Kdrama review: Cheese in the Trap

I have now watched Cheese in the Trap starring Park Hae Jin and Kim Go Eun twice, and I will probably watch it again at some point. Based on a popular webtoon, Cheese has multilayered characters that are fun to come back to again and again, and a college setting that is almost 1980s in feel. Like most Kdramas, it is a romance involving a rich young man and a poor young woman; the difference in this story is that the affluence of the young man is almost an aside. It is certainly a reason why many try to take advantage of him or seek favors from him, but for once the problem between him and his young woman is something entirely different: a personality disorder.

Hong Seol (Kim Go Eun) is a college student who periodically takes time off to work and earn more money, especially if she doesn’t get a scholarship for the upcoming semester. However, in the first episode we quickly learn that this time Seol is thinking of taking time off specifically to avoid a sunbae (or senior) in her major. Yoo Jung (Park Hae Jin) has inexplicably gotten under her skin, and Seol is both intrigued by him and afraid of him. The reason for her very real fear only becomes completely clear by the end of the series: Yoo Jung has problems, but we, like him, are not sure they stem from himself or from the actions of those around him. It “takes two to tango” as they say, but most often if a person is repeating the same problems over and over, the root issue isn’t something outside of them. Cheese is largely about Yoo Jung realizing that he does actually have a problem, but it ends on a hopeful note that it is a problem that can be fixed.

Seol is almost an afterthought in this story. It’s not that she’s not her own person or is sort of a blank character, but she really is largely a vehicle to showcase Yoo Jung and to mirror him. Both students are smarter than average, and both have to continually deal with people trying to ride their coattails to success. Of those who have more, much more is expected. It’s frustrating, but it’s true. In fact, one of Seol’s business teachers points this out, and that duty Seol has is a lot more complicated than merely helping someone with their work or doing it for them–the teacher says that Seol is the type of person who can help those underachievers with less smarts be at their best. Yoo Jung gets similar advice from his father, the owner of a large company, but Yoo only belatedly understands what he’s been trying to say. The key, the very difficult key, for both characters to help others is for them to genuinely care about those others. Seol is mostly there, but she backtracks a bit after starting to date Yoo Jung, causing more difficulties. It is shown that by and large the other, almost insane characters, do care, but it is Seol, and especially Yoo Jung, who doesn’t.

I can’t say I really understood all this the first time watching Cheese in the Trap. Some stories are simply so layered that it requires multiple views or reads to really get the message, even if it’s being told or shown to you clearly. Also, this is a difficult thing to swallow: Other people, no matter how annoying they are to you, care about you. In fact, they may even be antagonizing you because they desire your love and attention. You are experiencing insane behavior and even hatred towards you, because you aren’t truly caring for others. That doesn’t mean that these other people don’t have a responsibility to behave well on their own–they do–but so, so often people do awful things as a reaction to another awful thing: heartlessness. Heartlessness from those wealthier, smarter, more beautiful, more capable and blessed with gifts and talents they neither asked for nor earned. And from those people, more is expected. If they don’t give you–a person of no talent, no riches, no beauty, a helping hand–who then will?

Let me give an example from the story. Yoo Jung’s father took in a couple of orphaned siblings when they were in elementary school. It is at first presumed that the father wanted to care for them and also thought Yoo Jung could use some siblings. This is somewhat true, however, it seems that the father actually thought that these siblings–Baek In Ho and Baek In Ha–could help his son turn out “normal.” And by normal, he means able to care for others, to be concerned for their feelings and well being. In flashbacks we see that at the beginning Yoo Jung didn’t have this problem: He did care for others and for these new siblings. But over time, perhaps because he thinks too much like his father, he became jaded and started to see everyone in his life as only people leeching off of him or trying to take advantage.

That in itself is not untrue. Plenty of people try to take advantage all the time. Baek In Ha (played by the amazing Lee Sung Kyung) is perhaps one of the most memorable Kdrama characters I’ve encountered. She is selfish to the point of insanity, shamelessly mooching off of Yoo Jung and his father, spending money like water, and refusing to work. She is also hilarious and charming, and it’s easy to see why so many people simply let her have her way. But In Ha is deeply damaged by past abandonment and abuse, as is her brother. Yoo Jung’s father may have given her food, nice clothes, and a roof over her head, but he did nothing to actually help her. She acts like an entitled welfare queen because that’s exactly what she is and she has never been disciplined or trained enough in order to reel herself back in to being a productive, self-reliant person. She is also sure that she will someday be abandoned. When Yoo Jung finally realizes the severe damage that he and his father have done to her by not enforcing boundaries and good behavior from a very age, nor seeking any sort of healing therapy for her, he decides the best course of action is to cut ties with her completely. This is ultimately what In Ha fears most, but it is necessary as their relationship is so, so toxic that it is making her act like a crazy person to the point that she physically harms others. After the final, clean break, we find that In Ha has given herself to another man who genuinely cares for her. Yes, she’s still a spoiled rich girl, but she is tempered by love, not only from her significant other, but love from her brother and a renewed relationship with him.

It was very belated, but Yoo Jung realized that the best way to care for In Ha was to let her go. No more relationship of punishment and reward or “carrot and stick,” which was really all they had. Early on she may have been someone he would have thought to marry, but that was shattered when he realized that In Ha and In Ho, too, were there simply to take advantage of him–at least, that’s what he believed. Despite her crazy ravings, In Ha cares for Yoo Jung. She often says she understands him, and there’s no reason to doubt that she does, but her damaged self too often thinks this means he owes her something. Indeed, he does owe her something, but it’s something he may never be able to give her: the love, attentions, and affections of a family member/brother/husband. He can’t give this to her and realizes it’s best for her to let her go. Yoo Jung also for once understands that a big part of the problem is himself. No matter how crazy In Ha is, Yoo Jung and his father have not done right by her, and some of her behavior stems from theirs towards her.

So what exactly is Yoo Jung’s problem? He is jaded and cynical about other people, but that’s fairly normal. What’s not normal is how he deals with others who have wronged him or are trying to use them. A., he assumes that’s what’s going on when sometimes circumstances are actually the opposite. B., he doesn’t directly question others about their motives or call them out in a healthy, confrontational manner. This is because he is only viewing them as inferior in some way, rather than as individuals with desires and needs, and who with a little care and attention would behave much, much better. C., he lives by the motto of an “eye for an eye,” but the way he goes about getting back at someone is entirely duplicitous, underhanded, and all too often for Seol, frightening. For example, instead of bringing a peeping tom to the cops so they can charge him, Yoo Jung beats him to a bloody pulp in a flurry of violence that leaves Seol not thanking him, but shrinking from him. Another example: He continually does things for Seol, like helping her get a scholarship, but gets others in trouble or blackmails others into making way for both him and Seol. This is how his father must act, though we don’t get to see a lot of his father, and it is sociopathic behavior where the ends justify any means.

Seol isn’t as fully realized as the other characters, namely Yoo Jung, In Ha, and In Ho. While the other three seem to grow during the series, she only grows in her appreciation and understanding for Yoo Jung, not for those around her. After college, in the office world, she still coming across similar people trying to take advantage of her or earn her favor. She seems resigned to them, wisely not upsetting them, but also not really seeing them as people, merely a type of person. At this point, Yoo Jung is working on himself and his perceptions of other people, and our hope, is that once he returns to shower his love on Seol (and others), that he will in turn help her see people as well.

The best success in the series that Seol has for caring for another person is the way she treats Baek In Ho. In Ho used to be Yoo Jung’s best friend, but that was all shattered by a misunderstanding in high school. For whatever reason, the two connect and become genuine friends. At time it seems as if he’s the perfect man for Seol, but we easily forget that he was abused and damaged along with his sister. Although he may have fallen for Seol, it is likely because she was the catalyst for him to finally start healing and moving on from the past. In Ho, played by the very handsome and charming Seo Kang Joon, gets a lot more screen time than Park Hae Jin’s Yoo Jung, but it’s actually a relief in some ways, because Yoo Jung becomes so abhorrent after awhile. It is only in the last episodes that Yoo Jung realizes that he himself really has a problem and that it has to stop. He only has this epiphany because Seol gets physically injured by In Ha. If that never happened, I shudder to think what would have happened with Seol totally in love with Yoo Jung and supporting and affirming his dangerous and damaging behavior against others. Cheese in the Trap, indeed.

An entire novel could be written about the philosophy and world view of this show, as it is truly fascinating. It is definitely not your typical show or story in any country. One of these days, I hope to read the webtoon and see how different it is from the show. I have also heard that the Korean movie, also starring Park Hae Jin, treats Yoo Jung a bit more kindly. All of the actors, but especially the four leads, did a stellar job, and the series as a whole is both nostalgic (again, with that 80s feel, and at times unsettling as it seems like a camp of psychotic vampires is permanently camped around Seol. Cheese in the Trap is at its heart a morality tale: Those who do not learn to deal with conflict and adversity in a timely, upfront, and loving manner are dooming themselves to continually spiralling conflicts and adversity all the days of their life. Those who do not truly take the time and effort to know and really see people will find themselves constantly seeing and expecting only the worst in people, and will find them–and themselves–acting accordingly. It is so easy to see how others must take responsibility for themselves and their actions, but how difficult to see the same in oneself.

Book review: Jackaroo

The Kingdom series of books by Cynthia Voigt was a favorite of mine in my teen years and I’ve decided to revisit them to see if they are still as great as I remember. The four stories, Jackaroo, On Fortune’s Wheel, The Wings of a Falcon, and Elske (sadly, many of the names have now been changed when they were reissued with new covers, but stories are the same, I hope) are loosely connected, being set in and around a kingdom somewhat like a medieval English or European kingdom. Jackaroo stood out to me at the time I read it, because there’s not any magic in it, yet there’s something magically remote about the Kingdom.

Jackaroo is actually my least favorite in the series. My favorite was always On Fortune’s Wheel as it’s an adventure/romance, but The Wings of a Falcon is a very close second, and I always think of that book being the masterpiece of her series. Elske I’ve only read a couple of times and don’t remember much about it. It never seemed to fit as well with the original trilogy of stories, but as I read through them again, that view may change.

With this recent rereading of Jackaroo, I understand now why although I liked the world, I didn’t like the story as much as the second book: Teenage girls tend to crave romances, and although there is a love story in the book, it’s far from the focal point. But I realize now that the love story, quiet as it is, is actually fantastic, but something my teen self was just not into at the time. Burl seemed so unsuited for the heroine, Gwyn, being a servant and often described from her point of view as someone who is just always there and pining away for her sister who won’t have him. Plus, he didn’t talk much. Now, firmly an adult, I can see the quiet strength he gives her, helping Gwyn to be Gwyn. And, isn’t that often what people want in a romantic partner? Just someone who will have their back and be invested in them? Gwyn eventually realizes this and is happy to be with him in the end.

What really caught my attention the first time around, though, was the possibility of adventure, because Jackaroo is a hero of the people, much like Robin Hood or Zorro. Like Zorro. Although Jackaroo’s past and rumored deeds are mentioned in the book, it’s not a rousing tale of adventure like I had wanted: The book offers more than that. Gwyn is an innkeeper’s daughter, a spirited girl and a hard worker, capable in a way the rest of her family are not, and determined never to marry. Because her family is better off than some, they have to endure constant mutterings against them, something that I’m sure any successful person will recognize. And no matter how much the successful people give back to those poorer than them, it’s never enough. Ruling over everyone is the king, the earls, and the lords. Gwyn has a heart for the people and how especially the lords’ boots press heavily upon them. The laws the lords have put in place aren’t really to serve justice, but merely to serve the desires of the lords. It’s a situation common as mud, which is why tales like Robin Hood and Zorro resonate so much. Won’t someone give the people a break, already?

When a lord and his son require a party to join them for a mapmaking excursion north in the dead of winter, Gwen and Burl end up being their guides. In a blizzard, they get separated and Gwen and the “lordling” as she calls him, end up snowbound for weeks in a hut not very far from the inn. Gwen is at first resolved to keep up appearances and treat the boy as if he were her master and she his servant, but as time passes and boredom ensues, the pair become friends and both are able to see the opposite class as human. The lordling even teaches her to read, something that is forbidden to regular people.

After the winter, the injustice in the Kingdom eats away at Gwen, and when she finds a set of clothes that seem exactly like something Jackaroo would wear, she takes up his mask and pretends to be him, doing good deeds as she can, not fully realizing how much danger she is in by her actions. Burl sorts it out and she falls for him largely because he, too, sees the injustice and wants to change it, but it’s enough for her that he merely sees it, really sees it. In fact, Gwen discovers quite a lot of people admire and even want to be Jackaroo, because Jackaroo is outside society and can be a catalyst for positive change.

Although Jackaroo doesn’t feel dated in a bad way, there’s a distinct 1980s feel about the story and the writing. It was published mid-decade and the world is sometimes akin to The Princess Bride or Willow (minus the magic), and a little connected to Pretty in Pink or The Breakfast Club (class differences, rich and poor). It’s a classic in a similar way that those movies are classic. There’s nostalgia for those who lived in the 80s, but also something new to learn upon subsequent readings. I’m so glad that I reread Jackaroo and gained a new appreciation for the many layers of the story, Gwen’s concerns, the love story, the politics, the history, the keen insight into human nature, and so on, and I can’t wait to get started reading On Fortune’s Wheel. The world of the Kingdom would be fairly easy to adapt to screen if anyone every got the notion. Cynthia Voigt is a gem of a writer.

The Keys to the Kingdom: book review

Happy 2019, everyone! I think it’s going to be a great year! Ok, I think that about every year, but every year does turn out to be great in its own ways. Even the hard years–and 2018 was a very hard year for me–have their own greatness. Difficult times challenge us and help us learn so much about ourselves–and, boy, did I learn a lot!

One of the biggest things I have learned in 2019 so far is that if I’m not ready to hear something or learn something or really see something, I won’t. It’s quite literally, impossible. 2018 was a struggle because I finally admitted to myself just how bad I was at relationships, especially romantic ones. This is hard to admit because–and maybe it’s a woman thing–but I also thought “there’s no way I can change. It would be too difficult and I just am who I am.”

It’s funny, though, how God works. We say these things to ourselves and then He puts a person or people in our way as if to say, “You can’t change for the better? You can’t do it? Not even for this person?” It’s a friendly test, if you will. So that’s what happened to me and why I was in such distress. You meet a person that is so special that you want to change for them. You would do anything for them, but you just don’t know how to begin, and then your brain becomes open to new information, like: “Am I actually seeing things or people as they are? If not, that means I may be the problem.” But now that thought isn’t so scary because perspective is something we can change, totally change.

This past weekend I read two books. (Don’t be too shocked, they’re not very long and I read quickly when I’m interested). I often enjoy reading comments on blog and articles on the internet. People often share video links, music, and books that inspired them. Well, someone mentioned this amazing book about women understanding men called Keys to the Kingdom by Alison Armstrong. Something about the enthusiasm of the commenter nudged me to give it a chance.

Keys to the Kingdom is primarily written for women, but I think men can get a lot out of it, too. With most self-help or relationship advice books, the information is written in a nonfiction, rather bland way. Although we may agree with what the writer is saying, we often struggle in how to apply that in real life. This book (and its sequel, The Queen’s Code) are different. While they are still instruction manuals, they are told completely in story format, with somewhat cringey dialogue at times and goofy people to boot. At first, I was irritated–“just give me the information, already!”–but then I started reading, and I couldn’t put it down for two reasons:

  • 1) Much of the information resonated as being true about both men and women. It seemed so true that I was surprised I didn’t know it already–but the reason I didn’t know or haven’t known was because I wasn’t ready to see it, to register it, and to act on it.
  • 2) I love stories. They are both the joy of my life and the bane of my existence. If I get obsessed with a story I often lose track of everything and everyone else. Want to win my heart? Tell me awesome stories! (Yikes, that’s scary to learn about oneself, right?) By the second chapter I realized that I was understanding the information and thinking how it applied to real life because it was given to me in a story. A list of bullet points, or notes like were listed at the end of each lesson really did nothing for me, as I was still focused on the story and eager to read what happens next.

The biggest takeaway of the story for me was that as women we are continually not giving men the “benefit of the doubt,” that is, we automatically assume the worst about them and their intentions instead of the best. In fact, we probably do this a lot with women, too, and people in general. Our modern society has a great disdain for the two sexes, but especially for men. The fight for more equality of opportunities for women is and has often been accomplished by denigrating and pushing men down. We all know this, but it’s quite different to finally see it in action, especially if you’re suddenly given new information about men, what they think, how they act, and what their intentions towards women truly are. Oh, also women really suck at communication. We are so wordy yet don’t say the important things, like what we need, or what we need even looks like.

Well, I don’t want to give too many details of either book as it’s much more fun to discover the information for yourself, but I recommend reading Keys to the Kingdom first and then The Queen’s Code. Although they can be read separately or out of order, you won’t get the full “story.” I can tell you these books made me laugh and cry, and the crying came mostly because: They give women hope. Men, too, but mostly women. Men don’t have to be women and women don’t have to be men and we can still be partners in life. It’s a great, breathtaking, life-altering thing. After reading Keys, the next day at church I was glowing and grinning from ear to ear. I felt different and I wanted to tell all the women I know to read this book. And I can tell you people noticed and some even asked what was up. It’s amazing what hope does to the soul.

As a Christian, one of the most exciting things I took away from the books were that God said He created man in his “own image.” After reading all the positive, amazing things about men, it struck me that God is this way, too. And in the same way that women often misunderstand men or think the worst of them, this is how we, too, often misunderstand and think the worst of God. “Life-changing” doesn’t even begin to adequately describe the difference. It a time when we are now quite literally trying to turn men into women and women into men, these books and ideas are truly revolutionary. What a great gift it can be to see people as they truly are. How exciting life can be when we really see and get people. What an impact we can have on another’s life and also appreciate and be thankful for their impact on our lives.

In her work, Alison Armstrong has tapped into something wonderful. You can tell by how enthusiastic the reviews for her books are that they resonate with women in a way other books of this topic do not and have not. The jaw dropping thing is that Armstrong herself was once the harshest of man haters and transformed into one of their biggest advocates, truly loving and understanding men in a way few other women bother to do. Armstrong has a few of her talks on Youtube, and I highly recommend watching them if you can, especially about asking for what you need. She says she feels she would cry out this information from the street corners if that was the only way to tell people. When people feel like that, I think they have truly tapped into the truth. Good news is something you automatically want to share with everyone around you.

Happy reading!

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Merry Christmas everyone! It’s the time of year when Christians celebrate the miracle of Jesus Christ, our Savior. He paid the punishment for our sins and suffered hell so we don’t have to. Someday we will live eternally with Him in heavenly bliss.

But the angel said to them [the shepherds], “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrap in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Luke 2:10-12

God be with you in your travels and bless your time together with family and friends. May His gift of life for us give you comfort and joy this Christmas season and always!

House of Silk: book review

If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan, I highly recommend House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz. I am a little over halfway and am enjoying immensely–much, much more than his disappointing Moriarty. In fact, I am enjoying it so much that I want to go back and read all of Doyle’s original stories again, and the two Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr., as well as the fun BBC Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberbatch (still the best name ever). Holmes and Watson are simply the best detective duo ever written. Although I adore Agatha Christie’s Poirot, there’s something about these two characters. They are such men of action and really funny as well. House of Silk has a seal of approve from the Conan Doyle Estate, so Horowitz is certainly on the right track with this tale as far as they are concerned. Can’t wait to see how the story turns out.

Additional review: Kdrama Encounter (Boyfriend) is a unique Noona (older woman, younger man) romance starting out in Cuba of all places, and then, of course continuing back in Seoul. Not sure what to make of all these Noona romances they seem to be making lately. Here, Park Bo Gum’s Jin Hyeok is very sweet and naive, but is supposed to be twenty-nine or thirty, and because the actor himself is only twenty-five or so, he just comes across as very young. Add to that Jin Hyeok’s place as–shall we say not a chaebol (rich elite)–and you have a recipe for him simply bringing his older lady love (played by the beautiful Song Hye Kyo) more stress and trouble than she has already, as she will have to protect him continually. Now, the writers probably have something in store for him or the couple together to outwit the bad guys, but so far I’m skeptical. Loved the Cuba setting, though, and kinda hope they escape back there or something.

Happy reading and watching! –Pixie

3 Quick review: These Shallow Graves, The Man in the Brown Suit, Isaiah

Three quick reviews for today. 

These Shallow Graves

Curiosity from seeing Jennifer Donnelly’s books on the YA shelf at the library finally prompted me to actually read one of them. These Shallow Graves is a bit more conventional than the title would suggest, but that’s what I like about it. Set during the Gilded Age in a time when feminism was actually necessary, at least in the view of some, the story is about society girl Josephine Montfort finding the life that she wants to live. 

Yes, the plot is a mystery involving her family’s company, but the point of novel is to show a young girl trying to break free from the expectations of those around her–and succeeding. This is something anyone can relate to, for we often, man or woman, young or old, chafe under the burdens placed upon by our stations in life. Sometimes our resentment is warranted, sometimes not. In this case, Jo’s wish to flee to a different simpler life is best, for the life she has is stewed in lies, her families riches built upon harming others. 

Largely atmospheric, the book is a quick read and carries Jo from one weird New York City world to the next. Many of the characters are Dickensian in nature, and much time is spent detailing just how unfortunate the “unfortunates” and poor of that time were. It’s also set in a time when some journalists were actually doing what journalists should do: hold the rich and powerful’s feet to the fire, root out corruption, and plead the case of those same unfortunates to have a chance in life. Jo’s ambition is to be just such a reporter, and by the end of the story, we’ve no doubt she’ll succeed. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and was pleased that the feminism did not, as is does today, involve the hating of men. In fact, Donnelly, is kind to all of her male characters, even the despicable ones, even the ones who don’t get the girl. Donnelly hints that they are just as trapped in society as the women are, and it is to her credit. Life is so much better if people can live in truth (even if it’s bitter) and freedom. At the end, Jo doesn’t quite get her man, but it’s clear she probably will in the future. Even couples in love have to find their way though misunderstandings and uncertainties, but I suppose that’s what makes the dance of romance something exciting and worth doing. I plan to read more of Donnelly’s work, and look forward to her future well-researched and well-crafted stories. 

The Man in the Brown Suit

My second reading of this fine novel of Agatha Christie’s left me feeling torn. I thought it was my favorite of hers, but now I’m not sure. I love the adventure of the story and the determination of Anne (with an ‘e’!) Beddingfeld to solve the mystery even if it means taking a huge risk to journey on an ocean liner to Africa at a time when she is nearly penniless. That takes guts and the certainty that one will figure things out, that one is smart enough and wily enough to do so. Few in this life have that confidence, and many of those who do find they have to “call a friend,” for they find their gamble does not pay off. I love that it takes place on a ship and I love the characters on that ship. By the time they got to South Africa, though, the story seemed to drag, and the romance was instalove that relied heavily on coincidence, especially in one key part after which Anne ends up on an island with her lover. It seemed a move unworthy of Christie, but this was written before the Poirot stories, I think, and many of her even better mysteries to come. Even Agatha Christie wasn’t Agatha Christie right away. 

The first time I read the story, the mystery part seemed a lot more intriguing; this time not as much. However, I still like the romance a lot. It is “instalove” or love at first sight, but in Christie’s defense she doesn’t pretend it’s anything else. Does this kind of love exist, we ask ourselves from time to time? How could it be possible? Doesn’t one have to know another person very well, both their flaws and their brilliance, to say that you actually love them for all of them? If we’re honest, we’d have to say no. Most of the time, sure, especially in romance, it’s good to get to know your partner thoroughly before declaring your love, but it’s completely possible that there are couples who have the ability to know each other through and through almost instantly. It doesn’t make sense and almost seems like magic, but all love is a sort of magic, really. That love should exist alongside all of the bad in the world doesn’t truly make sense–but it doesn’t have to. 

Does the instant love that parents have upon seeing their newborn child really make sense? What do they know of their baby after all and what he or she will become? Children love their parents while actually knowing very little about them as people–their hopes, dreams, desires, past wrongs and faults, and yet we don’t declare their love as being false in some way, do we? Love at first sight for another person is something we all will likely experience at least once in our lifetimes, but it’s scary, so many people run away from it–thinking it can’t possibly be true–rather than embracing it as Anne does here. Her lover is dumbfounded by her and at first fiercely pushes her and her instalove away. When they actually do get time together, he is uneasy. This love is something that is rapidly overwhelming his world. Here is a woman who with no guile declares her love for him and that she will fight for him. And, because of that love, she’s asking for the same in return, that he declare his love for her, and that he fight for her as well. For any man, I think this would be a scary situation. It’s maybe easier on men when women don’t declare their intentions quite so openly. Openness leaves no way out: A man either rises to the occasion or he does not. In this case, as a man probably would, he warns Anne that there will be no turning back, no getting out of this relationship once he’s all in. As if that would scare her. She passes all of his tests, every single one, but is no small task to accept a man’s love. His warning is a strong one that we women should take to heart, for men, once they are in, they are all in. Such love is precious and should be treated as such. 

Is this instant love realistic? For most people, no, but a few willing to take the leap find that the blessings of it far outweigh the risks. Christie muses a lot on the fact that all most women want is a man who will fight for them, who will want them and who will not say “the choice is yours,” but rather, “I want you, and I’m keeping you no matter what.” To our modern ears this sounds a bit caveman like, but it is true that there’s a bit of a turn off if the person you love tells you it doesn’t matter whether you are with them or not. They mean to be kind in giving the other person the choice, but, oh, what a blow to the soul. God’s love is never like this: He loves us and wants us completely and will always fight for us. His love is both instant and eternal. Earthly romance is supposed to be a mirror of this quality of God, but we so often lack the courage to manifest it. It’s wonderful and comforting to be able to look to a Being who has perfect love when we so often don’t. We see it is possible, that everything can be possible with Him. 

Anyway, The Man in the Brown Suit is an adequate adventure story with much food for thought on the nature of romantic love, and largely amusing even if the story doesn’t seem fully formed as Christie’s latter works do. 

Isaiah

The book of Isaiah in the Bible is one of my go-to Advent reads. At 66 chapters, it’s a bit long, but is well worth the yearly read. Handel’s Messiah uses text from it, and though it details the gravity of God’s judgement against man’s sins, it is also a beautiful declaration of the Gospel, of God’s promise to send a Savior, Jesus Christ, and His plan to save the world. (Sorry, Q, you’ve got nothing on God, and if your plans are succeeding it’s only because God wishes it at this time.) We are wholly unworthy of God’s holy love, yet we possess it in spades. He sent his Son, born as a babe, to live perfectly for us, to suffer all of our sins once and for all on the cross, and, in the ultimate pinnacle of that suffering, to die for us in our place. There can be no greater love than that. There will never be any greater love than that. 

Advent in the Christian church is a time when we look forward to remembering Christ’s birth and how God sent us the perfect gift of salvation. I look forward to reading the promises in Isaiah once again.

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

Isaiah 1:18 NIV

I encourage you to read through Isaiah this Advent and contemplate just how much God loves you and all the world. With Him there is true hope, love, and peace, ultimate peace between God and humanity. From that springs forth the waters of forgiveness, kindness, patience, and compassion, and the real possibility of peace among all men, women, and children in the world. 

The Smile Has Left Your Eyes: Ep. 16 Review (final)

It has taken me so long to final getting around to writing this review, because this ending is just so sad, that I just didn’t know if I’d have anything positive to say.  After thinking it over, though, the show has a lot of positive aspects. 

Let’s start with the bad: Yes, Moo Young and Jin Kang are indeed star-crossed lovers and both die at the end. Episode 16 was largely just a continual fall from the climax of the revelations in episode 15. We don’t learn a lot that we didn’t know before, and the episode felt a half hour too long. Poor Moo Young just never had a chance. He, thankfully, finds out from Officer Yoo that, no, Jin Kang is not his sister, but now he’s messed everything up by murdering CEO Jang. Moo Young’s focus, now, is making sure Jin Kang can live happily (without him), and then he’ll go off into the woods and shoot himself. 

Jin Kang snaps Moo Young out of this by confronting him and telling him she’ll shoot herself instead, as she can’t live without him. This sentiment is a bit more normal with teenagers (i.e. Romeo and Juliet), and it’s a bit hard to believe it’s coming from the almost thirty year old, Jin Kang.  I mean Moo Young has his appeal, certainly, but it just seems a bit much. To both Moo Young’s and the audience’s relief, Jin Kang is just testing him and she gets him to admit that he really doesn’t want to die, either. He wants to live. For her. Aww. 

The tragedy comes in the form of the secretary who works for the Jang company–now it’s the President or Papa Jang who’s the CEO and he’s enraged that both of his children are now dead, both due to Moo Young–and is on an assassination mission. President Jang has deemed that Moo Young must die, and so the secretary shows up at the house in the woods where Moo Young and Jin Kang have just decided that they both want to live for each other and promptly kills them both. Jin Kang gets shot first as she tries to protect Moo Young with her body, much like he did when they were kids and drenched in boiling hot water from a kettle. 

Two minutes too late, Officer Yoo shows up and finds the both of them dead by gunshot. He wails with grief, specifically over Jin Kang. One wonders what he’s thinking, if his detective skills can analyze the evidence showing that someone else shot them, or if he’s figuring Moo Young shot them both or maybe that they shot each other? In any case, it’s going to take Officer Yoo the rest of his life to get over the guilt he will surely feel over this tragedy that had EVERYTHING to do with him.

Now, the positive. Despite the troubling events of the plot, the story was generally told in a positive, sunny way. It wasn’t overly pessimistic and depressing. If it had been an American show, cynicism would have permeated everything, especially the romance. Not so here. We get a pure romance. We get a man on a journey to redemption through the love of a good woman. The acting from all three leads, but especially Seo In Guk and Jung So Min was outstanding, and their chemistry was off the charts. They became their characters so much I forgot about the actors, and that’s a good thing. There’s no inkling of any of their other characters in Moo Young and Jin Kang, either. If that’s not talent, I don’t know what is. 

On to cults. I am a Christian and I really don’t understand how there are so many cults based on Christianity and that people fall for them continually. There are probably many cults that are tangentially connected to other religions, but the cults represented most often in movies and television have a Christian base. The Smile Has Left Your Eyes is a warning to those who fall for false prophets. In episode 16 we find out that Jung So Min’s parents convinced Moo Young’s mother to take her son, leave her husband and join the cult. We find that Moo Young remembered Jin Kang as a little sister because he had to care for her. Their parents did not remember to feed them as they were too busy praying, babbling away feverishly as if God, or whomever they were praying to, would hear them due to their many words. Moo Young’s father took an axe to all three of these people. We don’t have a lot of information on the cult, but it seemed to have made everyone rather insane. What the two families were like before the cult (were they happy and sound in mind and body?) is also information we don’t have, but in Moo Young’s family his father must have been absent enough for his mother to become brainwashed and leave without his knowledge. We now have an explanation for why Moo Young held himself aloft from religion, even at the Catholic orphanage where he grew up. He somehow knew that religion can sometimes be dangerous and went the opposite direction of his mother, thinking God must not really exist. 

Jin Kang and Moo Young have a lot of conversations throughout the show on what it means to be a good person. With the truth revealed, we find that Moo Young does fit the show’s definition: a good person has a lot of love. Moo Young had a lot of love as a child for his parents and especially for Jin Kang, but, due to tragedy he just didn’t remember. Although Jin Kang is a good person with love as well, partway through the show, she ceased to be an adult for me, especially as the other characters treated her like the child they remembered her as. She was the one everyone catered to and took care of, and not really allowed to grow up. Only at the end, putting a gun to her own head did she seem to be her own agent, and yet she did it claiming that she couldn’t live without Moo Young. This statement was part ruse, but partly the truth. In considering cults and the history of their parents, I have to wonder if the two had lived if their love would have become a cult unto itself: a two-person cult in which no other person would matter. Some romantic love can be too much, the pair can be too desperate for each other, each person too unable to do things on their own. Our partner shouldn’t be our god, but people can make idols out of anything.

The true tragedy of this show, though, is Officer Yoo. On the one hand he has a good, but very sensitive heart. This sensitive heart led him to conceal much information that would have been far better off in sunlight. He held secrets that weren’t really his in order to keep Jin Kang safe, but she herself would have rather lived with the truth. His protective love smothered her and indirectly caused her death, and certainly caused much mental and emotional stress for both Moo Young and Jin Kang by the end. Officer Yoo also took on guilt unnecessarily. He was unable to accept that it wasn’t his fault he had to shoot Moo Young’s dad, and he let that shadow hang over him for twenty-five years. Fortunately, this show has a few Christian elements which make it shine, and one of those is forgiveness.

In his last will and testament, Moo Young writes to Officer Yoo that he forgives him and holds no ill will against him. He also writes, “If being heartless is being a devil, then I was a devil, like you said.” Moo Young admits to largely seeing people from a distance as if everything were a game. He urges Officer Yoo to let his guilt go and says that he has found peace with the love of Jin Kang. Once Officer Yoo gets over the shock of both their deaths, I have to hope Moo Young’s letter will comfort him much in the years to come. There is no better miracle than the power of forgiveness. Maybe Officer Yoo will finally find extra room in his heart for, say, Deputy Tak. 

Wrapping up, I liked the show as a whole. It was shot, directed, and written more like a movie than a Kdrama, and so it’s little unique because of that. The cinematography is amazing, every shot a joy to look at. I had hoped we’d get a bit more murder mystery and cat and mouse games, but it wasn’t to be. I wish they hadn’t dropped Moo Young’s photographic memory, as it was a cool device. And the bracelet that Moo Young gave the Damsel. I was certain we were going to find out that was Jin Kang’s bracelet as a child or something. Oh well. The romance really ended up taking over most everything. The minor characters did well with what little screen time they had. The big relief, was, of course, that the leads were not siblings, and Moo Young got his wish that Jin Kang would never know of the mistake he made in that regard. 

This show was such an emotional roller coaster, I don’t if I’ll ever watch it again. If I do, it would be largely due to the great acting by the leads, but even with that, I don’t know if I’d make it to the end a second time. The beauty of Moo Young’s breakdown in episode 15 was the high point, and probably the most heartbreaking scene in the show. In episode 1 we are introduced to three seemingly healthy and relatively happy people, but by the end, we know that they are all tortured souls unable to escape from the past and unable to avoid their fate. I think the fate thing is what turns me off about tragedies as a genre. As a Christian, I don’t believe in fate and I think that God always gives us a way out, that we can always choose to face the truth, not kill people, and not kill ourselves. The big winner in this show is Tattoo girl, Im Yoo Ri. She turned herself in and is serving the time for her crime. She will not live like Officer Yoo in mental torture, and as she’s trying to get off her meds, will not live like Moo Young, plagued by what she does not know. The last scene of her in the show as she’s talking to Jin Kang really showcases the quite beautiful tattoo on her neck. Im Yoo Ri will be ok, and Officer Yoo and the doctor will likely continue to visit her, giving her friends, comfort, and hope.