Analysing k-drama has helped me realise how much work goes into these shows and appreciate them so much more. Having written over 200 blog entries, I would like to share my approach on how to analyse k-dramas so as to enjoy them so much more. I have a degree and Masters in English and will be applying literary and film analysis techniques in the webinar.
I will be launching a webinar very soon titled “Unlocking the Keys to K-drama” soon. The webinar will cover my Genre, Characterisation, Technical Details approachusing dramas like Healer, Queen In-hyun’s Man, Legend of the Blue Sea, Goblin, Suspicious Partner, Hotel Del Luna and The World of the Married. If you are interested to sign up, please indicate your interest by clicking this link and you will be placed on a mailing list to be notified once the webinar is up. Spaces will be limited since it is my first run. Thank you!
[This is the second show I’m watching together with my wife and I’m loving the discussions we have about it. This review was done jointly with my wife and her additional responses are indicated in brackets as being from WIML – “the Woman in My Life”. LOL.]
As the plot thickens and more characters get introduced, we seem to be losing the zippy, fun energy that characterised the first two episodes where we could just focus on Joon-Jae and Sim Chung. While there certainly wasn’t a lack of plot progression, I did find this week’s episodes much less compelling to watch than last week’s offerings.
Part of the reason is that the other characters within the modern day storyline aren’t very interesting at the moment. Nam Doo, Joon-Jae’s partner-in-crime and best friend, is probably the most interesting character in the modern world besides our lead protagonists and his dynamics with Joon-Jae is fun to watch as there also seems to be something deeper going on between him and Shi-ah. However, besides him, the other characters in the modern world are currently quite bland, including Shi-ah. Another reason is due to the looser structure of the modern day storyline, where episode 3 was mostly about missed opportunities for Joon-Jae to meet Sim Chung and this episode was really about re-establishing the premise for Sim Chung to become part of Joon-Jae’s life. We do get some insights into Joon-Jae’s rather complex family background in this episode as we learn his dad, Chairman Heo, has been attempting to find him, which angers his wife so much that she has sent the fugitive, Dae-Young, to get rid of Joon-Jae. However, even based on this, there doesn’t seem to be enough storyline to stretch across twenty episodes.
By comparison, the Joseon storyline fares significantly better because the characters are more compelling and storyline much tighter. We may not have seen Lord Yang much, but I always find his words carrying so much weight. The brief conversation he had with his giseang was so loaded and menacing as they put in place a scheme to spread rumours about the mermaid, while concurrently sending swordsmen after her. This is rapidly followed by growing anxiety amongst the villagers who then proceed to pressure Dam-Ryung to kill Sae-Wa. However, he decides to go find her because she has risked her life to come out and find him. The brief sequence ends with Dam-Ryung arriving in the nick of time to save Sae-Wa. There certainly is an energy to the Joseon storyline that I wished was more present in the modern day storyline.
What I liked about the modern day love story though was that although Joon-Jae’s memories had been removed, both him and Shim Chung do not start off from ground zero. (WIML: Thankfully so. Amnesia is always a plot cop-out, and once in a whole series is about what I can handle, two would be tiresome. I’m waiting to see what it is that will trigger Joon-Jae’s memories and fill in his flashbacks, which are currently of him escaping the thugs alone, with Shim Cheong.) The photograph with both of them in Spain triggers suspicion from Joon-Jae and his question is goes beyond who she is, but why he can’t remember what happened. I appreciated that she becomes a part of his life once again not because he finds himself instinctively attracted to her, but because his curiosity about what happened in Spain and his protectiveness for the under-dog, something which we also saw in the previous episode where he led CEO Jang to reflect the people she had wronged. Shim Chung’s child-likeness is put to good use, especially in the fireworks scene, where she instinctively (and hilariously) jumps to protect Joon-Jae and also asks him innocently why he’s not taking photographs, unlike everybody else. He then tells her that he can just remember, and she responds that he’s taking photographs in his heart. It’s a nice moment of connection between both of them, which also links Joon-Jae back with his past.
Once again, the tightening of the Joseon and the modern day storyline works well as we learn about how the mermaid can only love once in their lives and will risk their lives for that love. I’m not quite sure that we can say the mermaid “loves” Joon-jae, but there’s certainly an attraction that could be classified in human terms as an infatuation. That infatuation alone could be compelling enough for her to come all the way to Seoul to find him. Once again, we see that the mermaid’s life is put in risk because of her relationship with Dam Ryung/Joon-Jae, who decides in both storylines to go defend the mermaid in spite of his friend’s advice. We also return to the picture on the vase, which is from the Joseon era, but the guy is dressed as if he’s from modern times. This is certainly intriguing, but it opens up the possibility of time-travel which I hope is a route that the show doesn’t go down because it’s not quite in line with the tone of the show.
There are also parallels which are established in a more playful manner. While the naming of the mermaid as Sae-wa in the Joseon storyline was poignant and sweet, the naming of her as “Shim Chung” here is done in a teasing manner, where Joon-jae says it’s a short way of saying “really, really stupid”. The mermaid’s joy at being named “Shim Chung” is adorable, as she immediately introduces herself to Tae-Oh with that name. It’s not just Joon-Jae and Sim Chung who have parallel storylines, but the epilogue also shows a scene where Joo-Jin and her husband are slaves of Joon-Jae’s mum, who torments her so much that Joo-Jin wishes that she were reincarnated as her master. It’s a delight to see that the parallel between both storylines is not taken too seriously, almost as a subversion of the seriousness of the myth.
On a final note, Jun Ji-hyun continues to be the highlight of the show, with some great comedic moments in this episode especially when she gets jealous of Shi-ah and tries to mimic her ladylike ways of eating. (WIML: This meeting between the two, right after Shi-Ah relooks at the mermaid pottery, appears to be a setup. My guess is Shi-Ah will be the one to make the connection that the mermaid on the vase resembles Shim Chung.) In a Lee Min Ho’s character is growing on me as we start to see the softer side of him and his vulnerabilities. My sensing of the show though is that it seems to be losing steam after last week. Let’s hope the story starts to pick up pace in subsequent episodes and that the supporting characters get built up more concretely.
(Image credits: Asian Superstar/YouTube, taken from itechpost.com)
In my previous post, I commented that the sageuk storyline was more fascinating and intriguing than the modern day one because there was a clearer sense of where it was heading. A similar case could be made for this week’s episode because we essentially spend most of the modern day episode with our protagonists apart, only with them to reunite at the end with Joon Jae still not remembering the mermaid. However, once we start to put both the sageuk and modern day together, we get a sense that there’s something larger that the show is driving towards.
The parallels between the sageuk and modern day storyline become even more apparent in this episode. Sae Wa relates the story of her and Dam Ryung knowing each other as children/teenagers, then having to part unwillingly once the Dam Ryung is match-made. Dam Ryung rides out on the night of his wedding to find Sae Wa by jumping into the sea. She saves him, but also removes his memories in the process and he finds himself adrift on the sea, not knowing what happened. When hearing the story, Dam Ryung gradually realises that the boy in the storyline is him because his wife has always resented him for disappearing on the first night of their wedding. In our modern day storyline, we have a similar set of broad events happening, where they get to know each other and grow closer, only to have the mermaid remove his memories of her while saving his life, then leaving him on the beach. After a certain period of time, the mermaid seeks him out again to reestablish contact. There’s an element of myth/legend-building going on where our protagonists are trapped in a cycle of fate in which they get closer only to have to restart their relationship building all over again. The jade bangle certainly plays an integral role in this myth and I’m thinking it could be a family heirloom passed down over generations of mermaids.
While I appreciated the tightening of both storylines towards building a myth/legend, there are two gaping plot-holes that bothered me, of which the first one was explained not by the show itself but through an interview. Firstly, I wondered why Sae Wa was able to converse so competently, with no sense of social awkwardness in the sageuk storyline whereas she’s reduced to a child-like immaturity in the modern day storyline? Based on a recent interview with the production crew, the mermaids in both storylines are supposed to be different characters, which should have been made more obvious from the start because most criticisms of the first two episodes stem from the inconsistencies of the portrayal of the mermaid. Given that both mermaids are supposed to be different, it makes more sense since Sae Wa did have more time to acquire human language through interacting with Dam Ryung since childhood, whereas the mermaid in the modern day storyline really started from scratch.
Secondly, in the first episode, we learn that mermaids can erase the memories they want erased. If so, then why doesn’t the mermaid just erase the memories of Joon-Jae learning that she was a mermaid rather than all his memories of her? Doesn’t she realise that besides Joon-Jae, there were many others who saw her (many of whom she beat up) and therefore her attempt to erase his memories of her would be futile? If her intent was really to fulfil her promise to him and go with him to Seoul, then why remove all his memories? This is unfortunately not explained convincingly. At the end of this episode, we return to the beach when she departed from him, giving him the jade bangle and telling him that she will go and find him, regardless of how difficult it will be. I actually found the mermaid at the end of this episode rather inconsistent with the mermaid we saw in episodes 1 and 2, because she expresses herself with such conviction and awareness, and when she says “I love you”, it’s as if she completely understands what it means. This is so unlike the bumbling, awkward mermaid that we saw earlier. Nonetheless, this is just something we’ll have to accept as part of building the romance between our protagonists.
I spoke earlier of the show engaging in myth-making, but in some senses, it’s also engaging in myth-breaking and we can see throughout the first three episodes an intentional attempt to break down the traditional stereotypes of what mermaids are like. Instead of being defenceless and in need of protection, this mermaid is physically strong and perfectly capable of fending off any attackers. The mermaid is usually a representation of grace and beauty, yet the mermaid in this series emerges on land in T-shirt and track pants, scrounges through trash bins and even attempts to steal money from a kid. Our usual impression of the mermaid is that she is friends of all the animals in the sea, even sort of a guardian of them, yet the mermaid in this show strikes fear amongst the sea life and we get a hilarious scene of a child expressing shock that the mermaid ate the fish. While such portrayal of mermaids may not be original (in light of what we’ve read recently about the show’s plagiarism), it did work in light of this episode and provided moments of genuine humour. I did like the scene between the mermaid and the child, where the child inducts the mermaid into the realities of life regarding money, which was a really neat twist to how mermaids are usually regarded by children as fantastical characters.
As for Joon Jae, there wasn’t much going on in this episode and I was mostly hoping he would realise that he had met the mermaid in Spain much earlier. We do get some backstory about his mum, but I found it too coincidental that his mum turns out to be the helper of Shi-ah, who is pining after him. I’m interested in what happened between his mum and him that led to their separation, but as of now, his conman tricks are slowly growing old and I’d like to see more character development and interaction between the mermaid and him.
Regarding the romance, I’d really appreciate more moments of genuine connection between Joon Jae and the mermaid because for now the romance seems rather forced and I cannot really see why the mermaid loves him so much to swim all the way to Seoul to find him. Perhaps it’s because she’s the last mermaid left, which made his not letting go of her in the previous two episodes all the more significant because of how lonely she is now. However, we urgently need our characters to reconnect, especially after the memory reset that just happened. On a similar note, let’s not have this memory reset take place too frequently because it often means that the relationship needs to be rebuilt, which is not helpful for a romance. I also found the soundtrack too repetitive in this episode and preferred if it were saved for moments where our characters truly connected, as opposed to the scene at Seaworld, where we know that Joon Jae still does not remember the mermaid.
All in all, there’s some potentially good stuff in this series, but it seems to be stumbling its way forward and losing its audience due to the plot-holes. I feel that it should really be made clearer that both mermaids are different. Moving ahead, the series should stop overplaying the element of the mermaid’s adaptation to modern society storyline and move towards developing its own mythology, or the so-called “Legend of the Blue Sea”, in a more consistent and compelling manner.