The Pawn’s Revenge: The goldfish and the lamb 🔞 – part 1 (second version)

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As you can imagine, the title is referring to the two protagonists, Lee Je-Oh and Do Seong-Rok, for the young man viewed himself as a goldfish in chapter 1 and the other was called a lamb by his future lover Jeon Hee-Seong (chapter 16). In this essay, I am going to examine the two protagonists’ personality, though in the first part Lee Je-Oh will be in the center of the study, for there’s so much to say about him. However, this doesn’t mean that I won’t mention Do Seong-Rok at all, because I will examine how Je-Oh views the killer.

1. The aquarium and its signification

The first chapter begins with an introduction of the young prostitute. What caught my attention is this episode is the main lead had a fish as pet. (chapter 1). In this panel, the young man has the impression that he bought an aquarium, because he found the fish pretty, but notice that although they keep dying (this is the third one), he is still determined to keep a fish by his side. This is important for two reasons. It shows his loneliness and as such his need for company. Let’s not forget that Je-Oh has to reimburse the debt left by his father, so this signifies that his budget is limited. Yet each time a goldfish died, he still bought a new one revealing that he considered it at some point as a necessity to have a goldfish by his side. He is well aware that he doesn’t take care of it very well, he can’t help himself buying a new one. This incident exposes too that Je-Oh has no idea how to treat a companion properly, for he has been alone for a long time. As a conclusion, right from the start, the reader can sense the escort’s solitude and selfishness. He feels the need to detect the presence of someone by his side, yet he is not willing to invest too much time and emotions in it. A fish is the perfect solution, for the aquarium serves as boundary and a fish can’t be touched like a cat or a dog.

2 . The family picture

And now, it is necessary to look into the reasons for his behavior. He has always been on his own, since his mother disappeared from his life. We still don’t know if the mother is dead or she run away, though I am more inclined to believe in the first option. (chapter 16) Thanks to the image, we can detect that Je-Oh is missing his mother. This is perceptible, for the main lead still has a framed picture of his mother. Since he is smiling, this indicates that he was happy, as long as his mother was around him. However, the moment he was left alone with his father, the latter only viewed him as trash and burden. This explicates why he removed the father’s portrait from the picture. He really hated his father. He had many reasons for his disdain.

3. The relationship between Lee Je-Oh and his father

First, the parent showed no care and concern for his young son, hence he didn’t buy the toy the son desired. In my eyes, the father prioritized his own needs, even if in this scene he just wanted to buy a bug spray. As a good parent, he should have explained why he couldn’t buy the toy. Instead, he displayed no understanding and just made the son guilty. Besides, the relative kept insulting him, calling him filthy and dirty. (chapter 9) This incident at the convenience store explains why the young boy resented so much his father.

The latter was himself no role model for the son: selfish, brutal and indifferent. Furthermore, since the boy chose to steal the toy in order to have his wish fulfilled, it explicates why the main lead will become a criminal in the end. (chapter 9) Note that the young boy was smiling after the theft, he didn’t see it as a real wrongdoing… let’s not forget that the father bought things from the supermarket and always put it on tab, but never paid back the debt immediately. (chapter 9) The young boy could only learn that it is no big crime, if he doesn’t pay the figurine. The irony is that during that incident, the father couldn’t put the bug spray on tab, as the shop owner refused to due to the huge amount of unpaid bills. This incident reveals that the father was already deeply indebted. Simultaneously, due to the harsh scolding and insult, the main character learned that he needed to act behind his father’s back in order to achieve his goal. He knew that his father would never do anything for him, since he represented a source of annoyance. For the father, Je-Oh was a burden.

Their estrangement could only increase, as time passed on. Therefore this is no surprise that the father decided to kill himself and leave the mountain of debts to his son. (chapter 1) When the main character discovered his father’s suicide, he only showed calmness and indifference. (chapter 1) The suicide was the peak of the father’s abandonment and neglect. That’s the reason why the student wasn’t shocked or upset and kept smoking in front of his father’s corpse. And now, you understand why the young boy hated his father.

He was the reason for his misery. Striking is that in the convenience store, the father predicted the boy’s future personality: he would be a jerk. Yet, these words reveal that the relative didn’t feel responsible for his education at all. With his statement, he was putting the whole blame on his own son, while in reality the man was refusing to educate the boy properly. In other words, Lee Je-Oh should be considered as a orphan who had no good role model in his youth. The manhwaphiles can grasp why he stole the toy or why he started smoking, though he was still a minor. There was no one around him who showed concern and care for him.

4. Lee Je-Oh’s fate as prostitute

But despite his harsh childhood, he was still somehow integer. When he was confronted with the debt, he begged the moneylender that he would repay the loan by taking regular jobs. (chapter 17) He was willing to be responsible for his father’s mistake, though he despised him. The reality is that he was forced by Ma Jong-Seok to sell his body. Because of this terrible experience and the indifference of people, the teenager learned that he would never receive any help. He was on his own, that’s why he tried to rebel and escape on his own from the claws of the pimp Koo Jeong Mo and the moneylender Ma many times. However, each time he failed. This exposes the main lead’s resilience and strength, but also his disillusion about society. Hence in my opinion, he bought a fish to make up for his loneliness. Besides, the goldfish was also in a similar position than the main lead’s. It also had no companion and had no one to rely on. This explicates why at the end the goldfish died, as Je-Oh was not helping it, like for example he never renewed the water from the aquarium. Consequently the water was full of dust. The fish had to learn to survive in that hostile environment, just like the main lead had to survive on his own. And now you comprehend why the prostitute viewed himself as the dead goldfish. He could never seek comfort from people, as the latter would always treat him as trash. The presence of the goldfish already implied Je-Oh’s longing for a companion. That’s why it is not surprising that he is trying to woo the serial killer. He is longing for real warmth, therefore he sought Seong-Rok’s embrace in chapter 15. Then this observation made me realize why the protagonist’s life was similar to the goldfish’s.

Unlike the prostitutes working in the red-light district, the main lead was living in a flat on his own. He would get picked up by Lee Soon Cheol or Choi Yeong-Gil or even Ma Jong-Seok and brought to his clients 3 times a day. This clearly displays that the young man had a different clientele. In my opinion, he was more working for people with money. And this explains why Jeon Hee-Seong didn’t know Lee Je-Oh’s true place in the end. In her eyes, he had the same position, as he was selling his body for money. She was surprised to hear that the loan shark would pick up himself a prostitute and wondered this situation. (chapter 16) This outlines that though the protagonist was treated like trash by his employers, he had a particular position. My explication is that Lee Je-Oh started working as a whore, when he was a minor, hence this couldn’t be exposed so openly. Secondly, his clients are mostly men(chapter 1), and since they are married, I believe that they hide their homosexuality. Furthermore, if you consider that he only had maximum three clients a day, this meant that the young man was a special escort. That’s why I believe, the main lead was sent to serve a different clientele than Jeon Hee-Seong in the end. This would elucidate why her husband asked the main character not to get caught and create a scandal. (chapter 1) Consequently, I conclude that he was definitely having sex with rich people. And if you take into consideration Chief’s behavior, you’ll notice the parallels between the “bunch of horny men” who felt guilty by having sex with the young man: Ma Jong-Seok only confessed he had some feelings for the main lead the moment he was facing death. He hid his “emotions” behind his behavior. That’s why he raped him 3 years ago and tasted him in the second episode and used a pill to achieve his goal. In my opinion, the Chief was not willing to admit his attraction to Je-Oh and used his position to sleep with him, whenever he wanted.

5. Death, sex and violence

But what caught my attention in the scene with the fish is Je-Oh’s attitude towards his pet. First, he showed not only a certain indifference, but also fascination towards the dying pet. He was neither desperate nor afraid of death, but he was not repelled by the scent of the dead fish. Furthermore, he even touched the corpse. And these gestures made me think that the main lead was very fascinated by death (chapter 1). And this led me to suspect that Je-Oh could be suffering from necrophilia. In the first chapter, he showed this tendency. Then he witnessed how Seong-Rok was strangling the usurer in episode 18, he got fascinated and aroused as well. This scene is important, for it shows that he is not a real necrophile.

“Pseudo-necrophilia was defined as “a transient attraction to a corpse, but corpses are not the object of his sexual fantasies. He prefers sexual contact with living partners. This group includes sadistic, opportunistic, and transitory cases” (p. 155).

Yet, the scene in chapter 18 confirmed my impression that Je-Oh enjoys corpse and violence, for it is a synonym for power. After living as a whore for three years, the main character has already internalized the association of sex with violence. Let’s not forget that he was raped by the moneylender, when he begged Ma Jong-Seok in the past. Then we see the latter giving Je-Oh some drug in order to make him obedient. (chapter 2) Therefore you comprehend why the main lead claimed to his kidnapper that he had been raped. (chapter 3). He wasn’t just trying to manipulate the red-haired man to get rid of his abuser, he was also telling the truth. The protagonist didn’t have sex with the usurer willingly. Thus the manhwalovers can understand why the main lead is now reacting sexually, when he sees someone getting strangled or punched. For him, violence can no longer be dissociated from sex. The only difference is that, now he is no longer the victim, hence he can enjoy this. The manhwaphiles could detect this in two occasions. First, in chapter 3 he enjoyed so much how the serial killer was punching the usurer that he got an erection. (chapter 3) Then, in episode 17 he felt excited, when the moneylender was begging for his life. His words expose the connection between pleasure and power again. The violence is present here, as Ma Jong-Seok is getting threatened and humiliated: let’s not forget that he is on the verge of losing his life. As you can observe, the main lead’s sexuality is already linked to violence and corpse. And now, you can comprehend why he is so fascinated by the serial killer Seong-Rok. He embodies everything that he likes: strength, power, violence, but also a certain sense of innocence, sensitivity and justice. (chapter 3) This explicates why the prostitute didn’t stop the moneylender from strangling him during their duel. He counted on Seong-Rok’s good heart and pity to protect him in the end.

6. Lee Je-Oh and Do Seong-Rok

We have another scene, where the young man expresses his admiration for the red-haired man. In his eyes, he was a god (chapter 2) (chapter 6), until Seong-Rok rejected this idea. I do think that the young man was honest, when he admired his “savior” for his sensitive and loyal side (chapter 6). For the first time, the young man was witnessing a person’s vulnerability, indicating that the killer needed comfort and reassurance from someone. And remember that until now, Je-Oh has only experienced selfishness and abuse from his guardians (his father, Choi Yeong-Gil, Ma Jong-Seok). No one next to him has ever showed a weakness or asked for assistance from him. Even his father, who was struggling financially, chose to act as a strong person. The latter only displayed coldness and harshness towards his son. Hence if the murderer is a sensitive person, it means for the “hostage” that Seong-Rok could need help. And observe how the prostitute tried to show his future ally how much he needed his aid. That’s why he played this trick in chapter 10 too. This was not just a question of revenge or survival, for the first time Je-Oh had the impression to have found a purpose in life. There was someone who was strong, but also vulnerable at the same time implying that the latter would have to rely on someone. Besides, Je-Oh felt indebted towards his savior. Thanks to him, he had become released from his prison. With these words, you can observe, “help” plays a huge role in Je-Oh’s mentality. That is the reason why he desires to be by Seong-Rok’s side in the end.

The killer is the only one who seems to ask for his support unconsciously. Striking is that the young man mentions “home” for the first time in front of the red-haired man. (chapter 12) From my perspective, he was not talking about his own apartment, but about the farm, where he was held captive. He wanted to leave the room, where he had been tied up. The mansion had somehow become his home, for he had the murderer by his side. And this clearly shows that the prostitute was slowly viewing Seong-Rok more and more as a relative and companion.

The manhwaphiles could witness that so far, the prostitute was just trying to survive. But after meeting Seong-Rok, his life changed. The latter saved him by killing his abusers , though the red-haired protagonist kept rejecting this role. And now, you comprehend why Je-Oh is eyeing at Seong-Rok. The latter has already shown a weak spot towards the young man. He didn’t let him die by Ma Jong-Seok’s hand (chapter 3), then he showed him a special treatment by letting him sleep in the same room. The latter could take a shower and got clothes. No one had ever paid attention to his needs before. He might say that he dislikes love, yet in front of Seong-Rok in tears, he feels himself moved. (chapter 16) Furthermore, in chapter 11 he already expressed a certain desire to have him. And this panel is interesting, as it reminds us of the scene at the convenience store. It was, as if Seong-Rok was a toy and the protagonist felt the need to steal him. Let’s not forget that he was already looking for a partner unconsciously before meeting his savior. The evidence was the goldfish. By connecting the scene with the toy and this picture, the readers can detect what the prostitute will do in the future. He will use any mean to obtain Seong-Rok as his lover. The knight on the red horse should be perceived as a metaphor for the killer. Notice the parallels: A riding knight is often linked to heroism and rescue. The main lead still views him as his savior despite their argument.

This explicates why Je-Oh is so fascinated by the killer. The latter was the only one showing pity and concern for him, while the so-called normal people were using him as a sex toy or a confessor. (chapter 9) All of them were treating him, as if he was inexistent. His clients never paid attention to his feelings, when they confessed their sins. Moreover his masters treated him like trash. And this signification makes the readers realize that the killer’s lover Ms. Jeon will become Je-Oh’s true enemy and rival, for the former will claim Seong-Rok as his own. That’s why in chapter 18, he makes the red-haired protagonist feel guilty. He knows how much Seong-Rok values loyalty and faithfulness. In my opinion, he would like him to question his feelings for Ms. Jeon. He had already attempted to undermine her loyalty and outline her selfishness, when he said this: his lover was never by his side and had somehow abandoned him. With the word “almighty”, he displayed her true nature to the red-haired man: she is no god, just a woman. These words had an effect on Seong-Rok. Thanks to the prostitute, the serial killer recognized that he had been manipulated. He could already detect her lies, when she claimed that she would rescue him at some point, for he realized the similarities between his parents’ promise and hers. And in order to get closer to the murderer, Je-Oh asked him for his name while calling “oppa”. This is important, as this conversation exposed the increasing trust between the perpetrator and the “hostage”. Seong-Rok was viewed as human with a name, and the young man introduced himself. He was definitely seeking his closeness.

7. Honesty and hypocrisy

What caught my attention is that unlike the femme fatale, the protagonist never hides his thoughts, unless he plans a trick. He is brutally honest which contrasts so much to the people surrounding him. All of them were or are hypocrites. Choi Yeong-Gil criticized the prostitute for showing no concern and sadness over the death of Lee Soon-Cheol(chapter 1), while in reality the former had showed no respect to the deceased himself too. Ma Jong-Seok claimed to have feelings for the main character (chapter 17)(chapter 17), yet until now he had mistreated Je-Oh, as if the latter was a pet. Thanks to Seong-Rok, the prostitute could feel free for the first time, though he was a hostage. Imagine the irony of the situation. This is not surprising that the prostitute rejected the usurer’s offer. The main lead was truly aware of Ma Jong-Seok’s hypocrisy. He knew that this was an empty promise, visible through the points of suspension and the question. The main lead was not naive: the loan shark would always prioritize money over Je-Oh, once he had escaped from the jail. Let’s not forget that the usurer was living a good life according to the main lead’s words.

8. Lee Je-Oh’s mistake

Due to his harsh childhood, the main lead was able to discern people’s nature: selfishness, indifference and coldness. That’s why Je-Oh became cold-hearted as well, which reminds us of the goldfish. The latter is a cold-blooded animal, it is not driven by passion which definitely fits the main lead’s personality. Even when he was hurt by Seong-Rok’s words, he didn’t retaliate under an impulse. He planned carefully the scheme making sure to manipulate the usurer properly. But here he made a huge mistake: he underestimated Seong-Rok’s determination and resent. He never imagined that the latter would punish him and could even kill him. The killer taught the young man a harsh lesson. For the first time, he truly feared for his life. (chapter 12) He realized that Seong-Rok’s words had been true. He might have felt pity for him, yet he never truly intended to save him. Simultaneously, the young man learned to respect his “ally”. He shouldn’t be looked down. He learned to show respect to his ally and partner, something totally new to him.

9. Lee Je-Oh’s true personality

Another rather positive aspect about the main lead is his intelligence and good sense of observation. Striking is that he was aware of Seong-Rok’s presence, even before Ma Jong-Seok and his assistant noticed it. (chapter 2) Both were totally blind. The usurer didn’t even recognize that the door of Je-Oh’s flat was opened. Due to his sharp senses, the main lead knew that someone was in his house, but he remained silent, as he was hoping that the murderer would help him by eliminating the loan shark. This truly shows that Je-Oh is an opportunist, he can see which situation benefits him more. Simultaneously, it also shows that the protagonist is a gambler, willing to risk his life, though he had a reason to envisage that the killer was not targeting him. Do Seong-Rok had never approached him before, while Lee Soon Cheol was already dead, yet the murderer had been observing him for a while and Je-Oh was aware of that.

As a conclusion, I deduce that the main lead is reckless, but quite street-smart. He understands humans quite well, he is patient and a good listener and planner. He knows how to manipulate people, but due to his social position, he was never able to show his qualities. And this leads me to the following deduction, the main lead is indeed similar to a goldfish. Although this type of animal is famous for having a bad memory (3 seconds), the reality is that they have a much better memory and are considered as quite intelligent. Besides, let’s not forget that a fish symbolizes freedom, as they are usually living in the ocean. But I have to admit that when I read the first chapter for the first time, I couldn’t help myself thinking if Je-Oh could be in fact a different fish. Since he had a firelight in his hand and imagined burning the world, I started associating Fire and fish, hence this came to my mind: Firefish

Photo by Ayman Zaki on

This is a devil firefish or called common lionfish. These creatures are actually wonderful, yet at the same time dangerous, as their sting contains a violent poison which can kill a human. But there’s another reason why I am thinking that Je-Oh resembles more a lionfish than a goldfish. First, it looks like many people in The Pawn’s revenge are fascinated by him despite treating him like trash. A lionfish will attract more people’s admiration than a simple goldfish. Notice that Ma Jong-Seok couldn’t keep his hands off from him. Even Seong-Rok is somehow mesmerized. Furthermore, the loan shark got stabbed by the prostitute, reminding us of the sting of the lionfish. The fish is not aggressive per se, yet if it feels in danger and bothered, it will retaliate. And now imagine this. If he was in truth a “lionfish”, then he would be perfect to lure the victims. Remember that he is supposed to lure Koo Jeong Mo. He would be acting like a siren. Because this type of fish is quite uncommon in an aquarium, contrary to a goldfish, it would explain why people would be seeking his services. By meeting the “lamb”, the disillusioned and realist prostitute found someone who had a heart, though he was a killer.

As a conclusion, Lee Je-Oh is more than a goldfish. He is quick-witted, patient and is sensitive enough to understand people’s attitude. Though he has never met Ms. Jeon personally, he could judge her perfectly. She was just using Seong-Rok’s emotions and naivety. He doesn’t dislike violence, as long as he is not the one suffering from it. He can manipulate people, yet he is often quite honest. Despite resenting society for its indifference and selfishness, the protagonist definitely wished deep down to find a companion. And he found one in Do Seong-Rok, who seems to be so different from him. That’s why in the second part, I’ll examine the other main lead.

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