Almost every day last week, I watched an episode of a Korean historical drama titled Arang and the Magistrate.
It’s the typical boy meets girl story with a twist…in this case, she’s a ghost trying to discover who murdered her. He’s the illegitimate son of the ex-prime minister in search of his mother. The ghost bamboozles him into becoming the magistrate of a small town that’s ruled by a villainous overlord and his bumbling yes-men so that the now-magistrate can help in her search. He goes along because he suspects the ghost may know his mother. They bicker, they hate each other, they fall in love!
I’m dependent upon subtitles, so I have no idea if it’s the writing or the translation, but there are so many western -isms that it’s annoying: i.e. the clothes make the man. There are plenty of tired (what I assumed were western) tropes: nagging girl, condescending guy, the scene where she dresses up and ‘holy cow’ she’s pretty, the I’m wet and shake my hair sexily scene, and the…you get the picture. Since this is a historical piece, I try not to get irked by the class differences, but the servants couldn’t be any more oafish. I mean seriously bizarre pretzels of physical comedy.
I’m 6 episodes in and I have no idea how they’re going to stretch this for 14 more episodes. If this were an American show, I would have given up on it by now. However, I keep coming back.
Why? I’d like to think it’s the depiction of the afterlife and the fact that the story itself is based on a Korean myth. This a mythology that I’m unfamiliar with and yet it’s explained well enough through the story that I think I understand it. Loosely anyway.
But it’s quite possible that I’m just jealous of the Jade Emperor’s hair…and fascinated by gats (Korean men’s hats) and the villainess’ hair. Holy coils Batman!
While the -isms, tropes and clichés annoy me, they do help me parse the story quickly.
There are ways of getting people into a story, even an unfamiliar mythos, without relying on overused tropes. But, then again, everyone seems to like the wet Darcy scene in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice.
I try not to use tropes and clichés in my own writing and am lucky to have people in my writing group who call me out when I do. Or should I be using them more judiciously?
Excuse me, I’ve got to go watch episode 7…