Exploring Korean Drama: Master’s Sun

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After last year’s disappointing Big, the Hong Sisters are back with the spooky Master’s Sun.  It’s not the best kdrama of the year, or even the best that the Hong Sisters have done, but it’s still an absorbing show.  Master’s Sun wrapped up at the beginning of the month, making it available to American audiences just in time for Halloween.

master's sun tae gong shilTae Gong Shil can see dead people.  Ghosts follow her around night and day, entreating her for favors.  Gong Shil’s so plagued that she can’t hold down a normal job or live a normal life, because the ghosts are everywhere and interrupt her every activity.  She can’t even get drunk to escape from them for a while, because if she lets her mental faculties slip, ghosts possess her until she sobers up.

This basic premise of Master’s Sun is nothing new.  In fact, it immediately reminds of two other recent Korean properties: the romcom film Chilling Romance and last year’s underappreciated drama Arang and the Magistrate.  In the latter, the lead is pestered by ghosts begging him for help, but he’s better at ignoring them than Gong Shil.  In the former, the lead is isolated from the rest of society, the ghosts she can see chasing away anyone who gets too close.

Master’s Sun doesn’t need an original premise, however, because as always the Hong Sisters employ familiar tropes in order to discuss and dissect them.  This time, they do so in the form of the unique relationship between Gong Shil and male lead Joo Joong Won.  For reasons that are never explained, Joong Won is ghost repellant.  Whenever Gong Shil touches him her abilities are nullified, and the spirits disappear.

master's sun the first touchGong Shil discovers this within hours of first meeting Joong Won, and immediately sticks to him.  She’s so desperate for a respite from her haunted life that she’s not ashamed to follow Joong Won around, in order to stay close and be allowed to touch him.

Immediately the show plays with a common trope, in Korean culture called the Candy Girl.  The Candy Girl is a common heroine: a poor and scorned young woman put in the path of a rich, successful man.  She insinuates herself into his life, sometimes by accident, despite everyone around her telling her she’s not good enough for him.  The man eventually falls for her, and that’s when she tries to leave, claiming it’s for his better good.

Gong Shil is immediately accused of being a Candy Girl.  She’s quick to admit that she’s being shameless, but for reasons that no one else can understand.  She couldn’t care less about Joong Won’s fortune.  She sticks around because access to him is literally the only way she can survive, or even just get a good night’s sleep.  It’s not like most of us wouldn’t do the same in her situation; frankly I’m surprised she managed to remain as sane as she is.

master's sun posterIt doesn’t take long for Joong Won to both believe Gong Shil’s claims and find a way to turn them to his profit.  He just so happens to have a convenient tragic backstory that makes Gong Shil’s ability worth a lot to him; he calls her his 10 million dollar radar, and strikes up a deal that will put her in his employ for his benefit and keep her close to him for hers.

The mystery of Joong Won’s past and the task he sets Gong Shil related to it becomes the most overarching plot of the series.  Most individual episodes, however, revolve around a “ghost of the week” theme.  Gong Shil sees a ghost, sets out to help it, and Joong Won usually gets pulled in (most of the time because the ghost affects his life or his business in some way).

That’s not really what makes the show stand out.  Master’s Sun is strongest when it turns a scrutinizing eye to the tropes of its genre.  The Candy Girl theme is an obvious example: everyone, including Joo Won’s disapproving aunt, thinks that Gong Shil is after Joong Won for his money.  That couldn’t be further from the truth; Gong Shil would follow Joong Won around if he were a beggar on the street.  She doesn’t want romance or an elevated position from him (at least not at first for the former, and she spends far longer in denial about that than Joong Won).  All she wants is his ghost-proofing abilities, and in that way, for her, he’s no different than an inanimate object (though of course we soon realize that the lady doth protest too much).

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