Korean Drama 2013: The Interpreters

By interpreters I am not talking about scriptwriters or subbers or reviewers or critics. No, I am talking about characters.

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.” – William Faulkner

Yep, I think using a Faulkner quote makes me look kind of clever, thank you for asking. Sad, I know. On a serious note, I do think Faulkner has a point, a writer gives life to a character but ultimately falls prey to how well they can flesh a character out (“what he says and does” so says our Mississippi bard). Creating an idea is one thing, making it come alive is another action entirely- because sometimes a character is too big for its britches, at least the britches he or she was written with. But never fear, because as writer’s struggle to understand their heroes and bad guys (and help us, as the consumer of the story, understand what is going on and what the important, meaningful actions of said hero or heroine are) the result is often the interpreter.

creepy trench coat

The role of story interpreter should really be referred to as expositor, but for some reason that word seems to conjure up images of creepy guys in trench coats so I could not bring myself to use it. So instead I will call this trope “the interpreter” – the character that conveniently explains complex plots or situations, all in the name of a two pieces of storytelling logic. What are those reasons you ask? Never fear…

The interpreter breaks down the plot points that are glaringly obvious to viewers/readers but unknown to our main characters (usually we, as viewers, see what the evil guy does, but the interpreter needs to bring the hint of misdeeds to the hero and or heroine via their own logic or knowledge). This character acts as a way to drive the story forward, without (if written well) becoming too much of the “hey- I know everything going on Mr. Hero and Ms. Heroine” guy.

i understand

The second reason for this character trope is to break the insane plot down into an understandable bit of logic. Sometimes a plot becomes so thick it is suffocating- and just plain confusing. The interpreter can take all of the madness and brain numbing plot twists and make a little sense of it, leaving viewers/ readers to nod their head with a sliver of realization of what it all means. Call this a function of Watson, I presume.

The role of interpreter, for some reason, always makes me laugh. Maybe it is when this role is so glaringly obvious I rejoice, or maybe I just love the character that finally makes me realize what the what-what is going on. I am not sure of my reasoning, but I am a fan. While reviewing the list of dramas I watched this year I realized I had a few interpreter characters that I completely adored. So here it goes, my favorite interpreter roles in K-Drama 2013 so far. Cheers! Soo Jin

Soo Jin, Two Weeks (MBC)

I am not sure what brings about the hallucinated image of Soo Jin (because it is not the real thing, obviously) but the imagined interactions between this character and her mystery Father are the logic and sense that moves Papa fugitive towards safety. This little girl, unfortunately stricken with cancer and residing in medically imposed isolation (so, yeah, really it is not her in a physical-appearing-in-the -scene sense) appears before her Father offering sage advice.

Soo Jin 2

Her Father, Tae San, is a fugitive from a murder charge. Hunted by gangster assassins and the police, he is on a desperate mission to donate his bone marrow to his dying daughter- post proving his innocence. His daughter, or the idea of his daughter (played out in visual form) acts as the interpreter- telling him what to do and directing his moral compass towards the right decisions. Get well soon Soo Jin- you have a bright interpreter future ahead of you!

Secretary Ahjussi 2

Secretary Kim Gwi Do, Master’s Sun (SBS)

I heart you Secretary Kim, for a whole bunch of reasons. To keep my reasons focused on the trope you belong to- I love you for being the guy that is forever (and ever so slyly) convincing Jung Woo to get over it, get better, and move on. Plus you have a bazillion professional licenses in your suit jacket. Okay, back to the trope.

Secretary Ahjussi 1

Secretary Kim is the character that is out for the best interest of our hero, in other words he knows what is best and what is best happens to be the meat (of course) of this romantic comedy. Even if the consentient servant trope owns this character at first glance, Secretary Kim is so much more than an Alfred to Master’s Batman or an Igor to Master’s Dr. Frankenstein. He is the voice of reason and healing in this drama, and I seriously cheer for him. Secretary Kim fighting!

Monk 1

Monk So Jung, Gu Family Book (MBC)

Gu Family Book is a horrible drama. Writing sucked, subpar directing, and an underutilization of Lee Seung Gi made me groan at this show (Papa Gu scenes excluded from this opinion). Yet, if there is a character I appreciate it is our friendly Monk of knowledge So Jung.

Monk So Jung was friends with Papa Gu, consistently unwavering in his loyalty to his mountain spirit buddy (who eventually went to the dark side). And, even after decades removed from the events of his BFF’s death, managed to appear at just the right time to offer a premonition to solidify Little Gu’s love life.

Monk 2

I think of this character as a Korean Drama Rod Serling (a la the Twilight Zone);  ever ready to offer a hint of what is going on without giving away the complete mind fuck that is about to follow. For that, I love this interpreter. Because, after how much this drama served up the terrible, I have to hold on to something.

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