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August 18, 2012

Can Love Become Money? – Episode 18 – Korean drama review

Uhm Ji Won rides behind Yun Jung Hun on a bicycle with her arms wrapped around him as he pedals happily;This episode brings Yeon Jun Hun and Uhm Ji Won together in real romance at last. And it was worth waiting for. They are so very adorable together. In Tak is open and relaxed, while Da Ran is carefree, and just the right amount of strong. Although his transformation is more drastic than hers, it has been a shift by such gradual degrees that it’s completely believable. We feel this is who he really is, should have been all along.

Jo Yeon Woo looks haunted and stressed as his plot starts to unravel; In Tak describes his feelings about Da Ran to Mi Mi, who has to notice that they don’t in any way resemble her relationship with Seon Woo. She is starting to see the driven, haunted Seon Woo behind the charming and polished veneer, which has been cracking for several episodes, ever since the real Hong Mi Seun put in an appearance. His control is slipping on all sides, and Mi Mi defiantly chooses the role of In Tak’s cousin over the role of Seon Woo’s lover. In the end, though, she implements the next phase of Seon Woo’s plot for her own reasons. It must rankle that she’s doing it for In Tak, rather than for him, but Seon Woo is way too far gone into obsession to consider that a happy relationship might do more for his pain than an elaborate revenge scheme.

Yun Jeong Hoon and Eom Ji Won shop for furnishings for their new life together;Meanwhile, In Tak and Da Ran are such sweet lovers that we feel we could watch them for a whole series. In Tak even tells Da Ran his darkest secret, and she takes his hand, reminding him how young he was. Later, she puts two and two together to make Seon Woo. Her co-conspirators are stunned when she bows out of the game at the moment of triumph, in a long overdue fit of conscience. There are still too many secrets for the idyll to last, and by the end of the episode, Yeon Jung Hun gets another opportunity to express emotional extremes, and does it fabulously, leaving me to wonder for the umpteenth time what kind of training Korean actors get that makes them so very good.

The conspirators are closing in on In Tak, though the details are sketchy, as if the writers think we don’t care as much about the financial machinations as we do about the relationships. Now where would they get an idea like that? Actually, as involved as this plot is, they’ve kept it pretty clear, which is saying something where Korean drama is concerned. If we don’t know something, it’s because they haven’t revealed it yet.

When I first watched episodes 14-18 without subtitles, I was extremely confused by all the different women In Tak was meeting. He went on an obvious date with Eun Seol. Not only was Da Ran tagging along, she seemed mysteriously pleased by it, despite the fact that she and In Tak had already kissed (did I guess that was for the benefit of a Dalmatian? I did not). There were a number of emotional scenes with Mi Mi, who was calling him 오빠 (oppa – could mean big brother/male relative, could mean boyfriend. Are you thinking “eww”? Join the crowd). Then there was the real Hong Mi Seun, and finally, the contract bride (do I even want to know what that is?). Last but not least, Da Ran. Glad to have that all cleared up. I certainly never could have imagined what it was all about on my own!

Curious about the lyrics of the theme song? English translation

[I’ve already posted a series review, so I probably won’t go back and review episodes 14-17 and 19-20, but I thought my readers might enjoy this episode review anyway]


Also with Yeon Jeong Hun:

More Can Love Become Money? reviews
Vampire Prosecutor (Season 1) reviews

August 12, 2012

Can Love Become Money?
Moral Relativism and Paradigm Shifts

Can Love Become Money? is full of things that make you go “hmm,” though most fans may take it at face value, and ignore the implicit philosophizing. I regard philosophy as a misbegotten hybrid of spirituality and practicality that retains the value of neither, and therefore avoid it as much as possible. A philosopher can spend an entire lifetime stuck on the definition of a single word (“value,” for instance), which is a writer’s worst nightmare. But despite my antipathy, Can Love Become Money? got me googling philosophical concepts like “moral relativism.”

Personally, I think we are all part of one big something (you could call it God, but I don’t), perpetually experiencing every conceivable aspect of itself from every conceivable perspective. In the cosmic sense then, there’s no such thing as bad, good, right or wrong experience, since it’s all part of the big whatever-it-is. That perspective can be comforting when the chips are down. Yet it’s not much of an experience unless we give ourselves fully to whatever our particular path offers. So there’s a balance to be found between engaging with life, while taking it all with a grain of salt.

Oh, wait, was I writing a drama review? Right. About that…

ALL of the major characters in Can Love Become Money? deceive and manipulate others for their own ends. In Tak does exactly what he has vilified Da Ran for, and they forgive each other in the end because it was a question of “survival.” But was it? Da Ran tells In Tak she had no choice, but her actions contradicted her own defense, since she returned what she stole instead of pawning it, and drew the line at “becoming a scumbag.” In Tak, on the other hand, doesn’t hesitate to “borrow” what isn’t his to extricate himself from a dicey situation. Is it because he has the well-being of the employees and his obligation to shareholders in mind? Or because he arrogantly sees his needs as paramount to all other considerations? And by the way, a “Caucasian-only” hotel?? What was In Tak thinking!?

I don’t mean to suggest that Da Ran has any claim to moral superiority. After being romantically scammed for money herself, how could she dream of doing that to someone else? And yet, the comparison never seems to occur to her. An attempt is made to distinguish her from her con man ex-boyfriend. For her, it’s a last resort, while he’s a sadistic control freak who gets off on the emotional torture as much as the profits, with no mitigating backstory to explain how he got that way. But he’s irrelevant to the moral question: is financial “survival” a legitimate defense for dishonesty and exploitation?

Deputy Chief Bang (Kim Hyeong Beom) raises the point that to some people, dishonesty is simply not an option, regardless of their circumstances. His credibility as that kind of person is promptly eviscerated by In Tak’s attack on his knock-off wardrobe, and no one else in the drama argues for moral consistency. In fact, I get the distinct impression that the writer(s) regard any such thing as sheer pretension. Moral ambiguity is pretty standard in Korean drama – heroes have flaws, villains have tragic backstories, and it’s often difficult to tell them apart. However, beneath its comedic veneer, Can Love Become Money? is more cynical than most. Transgressors reconsider their behavior in light of emotional fallout, not moral absolutes or ethical standards. We are to believe that people who do bad things under duress don’t really compromise their integrity. Some viewers find this appalling, and I’m inclined to agree. It may be true that no one lives up to their values 100% of the time, but does that mean we shouldn’t bother to have any?

What I love about Korean drama is the way it makes me think. Sure, American TV raises Big Questions from time to time. But in Korean drama, Big Questions are front and center all the time, no matter the genre.

Have the philosophers gotten to me after all? I deny it. I’m interested in practical solutions. Since the first humans sat around fires in caves, entertaining each other with stories during bad weather, we have worked out our collective fears, self-conceptions and goals by imagining scenarios. The quantity of resources and attention we continue to invest in these shared fantasies reveals how important they are to us as a species. We are facing some very big problems in this moment of human history. We have to find solutions, or else. I don’t believe the answers can be handed down to us from hierarchies, since hierarchies themselves are one of the problems. More importantly, that isn’t how cultural paradigm shifts happen. Somehow, the time becomes right, and change occurs spontaneously, organically. People scattered around the globe start to think differently, and you can never really pin down the genesis of change to a single seed.

What has that got to do with Korean drama? Maybe nothing. But it intrigues me that an entertainment format so persistently concerned with difficult moral questions as they play out in daily lives should suddenly, just now, achieve international popularity across widely divergent cultures. I wonder whether the Korean Wave isn’t a sign of a paradigm shift in the making.

The title of Can Love Become Money? (also translated as Can Love Make Money?), still doesn’t make much sense to me. The answer seems to be, no, but money can become love. I think we are supposed to conclude that everyone learned a Valuable Lesson about the importance of money vs. relationships. That’s all well and good, but it’s not so clear what they learned about integrity.

Can Love Become Money? raises a lot of interesting questions, and doesn’t answer most of them. I guess that’s up to us.


Also with Yeon Jeong Hun:

More Can Love Become Money? reviews
Vampire Prosecutor (Season 1) reviews

Season 2 of Vampire Prosecutor starts on Sept. 9. Hope it doesn’t take too much longer to reach us in the U.S!