The dance with The Devil – Mawang

For years Mawang / 마왕 (also callaed The Devil/Lucifer but I prefer the romanized Korean title) was my favourite drama. Nothing I watched, no matter how good, was able to surpass it. It felt like the drama had left a permanent imprint that took it’s own sweet time to fade. Apart from a short comment once I’d watched it the for the first time, I never wrote a proper post on Mawang. Years later I wrote a kind of reflective musing during the re-watch but that was it. One of the reasons is probably that there were several beautiful pieces written already and by writers who are way better at it than me. 😉

So why now? I honestly haven’t got a clue. I guess I was hit with nostalgia while browsing my LJ as I was looking for something quite else and suddenly came across the post I wrote while re-watcing. So, I stepped on the memory lane and this is the result.

Mawang is the 2nd installment (Resurrection/Revenge being the 1st) of what was supposed to be a ‘revenge trilogy’ by writer/director team Kim Jo Woo and Park Chang Hong. Only, that never came to be as the 3rd part was stuck in limbo. No funding, if I recall it right. Neither Mawang nor Resurrection were ever hits, albeit both had (and still do I suppose) a faithful following and Resurrection even managed to claim a ‘mania drama’ status. The sad thing with kdramas is that quality hardly ever equals popularity. Unfortunately the Kim/Park team hasn’t managed to put together anything to rival these two dramas since. I liked Fermentation Family a lot but it was rather an odd duck and the less said about Shark the better. I’m forever grumpy about the way Shark turned out to be, it having been touted as the 3rd part of the trilogy. Just goes to show that one or even two great shows can’t guarantee the quality of the next one from the same crew.

As this drama is best watched without as little knowledge of the plot as possible, I suggest skipping most of what’s under in case it’s on your to-watch list. All one really needs to know is… it’ll most likely break your heart.

Mawang is not for the faint of the heart. The fist time I watched it, I think the waterfalls really started somewhere around episode 16 and I quite likely cried through most of ep 20. The last shot… OMG… so beautiful! All in all the whole thing was like some kind of beautiful but lethal dance where the dancers got nearer and nearer in ever tightening circles until finally, they became one. Two sides of the same coin, yeah. Joo Ji Hoon and Uhm Tae Woong were amazing. They played along and off each other so seamlessly it’s almost like magic. I totally forgot I was watching actors as the characters became so real for me. I’m still in awe.

The way Mawang is constructed, as it gives us different vewpoints of the same scenes, results in different interpretentions of the central point; was Tae Hoon’s death a tragic accident or manslaughter? I’m in the first camp but the second scenario is actually quite as plausable. Back in the day there were some wonderful posts written about Mawang and few of those can still be found. Here’s one from 2009 by Thundie @ Thundie’s Prattle.

I rewatched Mawang with my sister last year, taking it slow and a few episodes at a go. Enough time had passed since the 1st watch to put some distance to the emotional attachment I had with the characters and the story, to allow me to enjoy it without the pain. Here are a few thoughts I wrote back in Feb 2013… SPOILERY!

It’s still as good as I remembered it to be with a well written story and wonderfully shot, directed and acted. I’m also noticing things I didn’t see the 1st time around. Like the fact that at the core of the revenge there is a lie. One told by a pitiful, already twisted individual who is consumed with hatred that only grew over the years. Young Chul may actually be the darkest character of them all, Jo Jae Wan does a wonderful job in the role. That lie was the last straw that sent Tae Seung on his path to harden his soul and become the avenger – Oh Seung Ha. I always thought that Tae Sung and Oh Soo are very similar at the core and had the circumstances been different they could have been friends. Only their trajectory is different. That unfortunate incident 12 years ago sent Tae Sung into the dark tunnel and away from light but made Oh Soo turn around and go towards the light, away from the darkness. And I weep for both of them because they are both prisoners of their past, which btw is cleverly hinted at with all the ‘bars’ frequently overlaying their images. 🙂 I love the symbolism in Mawang.

True to life Mawang has a gaggle of ‘what ifs’, missed opportunities and misunderstandings. What if OS had been able to gather up enough courage to knock on the Jung family’s door to be allowed to tell how sorry he was and ask for forgiveness, like he was dying to do? What if TS had actually been able to talk with OS about what really happened that day? What if OS’s crappy father had not interfered but rather let OS get whatever punishment he was due? What if…

Tae Sung, or rather Seung Ha is an interesting character. Not because he’s the ‘bad guy’ but rather because he is complex. I can understand where he comes from and I feel his pain but that doesn’t mean I approve of the methods he is using. Revenge always eats you up in the end and I doubt it gives any real relief. When we meet SH his soul hasn’t yet been completely destroyed so he is eventually able to own up to the fact that what he is doing is wrong and that he is hurting innocents as collateral damage. I like to think that deep down he always knew it but just chose to ignore it. The fact is that he didn’t really know any of the people involved, apart from his brother. All he has is assumptions based on 2nd hand information and heresy. A lot of it coming from Young Chul who really isn’t the world’s most reliable witness due to his own highly myopic, albeit justifiable view on things. Seung Ha stayed in the shadows, patiently gathering intel. He never had proper, human contact with the people he swore to make pay for their sins or the people he used as means to get there and thus one important aspect was missing. He never got the full goods, so to speak. His view on the matters was fractured enough to give him a pause, when he finally did start to get to know Oh Soo and see how others saw him. Maybe OS wasn’t the devil SH in his agony had imagined him to be but just a fallible human being like the rest of us. The shell he had built around himself had already started to crack and the realization to settle in. Maybe he had turned into a much bigger devil than OS ever was. What makes all this so incredibly sad is that by the time SH really saw the forest from the trees it was already too late, for both of them. The wave of events SH had set in motion could not be stopped anymore and it would swipe along everyone in its path. Whether they deserved it or not.

Mawang has one of the best OSTs around. It’s very atmospheric and fits the story to a T. There was a time I was not able to listen to it without getting a lump in my throat and it still tends to give me the ‘feels’. 😉

The love theme Don’t Love Me/사랑하지말아요 by JK Kim Dong Uk. No spoilers as far as I can tell.

A nice but VERY SPOILERY tribute MV for the drama for those who’ve already watched it.

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