Pick Your Poison: Assassination versus Seppuku

 

A depiction of the swordsmanship of the King and Kang Chae Yun

A depiction of the swordsmanship of Kang Chae Yun

Tree with Deep Roots is a Korean drama television show that details the reign of King Sejong and the creation of a new Korean alphabet. Even a task as seemingly innocent as the alphabet leads to violence and the deaths of many scholars. Although Seppuku plays a major role in Asian society, specifically Japanese, Tree with Deep Roots uses violence to show loyalty through assassination and sword fights, rather than self-deprecation and destruction.

Ddol Bok, (later Kang Chae Yun), is part of the impoverished slave class in Korea during King Taejong‘s rule. This is a very violent time for the low-class people and mass killings are used as a way of asserting dominance over the helpless slaves. Ddol Bok’s father is mentally handicapped, and therefore is incapable of fully comprehending the severity of their situation. Because of this, he is sent to deliver a message that ultimately gets him killed by the government. This injustice does not go unnoticed in Ddol Bok’s childhood, and eventually, seeking revenge becomes the only motivation for his existence. Rather than feeling shame for allowing his father to die and wanting to commit suicide, the violent thoughts are pushed outward onto other characters in order to show loyalty to the innocent deceased father. However, it is not easy to be in a position in which killing King Sejong is probable. Because of this, Kang Chae Yun dedicates his life to learning martial arts and gaining power within his soldier ranks. Below is a clip from Episode 7 that depicts a fight between Kang Chae Yun and Yoon Pil (1:04:32). Both have learned “the leap” and advanced martial arts practices with the ultimate goal of being able to assassinate enemies.

Tree with Deep Roots Episode 7

This does not mean that the characters in Korea do not make physical sacrifices to show loyalty. In Episode 15 of the series, King Sejong’s son is taken as a hostage. Kang Chae Yun is using the son’s life as collateral to see how much the King values an individual’s life when placed agains the greater good of the impoverished learning how to read. His son is more than willing to sacrifice his life to the hands of another person in a grand gesture of loyalty to his father and his father’s project. Similarly, King Sejong is willing to sacrifice his son’s life to the kidnappers because he knows that creating the alphabet will do greater good than keeping his son alive. Sacrifices from both parties show a willingness to remain loyal to a cause rather than valuing one’s life above all else.

Although Seppuku is the preferred method of dying in the book Taiko, the Korean drama Tree with Deep Roots offers a varied way of showing loyalty through death and violence of other people. Ultimately, the end goal is to make a grand gesture that can leave a person honored in life and death.

 

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