For the past few days, a friend and I have been talking about dramas and why some mediocre ones move us, worming their way into our hearts despite decidedly lousy writing, directing and even acting. In contrast, an exquisitely filmed drama might wow us intellectually, but it does not make our hearts quiver in anticipation nor does it leave an ache that takes months to go away. Why do we fall in love with certain dramas when others scoff at it, giving it ratings as low as two out of ten?
It was about two weeks ago that I had this ‘brilliant’ idea to create a poll of our favorite actors and their most-loved roles. So I posted the first poll (male roles) and then the second (female roles), patted myself on the back and went about my merry way, whistling.
And then it started. A reader told me I had left out Song Il-gook. Oops. Then, while happily sipping my Diet Coke at a mall, I nearly choked when one missing name popped into my head. Uhm Tae-woong!
Still, I resisted. I’m made of sterner stuff, after all.
But last night I was brushing my teeth before bed (and I tend to get some of my wildest ideas for recaps and posts when my mouth is full of toothpaste foam, don’t ask me why) when it hit me.
Act Two opens, and confirms what we had suspected earlier about Jilted Bride: The woman is a grandfather enslaver.
Observe how she bawls the moment she sees Grandpa running into the police station, his face clouded with concern, his eyes barely registering his own grandson. She knows exactly which buttons to push to turn him into putty in her hands, and why not? As The Chairman’s youngest grandchild and the center of her parents’ gilded universe, she has always been precious and precocious. Imagine Grandpa’s dismay, therefore, at the sight of her now, handcuffed and frowzled.
Covering their ears at the caterwauling, the five lizards in the station choke on their unsalted flies and scramble for cover. Their appetite for dinner similarly ruined, the cops hurry to free Crazy Woman at Grandpa’s request. As they leave, she clinging triumphantly to the old man’s arm, he is racked with guilt. At his next cemetery visit, how will he explain to The Departed One the ignominy that had befallen Dearest Granddaughter?
Let me tell you about the latest offering at the Theater of the Absurd.
A 70-year-old grandpa used to be the personal driver for a man whom he fondly calls “The Chairman.” Said chairman is dead and gone, but memories of his benevolence continue to drive (pun unintended) the behavior of his former employee. If not for the chairman’s generosity, what would the grandpa have become? A hobo? But because the chairman provided for the grandpa and his family, the grandpa has sworn permanent servitude upon himself. Just look at his thrall-like behavior around the chairman’s descendants.
The chairman’s son (let’s call him Chairman Junior) treats the driver with as much disdain as he would a faulty golf club, tossing him away one day for the flimsiest of reasons. Why Chairman Junior hates Mr. Chauffeur is unclear and may never be known. In the Theater of the Absurd, there’s no need to explain anything.
What did I do after I watched Conspiracy in the Court (a.k.a. Hansungbyulgok a.k.a. Seoul’s Sad Song, 2007)? Went down on my knees and whispered, “Thank you, KBS, for the DVD.”
Because to own this, to be able to look at and hold it, somehow makes it all tangible. Because I can’t tell you how many times I pinched myself, disbelieving that I had watched the most exquisite of sageuks (period dramas). I thought surely something so underrated (6% average ratings) would not see a DVD release. And with English subtitles, too!
Only eight episodes and yet more intense and complex than sageuks five times its length, Conspiracy in the Court is a thrilling whodunit, a compelling love story, a political duel, a social commentary.
The first episode left me breathless. Characters flit in and out of buildings, a murder takes place and then another, darkness veils the perpetrators, events unfold so fast I could barely keep up. In fact I was so lost I had to pause the video midway so that I could go on the Internet to find a (spoiler-free) synopsis of the drama.
After that bewildering first episode, Episode 2 took me completely by surprise.