This is where you can read the manhwa. https://www.lezhinus.com/en/comic/painter But be aware that this manhwa is a mature Yaoi, which means, it is about homosexuality with explicit scenes. If you want to read more essays, here is the link to the table of contents: https://bebebisous33analyses.wordpress.com/2020/07/04/table-of-contents-painter-of-the-night/
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I was really pleasantly surprised with the alternative universe of Painter Of The night, because it wasn’t at all what I had been expecting. I had imagined that Byeonduck would give us a modern version due to her drawing with Yoon Seungho wearing a mask. So what is her alternative universe? It’s the same period, but the social status have been switched. On the left, I selected pictures from the original story and on the right from the alternative universe.
Now, it is Yoon Seungho and Jung In-Hun’s turn to be commoners, while Baek Na-Kyum is now the only son of a noble family which means the pressure and expectations from his family must be high. By switching the positions but at the same time, keeping certain elements from the original story (f. ex. Baek Na-Kyum likes painting sodomy), Byeonduck gives us clues about the original story as well, which were never directly revealed. Consequently, this version made me realize two things. First, thanks to this episode, I gained more insight about the original story which I’ll explain in another essay. Secondly, Byeonduck gives us a new dimension of the relationship between Yoon Seungho and Baek Na-Kyum. The author is showing us that not only Baek Na-Kyum and Yoon Seungho are fated to fall in love with each other but also their love story is supposed to be an example that love knows no boundaries. Their affection is the result of nature and society will never been able to stop it. This special episode reinforces her original message: homosexuality is no disease but a natural phenomenon. Besides, by switching their roles, the author outlines that the social gap between them will always be present in their relationship no matter where they live but they will overlook it in the end. Their affection is strongly intertwined to scandal, yet it won’t matter. By using the idea of destiny, the special episode with the alternative universe reveal that their choices are not free in reality, their decisions are all influenced by their disposition and environment. While reading the special episode, I couldn’t help myself connecting this story to philosophy and different currents in philosophy: Free will versus Determinism.
This is the second time that I am referring to philosophy. In another analysis, I had explained that Yoon Seungho was a libertine and represented the ideas from Enlightenment where reason and critical thinking were in the center of this movement. In other words, the powerful protagonist belongs to the libertarians (“free will”). By guiding the low-born, he liberated him from traditions and social norms. That’s why at the end, the painter makes his own decisions. He chooses to remain by his lord’s side despite the terrible night in chapter 53 and the first brutal confession. That’s why we could say that the original version advocates free will, whereas the special episode represents the other current: determinism, where there exists no real freedom. Interesting is that the moment the first episode from the alternative episode was released, many fans realized the similarities between the original Painter Of The Night and the alternative one. Let me give you an example: (Chapter 55) As you can observe, the drawings and the character’s actions resemble each other a lot. It was as if the protagonists had no choice but to turn their heads. It was already planned and designed, just like Oedipus who couldn’t escape his fate. By drawing similar panels, Byeonduck gives us the impression that their destiny and actions have already been predetermined. Baek Na-Kyum will run away or blush or have a crush on Jung In-Hun. They have to accept and embrace their destiny which will be full of pain but also full of love and tenderness. And now, let’s take a closer look at the special episode.
Here, fate appears in two forms. They first meet by coincidence and secondly thanks to the intervention of the cat. Coincidence is a proof that they have no control over their life and love life. It was, as if the invisible hand of gods had decided to have them met. Yet, determinism doesn’t use the idea of gods or of an exterior force leading the characters to encounter each other. If you pay attention to the way they meet, you’ll realize that their decisions, influenced by their liking and living conditions, were the reasons why they met in the street. The noble Baek Na-Kyum was strolling in that part of the town because he wanted to sell his erotic paintings. So because of his hidden hobby, he is led to go to a part of the town where commoners live. In other words, the protagonist enters Yoon Seungho’s world. On the other hand, Yoon Seungho as a low-born catches Baek Na-Kyum’s attention due to his unusual attitude. He shows neither remorse nor fear in front of the angry aristocrat. He is very defiant. That’s love at first sight. However, this is true love as sexuality is immediately included, while his affection towards Jung In-Hun was more related to the innocent and pure love of a child. Striking is that Yoon Seungho is exposed for his scandalous relationship with the son of a noble family showing that he doesn’t care about social status and distinction between nobility and commoner. It is also the same for the painter who sells his erotic paintings in order to buy glasses for his servant. This shows that right from the start, Baek Na-Kyum has not truly internalized the hierarchical society and it is the same with the strong-willed commoner. They might not belong to the same social class but their mentality is in reality similar. Besides, they have both a strong libido and a certain sexual fantasy. Yoon Seungho is willing to have sex anywhere (f. ex. in the woodshed) and after meeting the impressive and attractive seme, Baek Na-Kyum becomes so inspired that he creates a threesome. The painting could be seen as another evidence that the painter had to create such a work. There’s no real free will in the end. However, the idea of a threesome indicates that the innocent noble has indeed a kinky side which was triggered the moment he met Yoon Seungho’s eyes. And now, it explains why Yoon Seungho was destined to meet Baek Na-Kyum outside his mansion in the original manhwa. He had to meet him at the tavern because it was the commoner’s world and since the noble was interested in the painter, he couldn’t just send for him. The latter could refuse but in his presence, Yoon Seungho imagined that the artist would never dare to reject the offer.
However, unlike the seme who doesn’t fear the rumors about his reputation, the noble prefers hiding his true thoughts hence he repeats exactly what his crush says about homosexuals. In other words, Baek Na-Kyum seems to have a predisposition to follow social norms, although in his heart, he doesn’t acknowledge societal hierarchy. He lives in his own bubble in my opinion. That’s why I come to the conclusion that Baek Na-Kyum’s inner conflicts will always represent one of their problems in the evolution of their love story. The noble will suffer pressure from his family and his servant Jung In-Hun who will betray him, making the main lead discover what love truly is. But because of their affinities, they were destined to be together.
This determinism is also visible with the appearance of the cat. Due to his love for cats, the noble is led to a woodshed where he witnesses Yoon Seungho having sex with someone else. Note that the cat is the reason why he feels pleasure for the first time and why he gets caught in the end. If the cat had not appeared, then he would have never discovered the sexual intercourse. If he had never liked cats, he wouldn’t have played with him. Furthermore, he was strolling through the district where commoners live as he was on his way to sell his new painting. His so-called choices could only lead him to the place where the attractive seme was. This was no real coincidence again. Now, why a cat?
In my opinion, the cat with the herb symbolizes nature which stands in opposition to society and its social norms. That’s why nature leads the protagonist to awake his sexuality and discover his sexual attraction for the seme. While in the original version, we had a fight between unconscious (dream) versus conscious (reality), we have a fight between nature versus society which is actually the same. Freud called the unconscious (“Es”) which is strongly linked to naturality. Baek Na-Kyum’s fight will be to accept that he has always been attracted to men and he has fallen in love with Yoon Seungho due to his charisma. By interacting more with him, he will discover that they share many affinities in the end. Like I demonstrated above, their mindset is quite similar. Furthermore, this new version confirms my interpretation: the seme will be or is Baek Na-Kyum’s real muse. And since it is their destiny to be together, then the commoner will come up with a thread again. Due to the painting and the tools he left behind, Yoon Seungho will be able to discover Baek Na-Kyum’s identity and the latter will be blackmailed. Notice that the merchant knows his true identity. The painter will have to work for Yoon Seungho, yet the reason will diverge. The commoner has already set his eyes on the artist, since he hasn’t really forgotten him. He remembers his face (“your eyes off”) and his words (“dirty buggery”). Their attraction was mutual and he needs to create a reason. As a conclusion, the introduction of the alternative universe makes us realize the dimension of determinism which is strongly linked to Nature (sex, cat). Baek Na-Kyum’s choice will be to acknowledge that his love for the seme is stronger than social norms, so that we can say, even if there exists determinism, there’s a certain liberty. Yet it is much more limited than it looks like as our decisions are influenced by our environment, experiences and past.
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