26 October 2012


Lee Jun-ki and ... the Hanbok in Arang

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on October 26, 2012
I have recently noticed that there is not enough Lee Jun-ki-(pretty)ness on this blog. Just because Arang is over doesn't mean it (and thereby, he) shouldn't receive equal treatment. Meaning: if Lee Min-ho gets to show off his clothes in Faith on here, then Lee Jun-ki must get the same chance for his drama.  
* I am sorry, but I really can't do a Jun-ki hair thread ... if there is one thing (and it's the only thing) I don't like about Jun-ki, then it's his hair in most of his dramas and movies.
 Arang and the Magistrate was visually beautiful also or probably even mostly because of the colorful Hanbok that they used for costumes. As this is one of the best planned and most tightly written shows I've seen in a long time, I'm pretty sure some or even a lot of thought also went into the colors of the costumes. Let me try and second-guess the costume designers. And because this show cannot be reduced to Lee Jun-ki, I will look at the Hanbok worn by him, by Arang, and by Joo-wal.


We first meet Arang as a ghost with no memory, who has been wearing the same tattered dress for three years. It's a (formerly) white and pink Hanbok. She also wears trousers with colorful stripes; I wouldn't mind owning a pair of those, actually. She asks Eun-oh to give her new clothes to go 'see' her former fiance, and he complies, since he wants to help her regain her memory (because he believes that's the key to finding his mother). Yeah. What follow is "the measuring scene" ...*swoon*.
The new clothes turn the dishevelled ghost into a woman ghost (gulp moment for poor Eun-soo) and it's her first step on the road to redemption. Unfortunately, the prettiness doesn't last ... she is attacked by a band of ghosts almost immediately after putting on the new dress and before being able to 'meet' her former fiance. Poor Arang: She doesn't own anything but this dress, and it is taken from her so quickly.  
In fact, Arang constantly needs a new outfit because they are either destroyed by fights or destroyed by blood (usually hers) or taken away from her by the Gods (when she goes to see Jade Emperor in heaven, she is stripped and 'reborn', emerging from a lake, completely naked). All in all, she "dies" three times after being reborn, and each time, a set of clothing gets ruined. The often bloodied clothes of Arang are a reminder of her un-humanness and of the violence that always surrounds her. 
The Dress she is killed in the first time she is reborn
The Dress she falls off the cliff in

The Dress she gets her neck slashed in
The Dress she gets stabbed by Evil Mom in
Her body cannot be destroyed, but the outer human shell, the clothes, can. Therefore, giving her new clothes to appreciate her humanness becomes such an important trope. The way to this woman's heart is through food (particularly peaches) and clothes, which both signify life to her, things she couldn't have when she was a ghost. 
Arang, like Eun-oh, wears pastel colors, mostly in blue, pink, and violet hues (with just one skirt in orange). There also is a lot of white on her. Her colors never clash with Eun-oh, except when she wears the orange. In fact, they often are "color-coordinated" - and the closer they get, the more their dresses also harmonize.


Initially, we get to know Eun-oh in a light and dark blue Hanbok, which he is wearing for the first four episodes. It's a beautiful blue-on-blue combination, but I did start to wonder why this nobleman didn't have any other clothes ... It is the set of clothes that are the most flashy and bright, and I think he is wearing them until he starts changing as a person with no heart to a person with a lot of heart. 
The more he gets entangled in the story, the softer the colors get for him. His arrogant and rough demeanor doesn't change the fact that he is hiding a very kind and vulnerable personality, which is expressed in the soft, harmonious colors he gets to wear (when not in his Magistrate's uniform, which he first wears with reluctance, and then with more and more ease).
He is mainly wearing variations of blue and variations of violet, and often close variations on top of each other (mauve and violet, apricot and French rose, light blue and dark blue, etc.).
In Korea, blue symbolizes integrity. It is associated with the moon and is passive, yielding and receptive. It also represents death. The opposite, red, represents the passionate energy of life - the magistrate's uniform and his favorite blue color Hanboks are clearly opposites of each other. While he is dead to the world in the beginning (blue), he becomes more and more alive and engaged with the world (red).
The longer the show progresses, the more he (and the other two) wear purple, which stands for spiritual awareness and physical and mental healing. All of them indeed become more and more aware of the stakes in the game. Arang and Eun-oh also accept their fate - which is a type of healing.
He also is the character we see most often in white (apart from Jade Emperor, of course!). In Korea, white is worn for weddings, new years celebrations and funerals - to celebrate the journey to the afterlife. While the color white symbolizes purity, innocence, peace, it therefore also has a lot to do with death (and mourning). The first time he dons a white dress is when he holds a funeral for Arang's former self, Lee Seo-rim.
Thereafter, we often see him in his white undergarments. These scenes are the ones where he is the most vulnerable, because he is stripped bare of his protective layers, and the signs of his nobility. And death is always present - for both of them live on borrowed time.


In stark contrast to Eun-oh, Joo-wal’s hanbok are of vibrant, strong colors. He’s the young master from a respectable family and this is how yangban show off their status. He almost only wears complementary (clashing) colors: green and orange, purple and yellow, mint and pink, etc. Outward, this is the image of a confident, flashy, and arrogant person. However, the loud and 'clashing' colors can also be seen as a symbol for a torn personality with no inner harmony.
Even when he also wears purple in episode 17, there still is no harmony. His healing isn't happening. Or rather, his healing (or his memories that are coming back) are the source for his immense suffering.

Joo-wal is also the only one apart from Big Bad (and Hades and the Grim Reapers, of course!) that is wearing black in this show. It is obviously an assassins's color that makes him invisible at night - but it also signifies the darkness that is swallowing him up. Maybe he dresses the most colorful and the most brightly because he tries to somehow keep the black evilness that has such a strong hold on him at bay.

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