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[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Awl" Episode 4

2015/11/01

As it turns out, "Awl" is still in the preparation phase. I'm trying to be patient here but there's definitely times when the drama feels more like a lecture on the nature of labor markets than it does an actual story in its own right. Which is part of the point. Labor markets are a complicated subject so of course Go-sin has to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining how these issues work. As has been noted frequently, workers are very ignorant about these issues even though it's literally a matter of their livelihood.

While it's an interesting subject to be sure the educational nature of "Awl" is such that I frequently feel like I'm not reviewing the actual story so much as I'm reviewing the topic of labor rights in general. Although the subject is a worthwhile one. We're certainly not taught about any of this stuff in American schools and the notion of an American television drama discussing labor rights is an even greater absurdity. The greatest trick the American media industry ever pulled was convincing people they were liberals, not corporatists.

...Which again is rather besides the point. So what's Soo-in up to this episode? The same as usual, really. He tries to pull together the grocery store workers to fight in their own interest. Soo-in's lack of social skills make this a very slow process. Ironically, this isn't as big a disadvantage as it may initially seem, because all the other managers all seem to be equally bad at handling people.

In this way "Awl" demonstrates one of the subtler failings of corporate systems. In a large organization you get to the top, not by being a good manager or even necessarily being competent, but by being cutthroat and striking deals. Now, when you're working for the people rich enough to hire security firms this can work out- for awhile. Sooner or later, though, a personal appeal is necessary. Soo-in has a genuine personal appeal. The other managers have to be duplicitous on some level.

The logic involved frequently ends up being counter-intuitive. Many well-known European firms tend to prefer having unions to not having unions, even internationally, just so they can communicate with the workers and find out what's actually happening on the ground. What does all this mean for "Awl"? Well, loyalty and betrayal mostly- that's where the cliffhanger leaves us. And hopefully, from there we'll get into a more directly character-driven battle.

Review by William Schwartz

"Awl" is directed by Kim Seok-yoon, written by Kim Su-jin and Lee Nam-gyoo and features Ji Hyun-woo, Ahn Nae-sang, Kim Ga-eun, Park Si-hwan, Hyun Woo and Baek Hyun-joo.

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