My Liberation Notes

Source: HanCinema

This new Kdrama has stolen my heart :”) I have watched many good Kdramas but they are often escapist fantasy. While this one is not immune to ‘unrealistic’ good endings (at least from what I’ve seen up till ep8), it captures the poignant comings and goings of the main and side characters really well. [Spoiler Alert]

Writing this reminds me of the word sonder, from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. I am sure I have taken the train with different Mi Jeongs, Gi Jeongs, and Chang Hees, each one looking down at a screen to create their personal bubble amidst the faceless crowd. Coincidentally that is something Mi Jeong never does- she is always standing on the train, looking out in what feels like mild resentment or bitterness. Or at times, confused exhaustion- Why is life so tiring and meaningless? It feels like the three siblings, especially Mi Jeong, would especially relate to many of the words from this Dictionary.

n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

Sonder- Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, John Koenig

A comment by Abigail Teh from the YouTube trailer was what got my interest piqued- “Two things this drama gets right: the awkward silences at mealtimes and all that walking ordinary folks do haha. The quiet desperation of ordinary living. (my emphasis)” The walking peels back another layer of the characters (really props to the cast for such great acting)- Mi Jeong’s is a determined fast pace, reflecting her complex mixture of a resigned outlook to life with the underlying fight for happiness, not just for herself but her family. Chang Hee’s is a slower, tired-contemplative one. His walk reflects how much he desires to move forward, but he knows that his heart should not run ahead of his circumstances.

Another side character that I really feel for is their father. I think in all of the 8 episodes so far, he has spoken less than 10 lines. He is mostly shown eating silently and then getting up from his seat before everyone else does at meal times, and doing hard labour. Yet there are quiet signs of his concern and care for his children and Mr Gu. He tunes in to Chang Hee’s conversation with Du Hwan as they talk about the difficulties of romantic relationships, while they think he is watching the TV. It also feels like he is becoming quite affectionate with Mr Gu. As affectionate as a silent Asian dad can be anyway. More than that, Father works really hard and has his own pride in working the family land. Yet there is the tussle with Gi Jeong and Chang Hee about this way of life, which they see as needlessly tiring when others in Seoul enjoy the normal modern life. Father must have felt the pain for his children, yet sees that this is his way of life.

Can one learn empathy from watching shows? Maybe. My Liberation Notes has reminded me of the inter-generational contradictions that exist in my own family too. With that, to remember that underneath these sometimes frustrating contradictions is the care my parents have. Emotionally relating to Mi Jeong also makes me reflect on whether I have resolved the low-key resentments I sometimes feel about my circumstances. While the first 4 episodes focus on the exhausted meaninglessness that the three siblings face, there are signs that part of it has to do with their attitudes towards life as well. Mi Jeong is the epitome of this- by ep8 she has genuinely connected with her colleagues and smiled from her heart, even though little has changed in her circumstances. What does liberation from this ‘quiet desperation of ordinary living’ mean? I’m guessing that writer Park Hae Young is trying to spark reflection on this question with this drama, and its a question worth giving more than a thought on as we walk along our own paths too.

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