I Miss You controversy? I have thoughts on that!

[In anticipation of the new I Miss You episodes (with subs), here’s a post I wrote back in late December on my LiveJournal page. There are spoilers up through episode 13.]

There’s a controversial drama out there in k-drama land. So of course I have thoughts. These are them.

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I started watching I Miss You for intellectual reasons. The melodrama, Nice Guy, ended with an unfortunate whimper, passing on what I thought had been an interesting plot-line. So I was in no mood for another heavy melo. And everything I’d heard marked I Miss You as a very heavy melo. But then it got controversial and that got me curious (a deadly combination that’s gotten me into so many things).

The controversy basically boiled down to too many bad things happening to the two protagonists, up to and including rape, just for the sensationalism of it. My sense was it was the rape specifically that created the bridge too far. (That it was sprung on viewers probably didn’t help — advanced warning would have been a good idea, in my opinion.) And that’s what got me curious. I’d seen k-dramas handle rape before but in those dramas the rape story-lines were side plots, dealt with in a few episodes at most. It looked like I Miss You was putting it front and center. I wanted to see how they handled it.

First, I’ve been impressed with what it hasn’t been. It hasn’t been used as either a plot-crutch, an easy emotional tug, or a titillating breaking of social mores. Not mere sensationalism, in other words. The attack itself was brutal and horrifying without any hint of eroticism. Both Soo-yeon and Jung-woo are shattered by it and it shapes who they become and therefore, since they’re the lead characters, where the story goes. In fact, it’s the aftermath that the story-tellers seem most interested in. Which leads me to my second reaction…

I’ve been really, really impressed with what it has been. So far an important underlying thrust of the drama has been about dealing with the aftermath of rape. Showing that there is an aftermath — a person’s life doesn’t end after an attack, but you also can’t just brush it aside and pretend it didn’t happen. And you certainly can’t ignore it as a society, letting rapists off with a hand-slap and ignoring the victims.

The first mystery — who killed the rapist — is all about the failure of the criminal justice system. That it was a vigilante-mother killing released rapists to avenge her daughter’s death, that the daughter’s suicide note talks about her rapist getting only five years jail-time and people getting tired of asking if she’s okay, that it’s the two mothers — the killer and Soo-yeon’s mom — who have the meatiest scene together talking about law and vengeance and their love for their daughters. Those points all combined to give me the impression that this type of violence, which so often singles out women and girls, is being overlooked by society at large. And that it’s a problem the story-tellers feel should be addressed.

And then there’s Soo-yeon’s story. I’ve been pleased with how strong Soo-yeon has been from the start. But I’m especially pleased that her strength grows when she confronts her past. It’s not an easy journey for her, but in leaving her Zoey-persona behind (a persona that erases her rape, but also erases her family and I’d say even her culture) she becomes more sure of herself. And each step has been made at her choice. She chose to come to Korea, to come to Seoul, to seek out her mother, to engage (at first with hostility, but still, engaging is engaging) with Jung-woo. And because each choice, each step, has caused Soo-yeon to become stronger I think the story-tellers are trying to show that life continues past an attack.

Those are two huge ideas to take on: how a society deals with the crime of rape, and how a victim heals after being raped. My impression, thus far, is that the I Miss You story-tellers are aware of both the weight of what they’re saying and what they want to say about it. This can all be changed by the ending of course (if Soo-yeon dies, for example, that would kill the show for me) and there’s enough episodes left for the writers to hang themselves, but as of right now I’m impressed.

[I found this article: MBC Drama Attempts to Redefine Rape in South Korea after I wrote the above post. And as it tends to agree with me, I found it cool.]

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