Why I like Jang Nara and My Love Patzzi: A Defense against the Tyranny of dahee fanel and javabeans, and Why Square Holes Are Problematic
Biting off more than one can chew is not only the proper methodology for eating saltwater taffy, but it is also a way of life for me – how else can we find our limits except by risking failure? And so, as I have been weaned on Mmes. Dahee’s and javabeans’ robust posts over the years, I myself have not been merely gawking in lazy consumption. No, I also eat drink man k-drama. And I have been growing. This post itself grew out of two seeds, one that I had, and one that dahee and javabeans planted. Clicking the pictures below will take you out of this defense and onto their respective front pages.
SONG OF THE DAY
Jang Nara – “Sweet Dream” [ Download ]
On to the matter at hand. There are unanswerable questions in life – the more well-known being “if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound” and “why doesn’t Yahoo email search work properly,” but there are more personal ones as well, like why I like k-dramas so much. While I still don’t have a definitive answer for any of these questions, perhaps a clue for the last question can be found in one Jang Nara, who starred in the loveable and moving (and short 10 episode) drama series, My Love Patzzi.
Every now and then, I’ve thrown a few comments here and there about how much I liked My Love Patzzi and Jang Nara, but haven’t received much support from either the elite literati or the unwashed masses. Not that I have minded so much, since there is value in being unique. Still, I have found certain truths through my itinerant window shopping through the trendy blog-shops of k-drama land, passing by such high-end stores like dramabeans, Thundie’s Prattle and Dahee’s Plastic Castle. One truth is that My Love Patzzi isn’t well-received, and the second truth is that k-drama blog-shops can be just as exclusive as any of the high-end shops you might find in the trendiest shopping areas in Seoul’s Apgujeong (압구정), where luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Prada and Gucci have set up shop.
And so it came to pass recently that a passing Thunderbolt struck me, noting that the immortal dahee herself had pounded 95 theses on the door to her plastic castle, one thesis of which was “And don’t even get me started on Kim Yi Young [scriptwriter] (why I ever finished My Love Patzzi, I will never know)”). That was a rather heavy bale of hay to carry, having also to deal with with javabeans’ own whole grain kernel contribution on the drama, “it’s a real lightweight,” and the snarkified musing of my own wife, Mrs. Samsooki, who dryly noted for the record, “I might have liked the drama if Jang Nara wasn’t so utterly annoying. I wanted to trip her the whole drama.” Seriously? Annoying? Lightweight?! Didn’t want to finish?!! These comments were the last straws, as it were. I have no choice but to respond in force. I didn’t start this war, but I am never one to shy away from defending cuteness personified.
My Love Patzzi is based on the Korean folktale of two step-sisters, Kongzzi (콩쥐) and Patzzi (팥쥐). In the folktale canon, Kongzzi is a well-mannered and pretty orphan girl and Patzzi is an evil ill-tempered girl whose family “adopts” Kongzzi, basically to get a free servant. Patzzi immediately makes Kongzzi’s life a living hell and then in the end, tries to steal a rich prince from her by lying about the real owner of a single lost shoe, much like the tale of Cinderella. The folktale is among the most well-known among Koreans, and all Korean children are indoctrinated with strong propaganda that Kongzzi is the good and beautiful girl, and Patzzi is ugly, rotten and bad. Just look at these children’s book covers.
Now, winners write the stories (and the book covers), and so it is small wonder that Kongzzi is always depicted as the good girl. Just look at the pictures – Patzzi is a sly lazy girl and Kongzzi is always working. In a breath of much needed fresh air, the story of My Love Patzzi is a courageous twist on the mind-control folktale: Jang Nara plays the role of the ill-tempered Patzzi girl named Song Yi who works in an amusement park opposite of her life-long rival, the prettier and more well-mannered Kongzzi named Hee Won. The twists are that (1) that Kongzzi is really the evil one and not Patzzi and (2) instead of there being one rich prince, in the drama there is a rich amusement park owner’s son and a poor seal trainer guy – both of whom fall for Patzzi.
What makes this drama so special is there is a sense of honesty in the characters and in the drama that never goes away. Perhaps this is due in part to the low production values which make it seem like you are watching a home movie at times, but mostly I think it is because Jang Nara’s portrayal of Song Yi is truly moving and real. Song Yi may not be the prettiest girl nor be the most pleasant to be around, but she is absolutely real and never ever fake. If she likes you, she will tell you, wearing a cute sea lion hat and holding a rose in her mouth. And if she doesn’t like you, well, then, she will tell you by hitting you. Unlike the myriad of k-dramas that are out there, and so refreshingly, the guys in this drama have absolutely no problem whatsoever in determining whether the main character likes them or not.
See, in Korean culture, young people tend to be forced into square holes, with a lot of pressure put on them from an early age as to how they should talk, walk, eat, greet, what they should wear, and who and when they should marry. The reason for this is because of the cultural cornerstone belief that there is a right way to do things, and doing things the “right” way will lead to a happy and successful life (along with honoring those that have tried to teach the right way). But inside these square holes, people who don’t quite fit the mold might often find themselves trying to be people that they are not.
In the drama, Hee Won tries to make herself look and feel better by constantly bringing down Song Yi, who then reacts in ways that further solidifies Hee Won’s tactics. The drama is basically the journey of Song Yi, discovering love for the first time in her life, and her battle against the evil Kongzzi Hee Won. Hee Won manages to turn the entire amusement park against Song Yi, but the two people who don’t fall for Hee Won’s tricks are the Kim X Wons (of the Jae and Rae variety), and there’s a very good reason for that.
Guys, at least guys I know, and despite what might be thought to be true, aren’t really that attracted to glitter and gloss once they are grown up. Ultimately, what guys want in a girl is someone they can trust, be friends with, and someone who will allow them to be themselves. And these factors are just as important as how a girl looks on the outside. A girl who tries to be exactly what other people expect (like a Hee Won) is almost certain to be fake, and the Kim X Wons, probably instinctively, are simply not interested in a person like that.
On the other hand, Song Yi is completely real. She laughs when she is happy, she punches when she is upset, and she shovels food into her mouth when she is hungry. With a girl like that, you know that what you get is real. It doesn’t mean that you have to fall in love with her of course, BUT, it does mean that if you do fall in love with her, you know that what you feel is real. And that’s why it wasn’t unrealistic that Song Yi got the Kim X Won’s to fall for her. And at the end of the drama, Song Yi makes a definitive choice as to which Kim X Won she wants to be with, and while I won’t reveal this choice to avoid spoiling, she makes the choice from her heart.
Now, this isn’t the best drama out there. But does this drama work and does it move me? Absolutely! And what’s more, re-watching it over the last few days, I am reminded of why I like k-dramas so much. This might be the barest bones example, but it really has everything that you could want in a k-drama: a catchy OST, a lot of heart, interesting and empathetic characters, an honest love story, and from the first episode to the last, My Love Patzzi moved me. And perhaps coincidentally to this exposition, this drama also sends out the message that not everything (and everyone) that people think is bad is bad, and not everything (and everyone) that people think is good, is good.
Now, as for dahee and javabeans, I have to say that on very rare occasion, being intelligent, well-read and articulate can be problematic. Loyal readers who browse and shop at these high-end, trendy k-drama blog-shops might fall into the habit of only seeing what there is to see at those shops. The fact is that had I read dahee’s and javabeans’ opinions before I got the chance to see My Love Patzzi for myself, it is unlikely that I would have taken the chance on this drama, and that would have been my loss. This is, then, the so-called tyranny of the high-end stores (and a paradox of sorts), where the very characteristic of being high quality inevitably leads to a finer winnowing than might otherwise be appropriate.
On the surface, My Love Patzzi is likely to be as weak as javabeans and dahee fanel would probably describe it – the writing is not particularly strong, the Kim X Wons are rather bland in their acting, and Jang Nara can appear to be more annoying than cute. In fact, Mrs. Samsooki used the word “annoying” three times in one long sentence, trying to describe how she felt about the drama. But what makes this drama work so well for me is the same reason that makes me think that Song Yi is actually attractive: the heart, when it is worn on the outside, exposed and vulnerable, is able to deliver honesty and emotion. All you have to do is give it a chance. Honesty in perspective and sincerity of the heart are two of the most attractive qualities that a person can have, in my opinion, and the same thing goes for dramas as well. What Jang Nara does when she plays Yang Song Yi is that she really doesn’t act at all. I think she plays herself, and while that might not make her a very good actress, at least in this drama, she doesn’t have to be. She is who she plays.
Now, both javabeans and dahee fanel are talented writers, bright and witty thinkers who have more knowledge about k-dramas than I will ever gain. But in the end, I think these same strengths can create brain aneurysms filters sometimes that block certain dramas from touching them, and consequently, others that follow them are apt to fall into the same trap. I guess it’s the price that must be paid, to be so high-end?