Good afternoon 🙂 The sun is setting, a golden world ❤
This post is from a scene of the 2010 South Korean fusion sageuk The Slave Hunters ( 추노; 推奴 ; Chuno). It was a year ago when I first watched it. I have no summary here, but I can direct you to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Slave_Hunters if you wish to read one. All pictures here are captures from the drama. A sageuk is a S. Korean historical drama. Fusion because it has contemporary elements, those that are non-traditional to a sageuk such as stylized costumes and background music that does not belong to the period. The period of this drama is the Joseon Dynasty, in the early 1600’s. Aside from the traditional music featured here, which are lovely, there are also pop and rock sound tracks. One of them, Stigma (Yim Jae Bum), will have its own post here one of these days. It embodies what for me the theme of the drama is, which is a chasing after something that cannot be had, in this lifetime at least.
The slave hunters are just that, they hunt for run-away household-slaves. They are mercenary-like in that they can be hired by anyone, or that they can claim rewards from owners whose slaves they have caught. They have a low status in society and are loathed by the slaves especially. They are not an organized body and hence there is competition among the different chuno gangs. They live by brawn mostly, and brains for some like the group in this drama, which consists of three friends who are among the best in the trade:
⇐1.) Mr. Choi, nicknamed General Choi, or Choi chamgun, the oldest in the group and hence the older-brother-in-authority for the two younger ones;
2.) Daegil⇒ , about 6 years younger than Choi chamgun, is the originator of the group and has the most know-how on their trade;
⇐3.) Wangson, the ladies’ man and the youngest of these three, lived formerly as what one would call a scoundrel; it was because he pick-pocketed Choi chamgun that the three first met, in a scuffle;
This scene here involves a newcomer to the group, Seolhwa. She’s only 17, about half the age of Choi chamgun, and maybe about 10 years younger than Daegil. She calls the three men her orabeoni, meaning older brother. Seolhwa was sold into slavery when she was 6 because her family was starving. (At another time I will relate this with Won Bin’s movie Ahjussi, where his character Cha Tae-shik has a small friend Somi who got into contact with children who were abandoned in a similar way by their parents. This is a modern-day setting movie.) Seolhwa was resold into prostitution in her early teens and is first seen in the drama as belonging to a traveling group of entertainers that goes around Joseon. She is a valuable asset to its owner, a nasty woman who has a retinue of private thugs. One particular evening Seolhwa, apparently deciding to abandon her way of living, slipped through her guards and thus managed to come across the three chuno. From then on she has successfully attached herself to their gang. Hence, she has become an unofficial member, taken in by the “older brothers” out of their sense of responsibility for one in such a helpless and danger-full situation. She is a smart aleck but also surprisingly smart. Despite the three’s initial refusal to take her in she eventually gains their genuine acceptance.
In this scene the companions are momentarily at a walking-rest pace in the middle of their pursuit of a run-away military-baracks-slave, one whose price is a whooping 500 monetary units and so would be quite a catch to the struggling gang. The dialogue is mostly between Seolhwa and Daegil, who are walking ahead of the other two. Choi chamgun is at the rear, by reason of having the unspoken responsibility of watching his group’s back. Besides, he’s the quiet type. He doesn’t speak in this scene. Seolhwa has chosen to attach herself to Daegil. Wangson was supposedly, by an unspoken rule, be the one in charge of her (has something to do with age-related ranking within the group). But since Wangson is the playful playboy of the group and Seolhwa’s status normally elicits sexual innuendos from men then both continually clash. Daegil, therefore, seemingly grudgingly looks after her now. But the truth is that behind Daegil’s rough facade he’s the most sensitive of the three men, something which, I suspect, Seolhwa instinctively sensed since it was him who actually effected her rescue from her madame-owner and her thugs that night she ran away. The clothes she wears now is the one she ran away on — clothing was expensive, so it’s either they splurge for her or they steal for her or she just goes on with the only set she owns.
In the conversation Seolhwa reveals that she lives only for the day. For one so young it’s such a grave statement, as if she has seen so much already and is now resigned to just embracing what can be had right in front of one’s eyes and not so much as hope for more or for a better situation in the morrow. Wangson and Choi chamgun more or less have this same attitude to life, whereas Daegil thinks differently — but more on this at a later post ❤
It is just a simple conversation but one that I appreciate for its timelessness. For such situations as Seolhwa’s and the slave hunters dreaming of an abundant life is a luxury. Many would deem it an impossibility. I was a bit taken aback by the matter-of-fact way Seolhwa talks about it — this is how her persona is presented in the drama, as someone who has tasted the gruesomeness of life and yet manages not to let it show. Daegil, on the other hand, broods over and nurtures his pains. I’m happy to share with you here a tiny part of the entire story, and in pictures, too (a million thanks to the makers of Chuno). The gallery zooms in when clicked on.
❤ that’s it for this scene … the one that follows is a series of pursuits again, where Seolhwa will surprise Daegil with two more things, that she can ride a horse just as well as they can and that she can be sharp about discerning situations ❤ Seolhwa is basically for comic relief, because the drama is simply awash of heartaches plus it has many instances of sword fight violence — I watched it because my Korean classmate recommended it to me after learning that the plight of the lowest of classes in the old Korean society interests me, by the reason that I have found out that its mechanics greatly helps me understand the everywhere contemporary wo/man, and of course at the same time contemporary Korea/Japan.
The situations of the Chuno characters are, in one word, depressing. But Seolhwa in her role as the silly youngster in fact carries the light that would have been Daegil’s redemption from his perennial angst. Chuno can be spoken of as Daegil’s story but more can be seen within it after just a little more digging behind Daegil’s glaring presence. It is Daegil’s angst that provides the drive for the main plot but Daegil owns only one face of this angst — because it can be seen in the adjacent/parallel subplots as well. Almost everyone here is trapped by circumstances and are striving for some sort of restitution. There are no obvious answers at the ending, so it’s far from the happily-ever-after formula.
This journey with Daegil, this main body of the drama that is within this tiny period of fictional history, is much more value-full for me than any ending the writers would have come up with. Many are upset by the tragic ending and are only compensated by the hope that Daegil’s sacrifice has provided — he dies so that a future government, one that is redemptive, will have a fighting chance to emerge — at least this is the obvious conclusion to the story. For me I look at the entire story, which is the collection of the stories of the characters that I met here, as one of a perennial refrain in human life not so unlike that of Daegil’s at-times-pointless angst. I was able to meet people whose faces can be replaced by any of us who are of similar dilemmas and aspirations, of waiting for, of giving loyalty to, of trusting, of risking, of giving beyond capacity, of just getting by, of going on despite everything … there is so much packed within this tiny bundle of a story … I am at awe of how its writers accomplished such a tapestry ❤ My only regret is that I do not understand the mother tongue that is the medium for all the conversations, otherwise I could have gained much more than what I can glean from the English translations so generously provided by many people including the one running with the captures above.
Seolhwa is among my favorite characters anywhere. There’s another girl character here that shines as well — a slave named Chobok and is also a favorite of mine. It’s her face, along with that of the young girl whom Daegil has saved, who are featured at the very end of the drama as they watch the sunrise together and is thus a closure to the story. It is a parallelism to the official soundtrack’s Stigma last lyrics “When will the morning come?”. As for Seolhwa, I envy her capacity for springing back to life, for her resilience, her matter-of-fact acceptance of what cannot be changed, and her insistence in ploughing through hopelessness just to get to the other end. Her status as among the society’s dregs does not weigh her spirits down. The drama makes it appear like she’s a potential romantic interest for Daegil, which helps bring in the profits, but is actually something that is obviously impossible to materialize right from the start. This aspect of the relationship between Daegil and Seolhwa, the being there yet not there, is such a delicate layering of interactions that I am very impressed at how the two artists, Mr. Jang Hyuk and Ms. Kim Ha-Eun, have successfully put it across clearly.
Please do not be misled by my appreciation for the drama, interpreting it as a recommendation for just anyone to watch it — it’s because it has lots of violence and I would really caution one to be prepared for this aspect in case (you) decide to take a look at it. It’s not for the “innocent” because it can leave scars to the unprepared psyche. That is, I would not recommend it simply for light-hearted entertainment’s sake.
I recall one scene where Seolhwa was utterly irresponsible, where she sold the gang’s horses and spent the money on drinks — yeah, the lot 😀 but Daegil did the unexpected, by collecting her home without the slightest fuss — and as of now the only way I can talk about that scene is to relate it again with Somi, the little girl in Ahjussi 🙂 . . . ’til next time then 🙂 ciao ciao