27 September 2012

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Arang vs. Faith, Part III: The Male Leads

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on September 27, 2012
We're 7 weeks into both Faith and Arang and I'm getting increasingly annoyed with the former and am falling increasingly in love with the latter (if that's even possible). Yes, you can call my biased - but I promise to be as fair as possible while I continue to compare various aspects of the two shows.

After posting about the female leads (arguably the epicenters in both shows) I would like to do something similar for the male leads: the characters of Choi Young and Kim Eun-oh or 'Sato'.

Kim Eun-oh & Choi Young
At first glance, the two have nothing in common: Eun-oh, the illegitimate son of an influential nobleman (who, as we find out in episode 1, can see ghosts), is rather selfish and rude and ends of stuck in a small town as Magistrate because of his quest to find his mother, who suddenly disappeared on him. The desire to find his mother (whom he actually hates, as he confesses later) is the only thing that drives him (at least initially). Choi Young is the young leader of the King's Woodalchi (personal bodyguard). He is dead inside because he lost everybody he ever cared for, so he just sleeps and fights. The only thing that drives him (at least initially) is his honor as a warrior. Ah, and Eun-oh is absolutely, breathtakingly badass and awesome when he fights, and Choi Young is not; he sucks big time. But that's not the character's nor the actor's but the PD's fault and having a blackbelt in Taekwondo obviously helps with most-awesome-fight-scenes-in-KDrama-ever :)

At second glance, they do have something in common: Both of them are fundamentally changed by their interactions with the female protagonists. That's a classical KDrama thing, but in both shows, it goes beyond the standard 'rich-jerk-becomes-man-with-heart' or any variation of it. Its fundamental changes in the sense that they fix something that was severely amiss in these male protagonists: Choi Young learns to live and love again, whereas Eun-oh learns to care about others.

In both shows, the transformation has been slow - in a good way. The character growth never felt rushed and was always believably executed (I have many issues with Faith's writers, but the character of Choi Young is not one of them). But even though they might be going through a similar type of change, it affects them very differently.

Choi Young has the far better deal - he is falling in love/is in love, and this transformation is thoroughly good and positive for him. He is 'thawing' - and even though there is heartache ahead (their love is challenged by hundreds of years of time-difference after all), he has been saved from the destitute shadowlands of black despair. Even if he should lose her, he has been saved from the quasi-dead. She eases his suffering - he can smile again. That is truly sweet and I do care for this character; however, I don't care very deeply. I blame the lack of emotions displayed in the first few episodes (or rather, the total blankness and phlegmatism) for that - though he is becoming more and more engaging, I still feel a strange detachement from Choi Young; he's just not my kinda guy.   

Eu-oh on the other hand has been forever changed from a seemingly cold, detached bastard into a passionate and caring person (or, rather, Arang has unlocked what was always there, but was deliberately buried), but this very change is the source of his deep suffering. We are not getting the classical KDrama angst in this drama. Yes, there’s jealousy and yes, there’s confessions that have an angsty undertone – but the all-embracing emotion is the absolute certitude of loss. Once you not only know but also accept that someone is going to ‘die’, angst evaporates. You just want to make the last days meaningful for this person; you want to give them everything you can (like shoes, peaches, clothes … but also friendship, or love, or both). He said several times that he is ‘sending her off’ – it’s not a sending off because she is going on a journey, but it’s the last possible sending off 'to heaven'. It’s the final goodbye, and it is unconditional and completely selfless – this is the purest kind of love you can give somebody - and its absolutely heartbreaking to watch.
Eun-oh is doing everything right: he doesn't deny his feelings, he doesn't push her, he doesn't force her, he is honest, he is sweet, he protects her ... he is doing everything right, but suffers great pain, which is oh-so-palpable. There is no detachement here: this character sucks you right in and doesn't let go. Eun-oh, and how he is portrayed by Jun-ki, has now officially become my favourite KDrama character of all times.

Though Arang wins over Faith once again, both Choi Young and Eun-oh are great characters because they let us truly care for them. They're not just spoilt brats that need to be given a few clips round the ear, but deeply scarred psychologically by what life has thrown at them. They deserve a better life and they deserve to love and to be loved. Currently, I can imagine (and believe in) a happy ending of sorts in Faith, but not in Arang. Obviously I'm still hoping for one - but the writers have not given us the slightest bit of hope. In fact, they have persistently destroyed all possibilities for a happy ending, the deeper in we get and the more of the mystery unravels. It's probably time I brace myself for the buckets of tears that will come rushing out of my eyes soon.

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