March 13, 2016
I’m 4 episodes into Marriage Contract, one quarter of the way through the new MBC drama starring Lee Seo Jin and Uee. It was promoted as a melodrama, not my favorite genre, so my hopes weren’t high. I’m happy to report that it is better than I expected.
Uee is new to me, but she has a long history in Kpop, and quite a few dramas under her belt as well. Therefore, I was surprised by her blank, mannikin-like persona during the drama’s press conference. It was hard to picture her as an expressive actress, or even as a real girl.
However, it turns out that there is much more to Kim Yu Jin than meets the eye. She brings a rare dimensionality to the down-on-her-luck-and-desperate spunky heroine. This is even more of an accomplishment when you consider that the upper half of her face is obscured by her hair in many of her most important scenes.
Uee is a devoted mother to Shin Rin Ah, and their scenes together are touching. Although her luck is relentlessly awful, and she has shell-shocked moments when she receives bad news, we never see Uee surrender to the despair that is so often the precursor to a loveless marriage in Kdrama. She puts up with a lot when she must, but she is no martyr. Push her too far, and she pushes back. Whatever others may think about her life, she never doubts her own values or perceptions. In her introverted, understated way, she holds up and keeps moving under unbelievable stresses.
Lee Seo Jin is in his element, in a role that shows off his impressive range. His character is a major jerk from the opening scene,* leaving plenty of room for transformative growth. It’s risky to start off a drama this way. Without depth and complexity, an unpleasant leading man can turn viewers off. Not a problem with LSJ, though. The underlying humanity of his characters always shines through, no matter how badly they behave.
I’m looking forward to learning more of Ji Hoon’s backstory, particularly about his former life as a musician. MORE…
February 10, 2016
The South Korean government today announced plans to close the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Kaesong, also Romanized as Gaesong, is a city on the southern border of North Korea. Sageuk fans may remember it as the Korean capital during the Koryeo (or Goryeo) dynasty from the 10th-14th centuries, immediately preceding the Joseon era.
These days, Kaesong is home to 124 South Korean factories staffed by North Korean workers. The rather bizarre arrangement just goes to show that mutual greed overrides political principles when ruling elites collide. South Korean factory owners pay the North Korean workers about $74 a month. Minimum wage for South Korean workers is $5 an hour. MORE…
January 27, 2016
I just ran a link checker on Mihansa.net and was surprised at how many broken links I found. About half of these were to YouTube videos that have since been taken down, or sites that no longer exist, but I fixed the rest. I will monitor links going forward so I’ll be alerted when they go down. You can also report a link problem from any page by scrolling down to the bottom and clicking on “Report Broken Link.”
January 13, 2016
Lee Seo Jin fan? Me, too. Annoyed by “reality” TV? Me, too. For the likes of us, the year and a half since Wonderful Days wrapped up has been long and weary.
But rejoice, relief is in sight! LSJ has signed up for a new weekend drama on MBC. Many of LSJ’s most popular roles have been in MBC dramas (Hon, Damo, Yi San, & Gye Baek), along with some of his less known work.
MBC is really stepping up their outreach to English-speaking U.S. audiences these days – check out their MBC America page. Don’t miss the VOD tab, where you can view previous MBC series via embedded Hulu. Move over, KBS!
Kim Yu Jin, better known as UEE of the girl group After School, has been confirmed as oppa’s significantly younger leading lady. Hmm.
But she’s not just another pretty face. Acting was her original ambition before she took a detour into K-pop. She has appeared in a number of dramas, beginning with Queen Seonduk in 2009 (which was my intro to Kdrama and Korea), working her way up to leading roles, and receiving awards.
The new drama, with the working title of Hundred-Day Wife but now being referred to as Marriage Contract, is scheduled to start airing in Korea on Saturday & Sunday nights in late February. I’m psyched that it only has 20 episodes, which means more airtime for LSJ to do what he does best.
I’ll be watching on a local MBC broadcast station. Yes, I do know how lucky I am! But MBC has broadcast stations in several US markets, as well as availability through various broadband providers, so check their map before you hunker down to disconsolately wait for one of the streaming services to get it.
GirlFriday, my favorite bean, translates the description of Marriage Contract as “a warm, cheerful series” about a widowed single mom with a terminal illness. Only in Korea!
They won’t really kill off the leading lady at the end, of course. Or will they? You never can tell with Kdrama. Place your bets, people….
January 7, 2016
If you view mihansa.net from a phone or tablet and the navigation menus recently stopped working for you, that is fixed now. Sorry about that – the mobile theme plugin author suddenly made a change in how the menus are configured without warning users.
October 24, 2015
Check out this fascinating interview with Hyunwoo Sun (선현우).
Sun is the founder of Talk to Me in Korean, an ever-expanding Korean-language-learning site produced by Koreans living in Korea. In addition to podcast lessons and pdfs, which are free, the site offers videos, books, and every other language aid or service you can think of. Sun also opened a cafe in Seoul in 2014.
I started listening to the TTMIK podcasts about three years ago. The lesson topics seemed somewhat randomly ordered, and I listened to the first couple of levels repeatedly without retaining much, since I had no Korean speakers to talk to. However, when I had a Korean email partner for awhile, I found the downloadable pdfs that go with each lesson to be extremely useful.
Sun is interviewed by Colin Marshall, an American (as far as I can tell) with a website of his own on international urban cultures, who has visited Korea several times.
During the free ranging hour long podcast, Sun describes the way his personality shifts depending on the language he is thinking and speaking in, explains why Koreans avoid conversations with native English-speakers, and reflects on events in the Gwangju area around the time of his birth, an unsettled era of government repression and civil unrest which crops up in many dramas (the opening episodes of Love Rain, for instance, or the 4-part KBS Drama Special Amore Mio).
Sun also explains how Koreans become English teachers without actually being able to speak English. His examples of English as it is taught in Korea by these teachers are illuminating.
In fact, I was reminded of this interview when I was watching an appearance by Korean-American singer Ailee on Yu Huiyeol’s Sketchbook last night. She said something in English with her typical American accent at the host’s request, and when he looked blank, lapsed into a version of the same English phrase as English is commonly (mis)pronounced by Koreans, thanks to the above-mentioned inadequately trained Korean English teachers. I thought it was interesting that Ailee – who moved from the U.S. to Korea in 2010 – had evidently heard so much of this form of English that she shifted into it automatically, as if it was a third language.
Political support for English instruction in Korean schools fluctuates, but high scores on English certification exams have long been considered advantageous in a highly competitive job market. This assumption has come under question in recent years, but a great deal of money and time is still spent on lessons that don’t prepare students to communicate effectively in English, Sun points out.
But returning to the podcast: How Korean vs. American concepts of time impact conversation, high school elites, the progression of Korean friendships, and the impact of Korean group identification on elections are a few more of the topics it covers. Both host and guest e·nun·ci·ate ver·y dis·tinct·ly throughout the interview (for different reasons, I suspect, but the result is amusing, since the precision of the speech is at odds with the informality of the conversation).
I found this podcast on XiiaLive Pro, an internationally popular music app based in China, on a station called KoreaFM1. I haven’t figured out exactly what is going on with the station, but I think it broadcasts the same podcast nonstop for days (or weeks?), then rotates to another one. English-language resources about Korea from a Korean point of view are still few and far between, so in-depth, candid discussions like this one are a real treasure trove. Don’t miss it!
Talk to Me in Korean website
Hyunwoo Sun’s staff page on TTMIK
Hyunwoo Sun’s personal site – at first glance, seems pretty light on content, but check out the videos, especially this whiteboard cartoon story of his life, which really deserves a post of its own.
Hyunwoo Sun’s Korean-language blog, Why Be Normal
About page on Colin Marshall’s site
Marshall’s page describing (and linking to) this podcast
October 22, 2015
I have changed webhosts, and am cautiously optimistic that the many technical issues the site has had recently are a thing of the past. Sorry for all the hassles, and thanks for coming back!
I did move all of the website files, so if you find anything that isn’t working or doesn’t look right, you can post a comment to this message, or go to the orange section at the bottom of any page and click on “report broken link” (even if it isn’t a broken link).
If you haven’t heard, I am very happy to report that the 가족상봉 are in progress as planned. I’ll post about other developments in Korean politics and culture soon.
October 15, 2015
The international community hears a lot about the excesses of North Korea, whether it be the executions of former administration favorites, or candy bar economics. But an ongoing story we hear less about is how reunions between family members separated by the division of Korea in 1953 have become a political football.
A typical scenario is that North Korea starts making conciliatory overtures a few months before the annual South Korean – U.S. military exercises, which opens the door to scheduling family reunions. However, once preparations are underway, North Korea threatens to cancel them unless the military exercises are called off.
They have to know perfectly well by this time that the exercises will not be canceled, so the the whole call for reunions is a sham from beginning to end. But families who have been separated for half a century can’t help but hope. Surely this is the cruelest thing one set of Koreans can do to another, given the strength and importance of family ties.
Reunions are scheduled once again for next week. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the families will not be disappointed at this late date. Many of the participants are very elderly, and have not seen their relatives since they were children.
To give you some idea of the scale of the schism caused by the Korean division, there are 66,000 South Koreans on the waiting list for family reunions. 600 were selected by lottery for this round of reunions, and screened down to 100, with those who are least likely to survive to the next reunion taking precedence. Two of the South Koreans selected are 98 years old. More details.
This real life wound to the heart of Korea (the whole Korea) may shed some light on why the theme of lost relatives is so common in Korean drama. It’s an everyday truth etched into the family history of many, many Koreans, on both sides of the DMZ.
Getting back to the term for the reunions, regular visitors will recognize 가족 (kajok, family) from my earlier post. 상봉 (sahng-boeng) means reunion or reunited. Another word for reunion, 재회 (jay-wheh) is also sometimes used, so family reunion is 가족상봉 or 가족재회. Thanks to 귀선 for helping me with these terms.
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October 11, 2015
I came across this word while I was browsing a fascinating site by a Korean attorney. He explains Korean laws in excellent English, with full details, such as example scenarios, current cases, and the Hangeul terms that are used. One of those terms was 강제 or compulsion, forcing someone to do something with intimidation or violence.
My Korean language studies could not be called diligent, but I do try to sound out Hangeul words when I encounter them, and this one sounded out as “Kang Jae.” Wait, thought I. Where have I heard that before?
Actually, that’s just artistic dramatization. I immediately recognized it as the name of Lee Seo Jin’s character in Lovers. At least, it sounded the same. I searched high and low for a cast list that included the character names in Hangeul. I didn’t find one, so I don’t know whether the name of Kang Jae-the-lover was actually spelled the same way in Hangeul. But even if it wasn’t, I’m sure the sound-alike effect was no accident. Word play is common in Korean drama, and it just fits too well to be a coincidence, right?