While "Saimdang: Light's Diary" has always suffered from direct comparison to the also currently airing "Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People", the timing this week is especially unfortunate. The latter drama just explicitly made a point about how proper representation of women in the arts is a completely meaningless victory in the context of a political situation so bad that people are actively being murdered. As a result, the plot in "Saimdang: Light's Diary" about Saimdang heroically striking a blow for women everywhere by painting the king's portrait just comes off as really awkward.
Saimdang did not end sexism, and probably didn't even understand what the concept of sexism was. But you know, "Saimdang: Light's Diary" could have addressed this in far more plausible and less stupid ways. Saimdang wasn't even her real name- just the artist's most common pen name. Was she hiding her gender? That could be a good vehicle for discussing sexism. Of course the real Saimdang probably valued privacy too which she is, uh, not doing here.
But back to people being murdered. Am I the only one who found it weird that Chi-yeong was killing people and destroying property, yet only ends up on house arrest because he was on the losing side of the art competition? Once again, all those parts of Chi-yeong being a monstrous thug could have easily been excised from "Saimdang: Light's Diary" and the plot would not have been meaningfully altered in any way.
Of course, then the problem would be that there's no one to send an army of goons to interfere in Saimdang and Lee Gyum's act of true love- drawing a portrait of King Jungjong which honestly isn't even that good. Which I guess in a roundabout way does kind of impress on me the value of Saimdang's art. I've been genuinely impressed with most of what we've seen so far. The royal portrait, by contrast, I'm not sure why anyone would even want to display it in public.
That's not just a criticism of the aesthetics. I was kind of under the impression that royal portraits were more for personal use than they were something intended to impress the common people. Which is also kind of my problem with "Saimdang: Light's Diary" as a whole. The production team, in making Saimdang a hero, has almost completely obscured the actual reasons why she's famous. Although technically Lee Gyum is, as usual, the character with the most agency.
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 23"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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