Complex Gender Roles in “Tree With Deep Roots”

Scene from Episode 6 when King Sejong and So-Yi engage in an emotional confrontation. Sejong shows emotional vulnerability.

Scene from Episode 6 when King Sejong and So-Yi engage in an emotional confrontation. Sejong shows emotional vulnerability.

The television K-drama series “Tree With Deep Roots” pushes the boundaries of traditional gender roles in an East Asian society; male characters prove intellectualism to be imperative, while women play pivotal leadership roles. However, both genders demonstrate a complex variety of attributes.

The transition from the harsh King Taejong to the intellectual King Sejong proves to be a positive step toward a more masculine and favorable leader. King Sejong is the perfect example of a leader who maintains power via intellect and humility. His desire to give power to the common people by creating a new alphabet shows that he does not wish to simply keep all the power to himself, but would rather distribute power among the masses, proving his loyalty to his people. In the opening episodes, Taejong tells Sejong that he should develop a way to keep power to himself, showing that he is selfish. Additionally, Taejong demonstrates the violent behaviors of a traditionally masculine figure, but exemplifies why pointless violence and brutality do not denote a strong, masculine leader. While King Taejong views Sejong’s desire to distribute power as a weakness, Sejong’s masculinity is evident in that he does not fear sharing power; a weak king fears that power will be taken from him, while a strong king can distribute power while still remaining in control. In episode 19, King Sejong meets Jeong Gi Joon, the leader of “Hidden Root” discussing why he wants to give power to the people. While both men are intellectual leaders, Jeong Gi Joon shows weakness in acknowledging his fear that the common people might want to take over, challenging the notion that all intellectuals are masculine. Therefore, masculinity is not easily defined, but rather a concept constructed based on multiple societal ideals.

Though male figures make up the majority of characters, there are notable female characters who push the boundaries of traditional gender roles, specifically So-Yi. While So-Yi demonstrates the traditional ideals of a Japanese woman insomuch as her demeanor is quiet, demure and ladylike, she is far from conventional regarding her significance and commitment toward furthering the development of the Korean alphabet. At the end of the first episode, So-Yi blames herself for contributing to the death of Sejong’s father-in-law after reading a letter that is switched out for a letter of condemnation. Realizing her mistake in judgment, So-Yi vows to remain mute. The punishment she gives herself adheres to the traditional description of femininity in that it is nonviolent and causes her to seem submissive. However, she shows great self-control and power in her ability to stick to her word, a quality typically demonstrative of a strong male leader. As a close advisor to King Sejong, So-Yi goes on to utilize her unique memory, ability to read and write, and overall incredible intelligence to carry out secretive missions and to assist King Sejong in his pursuit to create the Korean alphabet. So-Yi shows that whether male or female, loyalty goes a long way and provides power.

Male and female characters in “Tree With Deep Roots” behave in ways that both adhere to as well as conflict with the traditional expectations of gender in their society, showing that gender is not easily defined.

Works Cited

Tree With Deep Roots. Writ. Lee Jung Myung. Dir. Jang Tao Yoo and Shin Kyung Soo. SBS, 2011. DramaFever.

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King Sejong is a Rebel With a Cause


King Sejong argues with his subjects over whether his alphabet upholds Confucian ideals.

King Sejong argues with his subjects over whether his alphabet upholds Confucian ideals.

Tree With Deep Roots’ depicts the intense blowback King Sejong received when he created the Korean alphabet. The glory and prideful representation of his counter arguments, unusual personality, and “victory” over the scholars demonstrates the rebellious and nationalist nature of Korea today.

This statement is evident in the depiction of King Sejong when he interacts with the scholars, and verbally argues with them, which can be seen 18 minutes into episode 16. In this scene, one of the notably older scholars argues that the Chinese characters embrace Confucian ideals through the way that each word or concept combines many other strokes that have relevance, whilst Sejong’s alphabet is comprised solely of 28 characters that can be utilized to create any sound. In order to counter this point, Sejong argues that Confucian ideals call for the king to answer to his people, and that with the current system the common people can not communicate effectively with him; therefore, this system of writing is not Confucian in nature (Young). Sejong’s call for the people to be involved and also have a place within the discourse of the nation demonstrates a strong sense of rebellion against the elite that he represents. Sejong could have easily stopped work on the alphabet and left the discussion around Joseon only to himself, the beauraucrats and the scholars; however, he rebelled again the traditional view of Confucian influence on language and embraced a more inclusive version. Furthermore, by retaining Confucian influence in his new language, Sejong demonstrates a strong sense of nationalism for the thought that Korea was built on.

The nationalism and rebellion are even more present in this show by the overall depiction of King Sejong. He is vey easily the most sympathetic character in the show. This is evidenced by his desire to create a language that allows his people to communicate effectively with the elite when this decision was not integral to his rule. Furthermore, he will not accept his alphabet until he receives the approval of his most important subject, Chae-yoon, who had been attempting to assassinate him. It is very possible that he could have either been killed by Chae-yoon or that he would never have received his blessing and the entire project would have been stopped (Young). This demonstrates not only his faith in the ability for his people to rise up and take control of their place in society, but also demonstrates his rebellious nature. He is also very fond of using unorthodox language, which further demonstrates how little he cares about social conventions which he doesn’t feel furthers Korea or the lives of his people. In addition, he is willing to do whatever it takes to create change in his nation. He even goes out to work in the fields just to force his council to actually determine the most efficient amount of fertilizer to use on their plants (Young). Sejong is a rebel with a cause, the betterment of his people’s lives.

Overall, the combination of King Sejong’s progressive decisions and actions, which present a more creative application of Confucianism, and his complete faith in the ability of his people, demonstrates a rebellious and nationalistic attitude. Therefore, Tree With Deep Roots proves that Korean culture embraces the independence of their nation as well as the possibility to reinvent the way it is implemented to allow for more mobility and agency.

Works Cited

Young-hyun, Kim, and Park Sang-yeon. Tree With Deep Roots. 2011. Dramafever. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

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South Korea: Guided and “Directed” by International Relations With the United States


South Korean media depicts the relationships that the nation has with the United States. In the film The Host and the Korean drama series City Hunter, we see multiple examples of the influence the US has in Korean media. This relationship directly influences aspects and themes in Korean dramas and films.

Given the military history between the United States and South Korea, the film: The Host shows the power and influence that the US has over Korea; even on such outrageous examples/matters as a man-eating monster on the loose. A few prime examples from the film will support the thesis above. The Host was a very interesting film to say the least. While it had a few aspects of a Hollywood ‘monster’ film, the influence of Korean culture and mindset were very evident. Seeing as it was my first Korean film that incorporated a fictitious monster, I would have to give the film a decent rating and applaud the director (Jung Ho-Bong) for not going too far over the top.

Trailer for The Host (2006).

Although I was unable to find the specific scene that I wanted through Youtube, the film is available on Netflix and I can discuss my reactions and opinions nevertheless. The first scene in The Host was set in a laboratory somewhere in South Korea.

It is all in English which makes the scene that much more important. In this scene we see an American scientist instruct his Korean counterpart to discard at least 50 bottles of Formaldehyde into the drain; even after the fact that the Korean scientist said that this was against protocol. This is the first glimpse of “power” that the United States has over Korea. After the monster attacked, the United States government steps in, as one of their military men was killed from a ‘virus’ carried by the monster. The Korean government was instructed to quarantine all individuals who came in contact with the monster, which places our main character (Park Gang-Doo played by Kang-Ho Song) and his family in quarantine. As more of the film passes, Gang-Doo is set to have surgery to extract the ‘virus’ from his brain, and the plot takes a dramatic turn.

The most influential scene and series of events, in regards to US-Korean relations comes towards the middle of the film; where Gang-Doo finds out that there is no actual virus. He manages to escape, but the fact that US government would have enough power to have the Korean government knowingly lie to their people about a virus that doesn’t exist is mind blowing. However, it makes me wonder how much of this ‘farfetched’ film is really that farfetched. The United States government is known for trying to keep strong relationships with foreign nations, and sometimes they involve themselves too much in the issues that these nations are facing. While the US’s intentions and plans may be good ones, the unnecessary influence and, for lack of a better term, nosiness sometimes backfires on own government and our people.

The film The Host shows a United States dominate relationship with South Korea, and although it was just a film, it keeps me wondering if there were to be a ‘virus’ outbreak in Korea, just how far off The Host would be.

While the events that take place in The Host are fictional, I wonder if something like this were to actually occur, if the events wouldn’t be too far off from reality. The Host showed examples of Korean’s acting based on the “orders” and “recommendations” of the United States, in contrast the Korean drama series: City Hunter shows Korean officials acting solely on the “fear” of what the United States ‘might do.’

In the first of City Hunter, we are taken on a roller coaster of emotions, situations, and are in a sense overwhelmed by the different directions that we are taken on. In the opening scenes we see “The Rangoon Bombing,” which was an actual event that occurred in Burma, and was supposedly the North Korean Government’s plan to kill the President of South Korea. This scene creates the basis for the story in which the South Korean government plans to retaliate by infiltrating North Korea and killing 30 or so military officials. This plan is even unknown by the President of South Korea. The ‘retaliation’ is the first example of Korean nationalism displayed in ‘City Hunter.’

Given that most know and understand the relationship, or lack there of between North and South Korea, the reaction by the South Korean Government to the North plotting to kill the President, makes sense. The South plans to go in and kill 30 North Korean Military Officials in order to “get back” at the North Korean Government for their actions. During the episode we see the South training a special task-force to take care of this issue but then hit a “bump” when the President of South Korea finds out about the “Top Secret Operation.’

This is where we see the second example of “nationalism and international relations” come into play. The South Korean President decides to cancel the mission of taking out the North’s military officials, and implement a plan in which the members of the “task-force’ would not be returning to the South. This is due to the fact the President was worried about the political implications of the mission, and the realization that the mission would cause South Korea more harm if the world were to find out about it. Much to Choi Eung Chan‘s dismay and disproval of the President’s choice to cancel the mission, a ‘counter-mission’ is set into place, where the submarine at the rendezvous point, would not allow the ‘task-force’ on board and would instead kill the members of this team.

Although the South Koreans killed a number of their own men, the status and fate of the country became better off with the mission going ‘under raps’ and the lives lost, were but a mere setback, to the amount of political retaliation and withdrawal of foreign nations’ supporting South Korea. This is how South Korea, even to this day deals with a lot of their political problems. In order to keep the North ‘at bay,’ South Korea must rely on other nations such as the United States and their allies.

City Hunter conveys a sense of acting based on international relations with the United States throughout the entire series, however in the first episode, we are hit with a devastating decision for the good of the relationship. The fact that such a mission would be planned without the South Korean President’s knowing put the nation at risk, and in order to maintain the country’s relations with the United States, the government had to sacrifice it’s own men for the good of the nation.

These two works of Korean media are definitely good examples of the influence that the US has in the formulation and storytelling in their respective plots. However I think that there is a deeper connection between the relationship of the two nations and the popular culture that goes along with both countries. I almost see the United States as a big brother of sorts. They were there assisting South Korea during the Korean War, and since then in their never ending ‘battle’ with North Korea.The United States has assisted South Korea when they need it the most, and have provided countless number of troops and battle stations at the DMZ.

To conclude, I feel that the United States’ relationship with South Korea has influenced the development of the media and ‘hybridity’ of their culture. South Korea definitely has been impacted by this relationship, and will continue to be in the future.


Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun; Lee Kang-ro, “Critical Analysis of Anti-Americanism in Korea,”
Korea Focus 13 (March-April 2005): 74–98, online at http://www.koreafocus.or.kr/design1/Essays/
view.asp?volume_id=39&content_id=143&category=G (accessed June 20, 2005).

Hyuk, Jin dir. City Hunter. Seoul Broadcasting Channel, 2011. TV series.

Joon-Ho, Bong dir. The Host. Showbox, 2006. Film.

Lee, Sang-Dawn. Big Brother, Little Brother: The American Influence on Korean Culture in the Lyndon B. Johnson Years. Lexington Books, 2002. Print.

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Elements to success of K-drama


Why does everyone watch Korean drama ? K-drama has found certain ways to promote their series using the Cinderella story, similar plots with unexpected twists, gorgeous cast, corporate with K-pop and Fashion to spread popularity, variety in characters, beautiful settings are the significance elements lead K dramas to its success.  


Cinderella is a very famous Western fairy tale. It starts with a poor unfortunate girl who has a step mom and sisters that hate her and always mean to her. One day she meets the prince, fall in love and live happily ever after. Does it sound familiar with “My Princess” where Lee-Sul is a typical poor girl who is given up for adoption suddenly find out she is a princess and fall in love with her prince charming whose grandfather owes one of the biggest company in Korea? She has a sister that dislike her and partner up with a mean girl,who loves her prince, to take her down. She does not have a great childhood and her father passes away just like Cinderella.



Goong is also another fictional  drama series about the Korean royal family. Chae-Kyeong is also a very typical girl from a middle class family who one day finds out she is getting married with Lee Shin the prince of Korea because of an arranged married agreement between her grandfather and the last king.  From a ordinary girl to a princess is every girl’s dream, using that Korean writters comes up with the modern Cinderella plot to attract young female teenagers and they successes based on how popular the two series that I mention above are.



It does not have to involve a prince or royal family to make a “Cinderella story” series, it can be a very handsome, rich, popular boy who is the leader at school and everyone wants to be his girl. Boys Over Flowers for example is a very famous Korean drama series that is well-known worldwide and it does not have anything related to actual Royal family but Goo Jun Pyo who is a leading male character is built like a prince figure. He is the only son of the most powerful incorporation of South Korea, he lives in a mansion as big as a palace with drivers and maids, drive the nicest car and go on vacations in fancy places. He falls in love with Geum Jan Di who is a girl from a poor family and that is when the Cinderella story begins.


Another elements that Korean drama series famous for is the attractive cast in every series. There is always a cold good looking “bad boy”, a pure innocent looking girl or a sexy mean woman who tries to get in between them and there is a gorgeous looking “player” who makes all the girl fall in love. Korean drama has it all and no one can deny that Korean actors and actress are by far one of the most good looking cast. I have heard people ask if every Korean look like that because they get some beautiful figure in drama series. Korean movies are like commercial they always pick the best looking cast and it is a very important element beside the plot in how successful the series would be.



When you watch a lot of Korean drama series you start to see the similarities in them despite how different the setting is or the details. In most movie, the girl and the guy normally hate each other at first, they argue all the time, pick on each other, get mad and fight but then fall deeply in love toward the end of the movie. So why people still keep watching and looking for new dramas ? It is because even though the plots have a lot similarities there is always a twist toward the end. There is always a moment when a secret comes out and changes everything like when Lee Yoon Sung in City Hunter find out his real father is the President who is supposed to be his enemy, it changes the whole situation and no one would have foreseen that. K-drama with same old plots but not really the same, you always have to wait until the end to tell.


In Korean drama series, you can find for yourself a character that you can relate to. Most of the girls or guys are just typical people like us and suddenly something happens that change their life from ordinary to extraordinary. Han Ji Eun in Full house is a writer who writes corny stories on the internet for a living until the day her friends trick her into selling her house to Lee Young Jae who is a good looking famous actor and of course they fall in love. From nobody she becomes the girl that every girl jealous of. That is how Korean dramas find its way to people’s hearts with the “ from just the typical girl today to the most popular girl tomorrow” story because everyone can relate to the character somehow.


Another reason why Korean drama series are so popular is its link to K-pop. Do you know the soundtrack of Boys over Flowers is performed by SS501 the band which Kim Hyun Joong a member of and Kim Hyun Joong is also Yoon Ji Hoo the second leading male character in Boys over flowers ? Using one of the cast’s band to produce soundtrack is “one stone kill two birds” method. The popularity of the band raise up with the success of the series. Before Boys Over Flowers people barely heard of SS501 and after the movies people started to download their music, along with downloading the series. When someone talk about SS501, they also talk about Boys Over Flowers and more and more people start to watch it.


Korean drama series also have a connection fashion that benefit both Korean fashion culture and K dramas. I remember when every girl used to wear the short jacket with floral dresses like Han Ji Eun in Full house, cut their hair to have it short like Geum Jan Di in Boys over flowers. Ji eun wears the same style through out the series and someone it becomes a trend. People start wearing it and it also help to spread the popularity of the series, once others start asking you where you get the style from; they start to watch Full House.


Last but not least, the setting of Korean drama series are usual breathtakingly beautiful and it does not stay within Korea. Full House was shoot in Phuket Thailand- one of the most amazing beach in Southeast Asia, City hunter has some scenes in Chiang mai Thailand with green tall mountains and huge elephants, First love of a Royal Prince also has episodes in Japan and Bali Indonesia where has the most clear transparent blue beach and white sand beach shore. Korean directors choose to shoot their series outside of Korea as a smart technique to promote their film worldwide and who does not want to watch a romantic comedy series with gorgeous beach as the setting ?


Although, there are many reasons why K-dramas are so popular not just among Korean audiences but also globally. Beautiful setting, Cinderella story, gorgeous cast with famous K-pop singers, promote new fashion trend, variety of characters which anyone can find themselves relate to make K-dramas everyone’s favorite. 




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King of Ambition- “King of randomeness”


K-drama, King of Ambition (Yawang)

Although King of Ambition has an audience rating of twenty-seven percent, the nihility ending plot left much to be desired. A recording of an important conversation proves the misdeed of the past and is displayed instead of planning a complicated plot to reveal the truth and far-fetched conclusion.

The plot of the 24 episodes of the drama mainly portrays both characters’ conspiracies of revenge and their intense inner conflict and lingering attachment between these two characters based on their past relationship. The main character is Joo Da-hae, an ambitious woman, born into poverty. Besides her, Ha Ryu, who falls in love with Da-hae in an orphanage. He always does whatever is best for Da-hae; he even takes Da-hae’s murder charge, and he works day and night to earn money for her. However, as time goes on, Da-hae changes, cheats on him, loses their daughter, Eun-byul, and tries to be a wife of a Chaebol. After taking all of this abuse from her, Ha Ryu’s plans revenge on Da-hae by becoming a CEO of a Chaebol group. Without a doubt, Da-Hae forms a conspiracy against anyone who hinders her plans, killing people or causing them severe trouble.

Even though the plot of King of Ambition is full of fictitious, over dramatic conspiracy, it still attracts an audience because the conspiracy plot that both characters plan is sophisticated and intense. In example, Da-hae set a bomb in the car to kill Ha Ryu, but instead, it kills her husband Do-hoon. Furthermore, she is still able to hide her crime in episode 17. However, compared to the previous episodes, the last few episodes of this drama seem rushed and riffle. Ha Ryu uses his cellular phone to record the conversation between him and Da-hae in order to reveal two of her murder stories to the public. This plot is cliché and the fact that the series portrays this as a successful revenge tactic is actually pathetic. He spent a significant amount of time planning his retaliation, for instance tempting a daughter of Chaebol to use her authority and plan for other crimes. Why has he not used this simple method to get revenge on Da-hae before?

Furthermore, besides Ha Ryu’s pathetic final revenge, the last episode focus on regaining Da-hae’s innocent and sweet girl image by bringing up her childhood. Why? She has been vicious and evil this entire drama but now, at the end, the writers randomly strive to show Da-hae’s “original nature was a sweet girl” characteristic. Their efforts in order to make the audience have sympathy through overlapping her grown up evil characteristic with her innocent childhood seems too late to pull out at the end. For a clear conclusion for this drama, remaining Da-hae’s character as vicious and evil is better than trying to force the audience to get sympathy. Da-hae character has always been portrayed as ambitious and evil, changing it at the end was a mistake.

If the ending of King of Ambition had concluded with a sophisticated planned final revenge and did not include far-fetched and random recollection, then the audience would have evaluated this series as a high quality drama that better matched the audience rating.

Primary Source:

King of Ambition.2013


King of Ambition Teaser 2013. YouTube

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