It occurred to me near the episode that, in addition to her reputation as an artist, Saimdang is also well-known for embodying Confucian standards of feminity. Which is to say, she was a dutiful wife and an attentive mother. In their increasingly bizarre effort to make Saimdang seem heroic for doings things the real Saimdang almost certainly did not do, the production team behind "Saimdang: Light's Diary" has managed to achieve negative knowledge. A person who doesn't know any better will come away from this drama knowing less about Saimdang than when they started.
I am referring, of course, to the denouement of the Won-soo affair storyline, which asserts that Saimdang's obsession with running a commune has caused the woman to neglect her husband. Spousal neglect is a very real phenomenon, but compared to the modern-day it was virtually non-existent in Joseon. Indeed, the Confucian ideals Saimdang was famous for embodying were developed specifically to promote harmonious family environments.
Whether they actually did so if of course a matter of debate, but I only bring it up as the latest example in a long line of frustrating anachronisms which seem to exist specifically so that the production team can avoid discussing the real Saimdang's accomplishments. At one point a character directly asks Saimdang to talk about paintings and the entire scene is played off as a joke about the foppish upper classes. Then it's right back to the commune.
Even the supposed feminist angle doesn't really work at all because once again, at the end of the day, Saimdang is only able to carry on through the emotional anguish of daily life thanks to the encouragement of Lee Gyum. Who is a man. You know, women throughout history have had to put up with a lot of emotional stress. That was their job. So it comes off as just a tad bit offensive that Saimdang needs to have this stuff explained to her by a guy who, as far as we can tell, has no close personal relationships at all.
These criticisms are admittedly all in broad strokes. For the most part this episode is just a series of boring pointless conversations involving characters I didn't particularly care about. Even the framing device involves little to no plot progression, as we just get a few clarifications about stuff we already knew. Also the seeds are planted for Jeong-hak's downfall, although his plan is so obviously stupid that doesn't really count as an accomplishment.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Saimdang: Light's Diary" Episode 20"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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