It turns out that all I am asking for from dramas and movies is simply three dimensional female characters. I honestly feel that in most cases not only female characters but also characters of colour and gay characters are portrayed stereotypically and not allowed to develop. One day my Korea-crazy friend sent me a link saying ‘since you like strong women, I am sure you will enjoy this drama’. I have started watching the drama she linked to, Queen Seon Duk and to say I am merely enjoying it would be a serious understatement. Having three dimensional ‘strong’ female characters was good enough and yet, that show is sageuk, a historical drama. Historical anythings carry so many advantages mostly because they are important learning tools. I cannot possibly discriminate when it comes to powerful women in history. I am beginning to believe that every single country, ethnic group, culture and religion has its own ‘Queen Amina’ story and though it saddens me that most people seem to readily know all powerful men in history as opposed to powerful women, I am beginning to have hope.
The drama, Queen Seon Duk is about the first female ruler in Korean history, the Queen of Silla (one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea) in the 7th century. They say that Queen Seon Duk possessed extraordinary charm and wit, however with the episodes I have watched so far I have not been able to see this. The truth is Duk Man (the future queen) annoys the hell out of me, the only time I liked her was during the war scenes when her compassion and spunky attitude helped save many lives.
The person that moves this drama and who no one can help but admire is the woman who is supposed to be the villain, Lady Mi Shil. Though she is the ‘villain’, I am yet to see a part of her that is evil and I am on her side. Mi Shil is just a woman who wants the throne, she has a lot of power and before Duk Man becomes the Queen, has even more power than the King himself. Mi Shil had enough power to expel King Jinji from the throne and this was after she abandoned the son she had with him for not been useful to her by the way.
The only thing standing between her and the throne is her blood, as in, she was only a noble and could not claim the throne. In the drama, Mi Shil is regarded as a demi-god, she pulls so many strings, she is always cold, calculating and conniving. Really, how could I not love such a character? It also does not help that when she is introduced in the first episode, she is dressed in armor and wielding a sword expertly.
Though the drama is based on true historical facts of course certain parts were tweaked, after all it is a televised drama. While certain parts of the drama annoy me including dialogue and blaming Duk Man’s horrible command of a sword on her being female (yeah right, tell that to Hua Mulan and the Trung sisters), I am enjoying it a lot. And since I am on the ‘villains’ side I just know I am going to be more frustrated in the future.
I also liked that few episodes of the drama was set in Western China as part of the Silk Trade Route. Also a few episodes showed 7th century international relations. Those scenes really brought to light the fact that diverse people have been communicating for centuries. In fact, the world was probably more ‘colorblind’ then! The multicultural aspect was essentially due to trade, in the scenes set in Western China there were Romans, Indians, Koreans, Chinese, one black guy and I am pretty sure at one point ancient Egyptian was mentioned.
In later episodes, several foreign merchants were welcomed into the Silla imperial court for trade and there were several lords saying that everyone had to be on their best behaviour to show the foreigners how wonderful their kingdom was. *Sigh* I love this drama for introducing me to Korean history through a female queen. *Double sigh* I wish there was an African equivalent to this. Obviously, there were several African queens in history, several historical trading points where different cultures met, what I am saying is I wish I could watch a big budget African drama set in the 7th century too.
So, I had to include this image because it links back to my post on gay love in history. No I am not saying that the Hwarang (an elite group of male youth that served as educational and later military institutions) had institutionalized homosexuality a la the samurai (not that I will be surprised if they did). It is noteworthy however that like the samurai, they painted their faces (i.e. wore makeup) to symbolise that they were willing to die for a particular cause. The reasoning behind this is once again like the samurai they wanted to die beautifully, to have beautiful faces when they died. Cool, huh?