Review: Saimdang, light's diary

Currently, I am watching the Korean TV drama series, Saimdang, light's diary. Until now, only 6 episodes have aired out of the 30. I have watched the first 4 in Cantonese, but I decided to watch the rest in Korean as I prefer to hear the original voices of the actors and actrices.

The story line is a bit complicated and hard to follow. It is about a Korean history university lecturer, who gets framed by her supervisor, and the only way for her to have her career - she worked so hard for - back is proving that a famous painting is fake. I think that they are implying that she is the reincarnation of Saimdang, a famous artist in the past. She sometimes gets headaches and then, long lost memories seem to come back, and sometimes, she is reading parts of Saimdang's diary together with a hoobae (a younger male student from the same university as her, who happens to look the same as Saimdang's first love and maybe also an reincarnation), and these are the times that the story takes us from modern times to the joseon era.


The reason why it is a bit hard to follow is that the flashbacks seem to happen very randomly and you sometimes forget that it is a flashback and not two different drama's that you are watching at the same time. I think it would have helped if the guy who is supposedly reading the ancient diary reads the first lines at the start of the flashback and also reads the last lines at the end of the flashback. Also, start the reading of the diary partially during the past and continue in the present and vice versa. They did do something similar (like the guy saying something like: oh man, I want to keep reading the story, it was starting to get interesting), but the transitioning from the past to now and from now to the past somehow isn't done well enough. I think it also has something to do with not knowing what the main story is and what the side story is. In the beginning, the present life is showing the most, and the story just lacked appeal. Later on, more fragments of the past came up overshadowing the present life story. They are also switching back and forth too much, so that you never really grow attached to one story and one set of characters. The setting of the present is also too dark and grim (need more funny moments and interactions). It contrasts too much with the young, innocent - albeit tragic - love blossoming in the past.

One of the main reasons why I am going to keep watching this TV series is the solid acting from Lee Young-ae. She is playing a similar role as in the 2003 hit drama "A jewel in the palace aka Dae Jang Geum", as she is fighting against injustice, jealous and vile women, and male suppression, and she had proven to be very good at that. She is also reminding me of my Latin teacher in high school, who was like the warm mother figure I never had in my life. It is a bit strange, but the resemblance is striking. From the haircut, the face, the expressions, to the small mannerisms. I am not really sure as I barely go out the house and I don't gossip, but I heard she left the school. I wonder if she was fired because she was one of the few who believed me and stood by my side when I was being attacked by my classmates and the teachers or that there was some strange office politics going on. But I would like to tell her that she was almost the only reason I could keep going to school. Going to Latin class and hear mythical stories about Hercules was one of the only things I could still find joy in. She was an immense support to me, when everyone else was stepping on me, whenever nobody was looking. I was let down way too many times to trust someone again, so it was not her fault that she couldn't do anything for me. I don't think I could have changed a thing in those circumstances either. I was so wounded, I didn't even want to fight back. I kept quiet about almost everything, until it got too extreme and when I started yelling, I was seen as the troublemaker. There was no way out. Just like what Saimdang is going through.

I have no intentions of writing a synopsis of every episode, so I will only write down some remarks and findings about an episode that I find interesting. 

Episode 6:

The beautiful painting, "Painting of a dog and puppies" by Yi Am is shown in this episode and it is currently in the possession of the National Museum of Korea, Seoul. Somehow, looking at it made my heart feel warm. It shows a black-and-white mother dog with her puppies. One resting on her back, and two cuddling under her two paws. For something that was drawn so long ago, it looks surprisingly modern. The expressions on the dogs looks almost from a manga/manwha. The solid black outlines are alternated with softened, shaded lines, making it seem like the dogs are glowing of happiness.

*Writing it down on my bucket list: have to see this painting in person some day!* 

Episode 7:

The second oldest son told an elitist tiger mom off for not letting him listen in on classes with a phrase from Confusius: "Teaching is fair for everyone, no matter the age and status." (類). I don't really get why that woman would actually stop someone from listening in on classes, since she did the same when she was younger and poor. Maybe, this is a human thing. When you had a hard time, you don't want others to have it easy either. He ends the conversation with the ideom "來語不美去語何美" : When you don't respect someone, how can you expect respect back?
 
Before, he listened in on a class with teachings from Confusius (孔子): 
"與善人居,如入芝蘭之室,久而不聞其香,即與之化矣。與不善人居,如入鮑魚之肆,久而不聞其臭,亦與之化矣。丹之所藏者赤,漆之所藏者黑。"

Translation by me: "When you interact with good people, it is like walking into a room filled with orchids, after a while, you don't smell it anymore, as you have become one with it. When you interact with bad people, it is like walking into an abalone shop, after a while you don't smell the fishiness, you become one with it. Those who hold onto a cinnabar (a mineral, used to extract beautiful red pigments and red is a refined color in ancient China), will turn red, and those who hold onto lacquer (the sap from a lacquer tree is creamy white, but when it touches the air, it will darken, source link), will turn black. "

It shows the importance of the people that you befriend and surround yourself with. People are weak and although you think you can stay rational all them time and make the right decisions yourself, you can still get swayed by emotions and by people's suggestions. I already realized this fact when I was a small child, as I saw with my own eyes how people manipulate and gossip to get their way, tell lies, use peer pressure to control and isolate victims, and hurt others to feel better themselves. I still remember how disgusted I felt about myself, when I found myself copying that same behavior. At a very young age, I decided to just stay away from people and don't let them "taint" me. I hid in the corner of the classroom, not doing or saying anything, hoping to be invisible and that they would just leave me alone. This actually has an adverse effect. I started to feel terrible from the feeling of not being part of the group, not belonging. It doesn't matter how mean the people in the group are and how much you don't want to be their friends. Mentally, you will automatically feel bad if you need to stay in a group that doesn't accept you. It stems from the prehistoric times, when you needed to be in a group to increase your rate of survival. It is your body telling you through pain that you need to go out there and join a group, where men hunt for food and women collect berries together, so that nobody would starve to death.

Being all alone, also made me an easy target for bullies. I had no one to rely on and nobody would keep helping a person that they have not build a strong friendship with and who is always angry at the world for no apparent reason. Not talking, also meant that I couldn't defend myself from the lies that were spreading about me. Since they never heard my side of the story, they will just believe whatever they were told. I did try to explain myself once in a while, but I was never believed, as people they have known for years and were always kind to them, are always more trustworthy than me. It is a battle I would never win and I just gave up. Not talking and doing anything for a long time, also made me feel very depressed and I started to find small things in life that I can still laugh about. Bad move, as it just made me appear much crazier to my classmates. A girl always sitting alone and mumbling and laughing by herself. Can you really blame them for making fun of me? 

           

Episode 8:

This episode just reminded me of all the bad sides of people that I just wanted to forget. In the past time line, a group of mothers were working together to keep a boy out of their son's school, just because he is poor. They also wanted to humiliate Saimdang by telling her to come to a meeting in a silk dress, which she obviously doesn't have, as she is poor. But she has to, because it is a rule (who says?).

Eun-soo, the son in the present time line, is beaten up and bullied at school, and the bully's mom just tells the grandma that confronts her with this that she has no manners for yelling in a public space and humiliates her by telling her that her daughter-in-law is no longer a lecturer at the university. What the grandma should be doing is get angry at the bully's mom and tell her and her son to apologize to her grandson, but no, she just goes home and yells at a random person on the street and hits her daughter-in-law. It feels totally irrational to me, but I am starting to get it. People tend to hold their anger in when they meet someone stronger and more powerful (powerful, rich mom, who is there with her gang), and release that to the weak and the people who care about them and let them yell at and hit them without fighting back. And I don't even want to write about the rich mom who is just in denial and thinks that her son is a total angel and fit to be the next president or something.

I did get touched by Lee Gyeom, who is willing to be a sponsor for smart kids, who don't have the money to go to a good school, and the fat kid, who wasn't selfish.


Episode 9:

"What kind of person is a great person?" I am really impressed when Lee Gyeom tells the students that the teacher is not here to give you all the answers, but that he is only here to guide them to find the answers. They is no good or wrong answer, it is all in your heart and different from person to person. 

I also really liked the old lady next door. Everyone tells them to stay away from her to not get involved and get into trouble, but Saimdang insisted that her kids go there and bring some flower cakes. Even though, the rumors almost made it sound like a ghost house and the old lady is supposedly a scary ghost, the kids still went. She repaid their kindness with some homemade, dried persimmons.

This episode also showed me that no matter how good of a mom you are, you cannot avoid disappointing your child. To you, it might mean nothing, but it means a world to a child.


Episode 10:

Many lessons in this episode: some people who appear trustworthy cannot be trusted and bad people (the little thief) aren't necessary bad for no reason. When you run a business, always make sure that the other person is trustworthy (thorough background check) and draw up a written contract (no matter how good friends you are).

Episode 11:
It doesn't look that way, but Saimdang has been praying for the poor Unpyeongsa victims for 20 years to repent for her painting that caused a massacre and repay her debts. While she was tortured by guilt all this time, it actually wasn't her fault. Still, she was willing to stand guarantee for a group of people she barely knows. She showed so much courage and trust in people that I worried for her.


Episode 12:
The lighted path in the forest, the line "Even if our lives are parallel and we will never be able to meet, I will walk along with you for the rest of your life."... Lee Gyeom just won over all the girl's hearts on this planet.  

Episode 13:
I don't know how to say this, but I am glad I never really cared about being in the first place. Neither did my mom beat me up like that, when I didn't get the highest grades. I did get good grades all the time, but I only saw it as a challenge, a fun game, and a way to seek the boundaries of my abilities. I never cared about bragging about it nor saw it as my all. I did get really happy when I got a good grade, as I won from myself and it was the only thing in my life, which was still normal. Working hard on my studies meant getting good grades. In real life, the equation wasn't like that. There were no clear rules and directions. It wasn't like if I worked hard to become the same like the others that I would get accepted to the group. It wasn't like if I was a good girl and behaved nicely that I would be loved by my parents. That attitude saved me from being harassed even worse by teachers at school. Male teachers were telling me that they would give me bad grades on purpose, if I didn't listen to their demands. Luckily, I cared less about it and just fought them like I should. I think I watched too many Hong Kong gangster movies, as I just picked up a chair and hit them with it. As long as I was passing the tests, I couldn't care less about it being a low grade. I was doing great at other courses anyway, so my grade average was always okay. Coincidentally, I was hit in the face by one of my classmate's mother too, even though it was them that was bullying me and I only fought back. I really felt how unfair the world was and how stupid people are for believing obvious lies.
 
I also don't get how the boy sees it as it is Hyun-ryong's fault for being smarter than him and making him look dumb. There will always be smarter people out there. The world isn't just the classroom. You don't always win and you won't always be on top of the game. You should just learn from others and become a better person from it. Even if it means that you are losing all the time, you can still continue to work as hard as you can and never feel defeated. One day, you will surpass that person with your hard work, or you might be better than him in other areas, or you might never beat him, but you will still be a person who has fulfilled your full potential and there is nothing to be ashamed of that. I also wish I had a mother like Saimdang who tells me that I am showing off my smartness and making people unhappy that way. I would have loved to be homeschooled, as I never felt a connection with same aged peers. It would have saved me from feeling uncomfortable and braindead in class for years.  


Episode 14:      




 What do I think?


The good: Saimdang taught me how to make the best out of difficult situations by her own actions. You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it. There is always a bright side to things, as long as you are willing to see it. All very cliche, but when you get it, you get it. The youngest son, Woo, was very cute and smart (Is this why the maknae is always spoiled?). And let's not forget the cool, guardian angel, Lee Gyeom. I really like the love between him and Saimdang. It is so pure (they never crossed the line) and strong (20 years!) that I wish I had one like this too.   

The bad: There was a bit too much product placement (almost like an ad) of the rice cooker and the skincare products. Also, I got a bit annoyed by how powerful the villains are. How do they keep finding her, barging into a room all the time (Don't they have good locks?), and doing whatever they want without getting punished? I also never gotten attached to the characters enough to feel bad when the father died, the husband supposedly died in a car accident, and the son got a mental illness. 








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