only to be rejected by the King who has his own plans to defeat Gwi. A secret page in the memorandum reveals the core of the strategy: the King's Will, the Vampire Hunter and the Maternal Lineage. We're going to spend almost the next eight episodes watching everybody misinterpret these precepts.

Catastrophe happens, Yang Seol and her family are arrested by the King and carefully framed to divert Gwi's suspicion from the Crown Prince. Some people die, some are tortured (hard to watch) some are sent away to safety and Yang Seol has to be rescued from slavery within the Palace, which slavery is the King's idea of a concession to her innocence, very realpolitik. Kim Seong Yeol reveals his name and history in order to officially join forces with the King and is recruited to his unwise plan to hunt Gwi down. This is plotted to take place during Lee Yoon's wedding to the woman, Choi Hye-ryung, who resembles KSY's former lover. But in this timeline she is evil Lord Choi's daughter and Gwi's unwilling minion. She has an interesting trajectory in this story, being a strong character with complicated motives and a layered personality.

And there is So. Much. Plot. And so much betrayal. It's interesting to look at but difficult to summarise. And my goodness, these actors can cry real tears at the drop of a hat.

Kim Seong Yeol wears
* Rich brown damask surcoat over burnt orange damask hanbok in a small floral all-over design, with dark grey/black damask square yoke, same purple cord belt as previously.
* Black silk chiffon surcoat painted with pearl and green coloured flowers and foliage on both shoulders extending to front skirt panels, over steel blue/green figured silk hanbok. Garment has creamy yellow inner lining, mustard yellow double cord belt with knotted beads. Hat beads same as Ep 4/5 but either they have been restrung or the lighting is different: the colours are brighter and the round beads are more transparent.
* Sheer black silk surcoat with asymmetrical painted red flowers on left shoulder. Grey figured silk hanbok. White under robe. Khaki cord belt (probably is the mustard yellow belt from earlier.)

Here is a random picture of Gwi incognito in the brothel, come to glean info about Kim Seong Yeol. He's wearing clothing contemporary to the story's timeline instead of his usual robes.
posted by glasseyes (2 comments total)
 
Some general observations on K-Drama and my fascination with it.

The first k-drama I watched was Secret Healer, also known as Mirror of the Witch. I was just bowled over. By the production values, the acting, the performances just *bursting* with emotional *restraint*(!) the costumes, the ritual – it's a sageuk – and the absolute strangeness of it to someone with no prior knowledge or experience of anything to do with Korea. And also by what an obviously mature industry it is, given the filmmaking skills on display.

Now when we got to episode 10 and all the narrative expectations of the beginning had already been fulfilled and the story took an unexpected turn sidewise – this is typical of the genre (not TSWWTN though) but I didn't know that then – I just gave up. 10 more episodes to go and god knows if there were more series to come! Was there an end to this? Might it turn out like Lost? By the time I was ready to come back it was no longer on Netflix. But Crash Landing on You was on Netflix, and that led to exploration of the form, first based on Hyun Bin (somehow I acquired a red and black check flannel nightie off of that craze) and then more spread out. I'm finding these dramas addicting and from online comments this is not rare. And there are so many of them, there's such a lot of product. Would South Korean arthouse film have had such a talented pool of technical/practical expertise to draw on without the massive popularity of the more commercial product? Or is it the other way round and the commercial series are a by-product of highbrow filmmaking?

There are various classes of drama – thriller, melodrama, romance, historical, fantasy historical, sci-fi and and fusions of all of these. The more one watches the more one is aware of recurring tropes. Crash Landing on You very charmingly makes fun of this: one of the North Korean characters has an illicit fascination with South Korean drama and the other characters are always asking him to explain their South Korean experiences in K-Drama terms. But CLOY is not the only series to display wry self-awareness of some of the cliches. Some of which cliches are: the Back Hug, the Climactic Piggy Back, the Truck of Doom, Awful In-Laws … Amnesia! Coma! Tsundere (a horrible man gets nicer due to lurve …) Also Cross Dressing and relatedly, Body Swap.

Here is 14 Things That Will Probably Happen in the K-Drama You're Watching from Soompi. However when I first started watching I could not guess at all what was going to happen next and several dramas later that is still more or less true. Apart from, there probably will be back hugs, coma, piggy backs etc and the only physical contact between the leads will be very slow kisses that don't start to happen until about episode 12 or episode 16 in a 20 ep. series. Personally I appreciate the way sexual attraction is portrayed with such reticence, it's one of the reasons emotional communication is given so much weight. It also means series can be sold throughout East Asia and beyond without attracting censure.

The writers of these serials tend to be wildly eclectic and unafraid to borrow anything – ideas, titles, images, music, editing sequences. It's exhilarating. From the range of their references it feels as if they've had the same sort of slightly old-fashioned western slant to their liberal education that I did all those years ago. Greek myths, classic sci-fi, 19thC romanticism; Film Noir; all embraced enthusiastically as framing a new window from which to look out of a completely different system. What is newly created from this fusion is firmly grounded in a very specific, singular, deeply conservative and hierarchical culture. There is so much tension and springiness, agility and creativity, held in that contradiction.

I think Nigeria must be much more unruly than South Korea, a country with more than 1000 years of written bureaucratic continuity. I mean while I'm sure there's some old Yoruba sage somewhere who knows the list of kings over the past 1000 years, Yoruba is an oral culture and that is esoteric knowledge partly hidden in riddles as well as not being written down. That knowledge is not for just anyone to know. Moreover Nigeria is absolutely rammed full of contrarian individualists in spite of the pervasive social power of traditional norms. Nevertheless I do see parallels between Korean and Yoruba culture. The patriarchality of it. In spite of which, the culturally sanctioned possibility of pronounced female power and authority. Respect for wealth as a wonderful thing in itself. The way language expresses status based on age, with different pronouns and modes of speech according to relative position in the hierarchy. How people automatically calculate their own status down to the last millimetre relative to someone they're meeting for the first time. How respect is expressed in the body – gestures, prostration, posture, eye contact – and how there is a sort of consensus and willingness and sense of community about this. This is hard to explain so I'll try.

A character gets to meet his father after a long estrangement. His experiences in the story mean he now sees the man in a new light and with respect. The greeting to the father is a full body prostration. In the context of this particular story, the act expresses love. I found it moving; that the conventional gesture is open to being filled by the sentiment of the moment rather than being read consistently as submission, or as resulting from social pressure. The expectations of the culture are able to hold open a space where convention and feeling grapple for expression together, fighting with or complementing each other. That space is fruitful and I'm familiar with it.

Youtube has many videos from foreigners in love with South Korea and explaining language, customs, food and so on, and some of the presenters frankly state the reason for their adventurous fascination with the country is K-Drama. You will not be browsing very long before you come across opposite videos, the “I've had enough of the way this country works now and I'm off back home” video. But all the things the disillusioned complain about are right there in the dramas! Patriarchy! Drinking Culture! Prejudice! Nepotism! Workaholism and Workplace Bullying! Conformism! Really Horrible Elders!

This last deserves more mention. Male and female seniors behaving absolutely appallingly are a dramatic staple. (Character reaction: [shrug] what can you do, it's my mum/dad/boss/uncle, that's what they're like?) It leads to some wonderful roles for older women of a type I don't think are common at all in Western media. As villains they are straight up ruthlessly into money power and influence and use a lifetime of experience and connections to get it. THEY ARE FABULOUS. And also, they are going to jail, from whence they will continue with their empire building.
posted by glasseyes at 9:23 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Well, this was an eventful set of episodes, which I guess makes sense, since it's the midpoint in the series.

Highlights:

Yang Sun is put through the wringer; her happy-go-lucky life destroyed, her male identity erased (along with its freedoms), she gets rather brutally tortured, and her father gets killed in front of her a second time. And, for a series full of pretty people doing pretty things, it's pretty grim. Not super-graphic, but ugly, much the way our pretty vampires are exposed as horrible things when they really get going.

The outfits, as noted above are outstanding. I mean, really, if you want a bunch of eye candy, go no further. I love that the dramatic thing our hero does in the opening montage is tie his hat on decisively. And, cheesy as that sounds, the actor sells it. Also, Gwi's appearance at the brothel, where he initially looks just enough like Kim Seong Yeol to make you start (I swear it's in the way he wears his hat), is very alluring and menacing, but...

Su Hyang really brings it, especially in episode 12. When suddenly faced with Gwi and the Prime Minister, she takes it in stride and lies like... well, like a women who has been telling men what they want to hear for her entire life. The Prime Minister is a greedy idiot, but Gwi, immortal, unstoppable Gwi, is also fooled by a woman who is smart enough and brazen enough to lie as if her life depended on it. Also, A+++ for her hair in that scene -- the artificial roses braided on the right side made her more than a match for Gwi's outfit. Plus she poured that wine like a boss, even when she was in the line of fire.

In contrast, Ho Jin, dressed in dowdy brown and beige, just kind of mopes around and weeps.

I love the way that Jo Yang's eyes light up when she gets to handle books. It's an endearing trait, and very well expressed.

And, I don't know how he did it, but Lee Yoon, the Crown Prince, who really needs to be a bit more dramatic (what happened to the guy who shot arrows at someone until they coughed up the goods?), really pulled off that pale rose outfit that I was initially pretty dubious about. He manages to look grave and trapped but not stupid.

This is all slightly balanced by the dizziness of the plot. It's sometimes a bit hard to follow who is doing what, and the culminating action at the wedding feast didn't really make up for the interminable maneuvering that came before. I suspect that, if the leads had had a couple of frank conversations, this thing would be about 4 hours shorter, if not 6.

Also, why has no one stuck a knife in the Prime Minister. At least Gwi has a way of killing his duller underlings.

All in all, I am ready to see where the next 8 episodes go!
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:03 PM on April 28


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