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During the first season of the manhwa Painter Of The Night, we have many scenes where illusion and reality are mixed or where reality differs from the appearances.
In the first case, I could mention the daydream in the chapter 2 (chapter 2) or the wet dream in the chapter 6 where the painter’s repressed natural desires resurface. The readers are a little confused because initially they have no idea how to judge these drawings. Are they reality or fiction? This is in particular visible in the following picture: On the surface, it looks so real, while in reality this image was a vision in Baek Na-Kyum’s dream which marked the start of his unleashed unconscious. In the wet dream, we had a similar question. The beholder wondered if these images were true memories or fantasies. (Chapter 2) These were a mixture of both, although the more pictures we got, the more it became an illusion, a phantasm. As you can observe, the boundaries between seem and real were sometimes not clearly defined. The beholder had to distinguish this.
In the second case, I could refer to the chapter 42 and 43. While the reader witnesses Seungho embracing wholeheartedly the painter and detects the longing for affection and warmth from the noble as much as he is expressing his love for the low-born, Jihwa imagines to see something else. Baek Na-Kyum is the one who seduces the powerful lord hence he believes to detect a cunning smile on the artist’s face. (Chapter 43) The red-haired man is too biased towards the young low-born because he has so many prejudices against commoners. He believes that each low-born has no principle and virtue and will do anything in exchange for power, money in order to improve his life. However, the reality is different from the illusion Jihwa experienced.
Baek Na-Kyum is so pure and innocent, he has strong principles. When he made the vow to never paint any erotic pictures, he was willing to suffer which underlines his determination and strength. He might have shed some tears but he never regretted any decision. What Jihwa failed to see is that he was projecting his own mentality into the painter’s mind. In fact, the one who is somehow corrupted and influenced by power and money is our red-haired man. Let’s not forget that Jihwa claims in the chapter 18 that he has been using his friend all this time.
Sure, he did it in order to maintain a certain dignity and out of pride, yet I suspect that there was some truth in his words. He might have loved Yoon Seungho but not to the point to have his reputation ruined as sodomite. His intimate interactions with Yoon Seungho occurred behind the curtain under the excuse that they were childhood friends.
Let’s not forget that Jihwa did cover his body so that the servant wouldn’t see the hickeys left by the seme. (chapter 3) Furthermore, it seems that each time Yoon Seungho had a sex session with Jihwa, he had no other sex partners. (chapter 13). Notice that Jihwa wasn’t present at the sex orgy in the chapter 33 hence he trusted Min’s words when the latter told him that the seme was hopping from one bedchamber to the other. From my point of view, Jihwa never participated in that kind of events that’s why he was able to have a clean reputation.
And in that instant you know why, for the other nobles like Min, it was visible that Jihwa was pinning for Yoon Seungho. My suspicion is that he only had our alpha seme as sex partner. Now, you can imagine why Jihwa must have resented the low-born so much after the chapter 18. The nature of his relationship with the protagonist was revealed, when he was dragged by the topknot in front of the servants. Here through their yelling, Jihwa tried to force his childhood friend to give up on the commoner. (Chapter 18) With these words, the red-haired noble implied that his friend had to choose between him or Baek Na-Kyum as Jihwa had no intention to share him with the artist.
This reinforces my impression that Jihwa had always perceived himself as Seungho’s lover who was willing to share him with other nobles. He had been expecting all along that at some point, the protagonist would realize that Jihwa loved him. Striking is that after that topknot incident, Jihwa could no longer keep this honorable image and started acting like a spoiled child and paid no attention to his reputation as a noble. His servants have to clean his mess here. He became himself a drunk. (chapter 36)
Imagine that in the picture above the depressed noble slept on the street and his servant had to wake him up so that we can assume that the servants must have gossiped about his drunkenness and lack of dignity. The aristocrat doesn’t pay attention to his own image as a honorable noble any longer. He is too affected by the riff between him and Yoon Seungho.
But the illusion in the chapter 43 is just the result of his misinterpretation of the scene in the chapter 12 and the sex session in the chapters 14 and 15. We know that he has no info about Baek Na-Kyum hence he is unaware of his past and the vow. Yet I have to object that the friend never tried to get any info about the painter. He just saw him as a commoner hence as someone below his social status. That’s the reason why he became the victim of an illusion so easily, although in reality he might have already perceived some truth behind the appearances.
Now, let’s examine the scene in the chapter 12 where the boundaries between seem and real were mixed, just like in the first case. (Chapter 12) Nevertheless, it contrasts to the first case as in this scene every action is real, it just depends on the interpretation of the participants. Here, the red-haired uke is observing from far away how Yoon Seungho is treating the low-born. We have to remember that his perception of the reality is limited because the lord is turning his back to him and is in front of the painter. Secondly he stands too far away to be able to hear their conversation. In other words, he can’t see Yoon Seungho’s facial expression nor the painter’s face as the master’s shoulder is covering his face. Based on these parameters, I selected all the pictures Jihwa could witness due to the movement of Seungho’s arm and hand:
All the lord’s gestures displays care and gentleness. It was as if the lord was caressing the artist’s face and the hair. We have to remember that while Jihwa observed these gestures, he had already caught that Yoon Seungho would show more respect towards the low-born than himself. (Chapter 12)
While the noble hadn’t left his room to receive his guest, he made the effort to come towards the artist the moment he appeared. Besides, we shouldn’t forget that he had been warned by his aristocratic friend that Seungho was somehow fascinated by the painter’s gaze. (Chapter 14) All this led the jealous man to the conclusion that there was something going on between the commoner and his childhood friend. However, we have to remind to the readers what Jihwa couldn’t see in the pictures above. The uke was avoiding the master’s gaze. Either he closed his eyes or looked down. If he had witnessed it, Jihwa would have realized that the fascination was coming more from his childhood friend than the reverse and as such, Baek Na-Kyum didn’t seduce the lord in this chapter. For him, the reality was that the low-born was using his position and influenced the lord in a bad way. He was already showing some favoritism. This perception of the reality was definitely influenced by his biased view about commoners.
What he couldn’t view or hear is the following:
– a smiling master making a ironical remark
– The content of the whispering (Chapter 12) Here, the master is actually threatening the commoner. So his words stands in opposition to his gentle demeanor.
– What looked like a caress from far away was actually a scratch. (Chapter 12)
For Baek Na-Kyum, there was nothing like a caress and a nice comment. Behind the appearances, he was hurt and threatened. For him, this was the reality. The gentle smile with the ironical remark was just a mockery and a simulacrum. He was hiding his true personality behind his caring manners. Now, you can understand why Baek Na-Kyum can not perceive the affection from the protagonist’s due to his past actions. From his perspective, the master was disguising his true nature. He had already witnessed his ruthlessness and violence therefore he took the menaces very seriously. In other words, Yoon Seungho appeared to be fake, his gentle manners were just an act. The gentleness was just an illusion. That’s why Seungho will suffer so much later, as he has to pay for the consequences of this behavior. Baek Na-Kyum could no longer distinguish reality and illusion. Even if the master asked for a doctor, in the low-born’s mind, it was possible that this care was linked to a new thread.
Now, if we look this scene from Yoon Seungho’s perspective, we have a different reality. His threads are real, just like his tenderness and smile are genuine as well, so this huge contradiction mirrors the noble’s personality. He hurts the boy by using his finger nails but not to injure him for real. In my opinion, the scratching has a different signification. He is already targeting the painter as his next prey. Deep down, he has already fallen for the artist but he is under the illusion that he has everything under control, he just needs to use his position as lord, his sexy body and charisma so that the uke will fall for him as well. The lord makes the mistake not to realize the true meaning behind his own actions what Jihwa could observe from a distance. He has already fallen under the spell from the painter. He behaves under the illusion that this is just a matter of time until he can taste the commoner. While he perceives himself as the one with the upper hand, he is not aware of Baek Na-Kyum’s strong will and strength. As you observe, being and appearances are much more difficult to discern. I believe that here, the lord’s unconscious was visible. Besides, we have to remember that these values are highly affected by the perception and interpretation of the participants or observers. In Seungho’s case, we could say that his unconscious was somehow triggered by the painter’s gaze which brought to light a new side of the lord and the latter was not aware of it… only Jihwa and his loyal valet could detect the true meaning behind his unusual behavior.
That’s the reason why it is important to pay attention to details and not judge too quickly. Like I wrote above, the boundary between seem and real is not clearly distinguished. Now, I will take an example from another manhwa in order to sensibilise the readers to question being and seem to be. The manhwa in question, called “Legs that won’t walk”, is written by Black apricot which has just been released on Lezhin.
Striking is that this manhwa is in black and white, as if there was only darkness in the protagonist’s life. The choice of colors underlines the depressing and violent atmosphere oozing from his manhwa reminding me of a Roman noir, “a subgenre of crime fiction where right and wrong are not clearly defined, while the protagonists are seriously and often tragically flawed” (Definition from wikipedia). In other words, there is no superhero here, only dangerous and flawed characters indicating that this story will be quite heavy.
The main character is Kwon Soo-Young, a former boxer who became handicapped after a match. On the surface, he looks pitiful and weak hence the passerby often excuse themselves, when they shove him by accident or see him walking.
This infuriates him but he doesn’t express his anger and fury in front of them. Yet his personality stands so much in contrast to his physical condition: he is resilient, brave and quite strong-willed. Even at the lowest point of his life, he has been beaten up by the boss from a gang,
the loan shark Park Tae-Seung, he fights back
and is able to punch the gang leader.
This resistance and perseverance catch the boss by surprise. He never expected this reaction from someone like him, with so many bruises and a handicap. He thought that the man would beg for leniency and ask for time to repay the debt. Kwon Soo-Young has to reimburse the debt from his abusive father. The former has already cut ties with him and the reason for his rage and fighting spirit is definitely linked to his tragic and terrible childhood. Therefore we learn through Soo-Young that reality and appearance can be really deceiving. The exterior doesn’t really reflect what we truly are. Impressions can mislead to false conclusions and interpretations. But this is not the only case where appearance and being can differ so much. The other character is the ex-boyfriend Song Si-Jung. Here, the exterior doesn’t contrast to the interior, rather it was as if he had two personalities, as if he was Mr. Hyde
and Doctor Jekyll.
He is very difficult to discern and only after rereading the chapters, I could discern the darkness in this character which Soo-Young has already sensed but not really understood. Behind his smiles and gentle demeanor, he is a very violent and manipulative person. In the following scene, you’ll observe again his double personality. When another boxer enters his father’s club, Ji Sung is smiling and polite.
However, the moment the friend reveals that someone with a crutch was standing in front of the club, his facial expression changes so abruptly.
He looks really scary and you can sense his possessiveness and obsession about Soo-Young. So first impressions can have tragic consequences, for Soo-Young it was the case. He saw a smiling and nice Si-Jung showing some concern and inviting to join his boxing club. However, his relationship with him was the reason why he lost his leg.
Just like in the manhwa Painter Of The Night, there is a scene where the boundary between illusion and reality is unclear, so confusing that the reader has some difficulty to judge the situation.
Is it a rape or not? This is quite difficult to judge at first and this mirrors the reality. A verdict in a rape case is not easy to sentence, especially if the involved parties were or are in a relationship.
Despite the endearing name, he asks the man to stop which means he is not willing to have sex. In that moment, the boyfriend looks at Soo-Young with a scary expression. Here, the uke can perceive the violent side of his “boyfriend”, he won’t accept a refusal.
The frightening gaze deeply affects Soo-Young, he gets scared, thus he doesn’t really fight against Si-Jung.
From my perspective, Soo-Young is actually raped, but the latter doesn’t seem to realize the true nature of this sex session. Si-Jung is using his “charisma” and “Mr. Hyde”‘s personality to submit the uke. Fact is that after this sex session, Soo-Young never pressed charges against the boyfriend. Strangely, the uke appears defenseless and vulnerable, which is actually reflecting the real nature of his relationship with Si-Jung. The latter is physically and mentally abusing the uke, yet the man with the crutch has not realized it yet. The climax of this sex session is the following situation:
It looks like the top wants to help Soo-Young. He is willing to pay for the surgery bills so that Soo-Young can walk normally again. At first, the reader has some difficulty to understand the main character. Why would he refuse help? Is he emotionally unstable or does he do it out of pride? Fact is that Si-Jung wants to bind him forever so that Soo-Young can never escape from his claws.
Soo-Young has already sensed the terrible truth behind these words, besides the threatening tone in the voice made it clear that Si-Jung wouldn’t accept a rejection. Notice that Si-Jung used sex to coerce the protagonist. That’s why the latter only fights back soon after and pushes the boyfriend away.
The moment he is able to run away, the gentle side of Si-Jung resurfaces. It was, as if the protagonist would awake the beastly instincts living inside the boyfriend. However, this rape doesn’t change the fact that Soo-Young has some love and affection for Si-Jung. He confesses to himself that he would like the boyfriend to find him and support him.
That’s why he stood in front of the boxing club, but didn’t dare to enter. Unconsciously, he has already detected the double personality of his hyung and still loves him, because he is the only one who showed concern and affection so far in his life. Yet, he doesn’t want to live in another abusive household like in his childhood. Now, you can understand why this manhwa is quite interesting. The relationship between Soo-Young and Si-Jung is quite complex, just like the characters. Impressions are quite deceiving and the bad boy can be the next-door neighbor with a huge smile.
Soo-Young fell for the illusion, but has already detected a part of the reality. Furthermore, the uke is quite strong… at the end of the sex session, he was able to free himself from a manipulative and brutal man despite his handicap.
As a conclusion, appearance and reality are two important aspects, because they serve to question the true nature of actions and gestures. What we saw or felt can in reality totally different. Consequently, it becomes clear why we shouldn’t judge people too quickly. People need to question people’s actions and words.
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