This is where you can read the manhwa. https://www.lezhinus.com/en/comic/pawn But be aware that this manhwa is a mature Yaoi, which means, it is about homosexuality with explicit scenes. Besides, this manhwa is categorized as HARDCORE: 🔞 Here is the link, if you are interested in more analyses about this manhwa and others https://bebebisous33analyses.com/2021/06/06/table-of-contents-of-analyzed-mentioned-manhwas/
As you can imagine, in this essay, I’ll focus on Jeon Hee-Seong corresponding perfectly to the portrait of “femme fatale”. But what does it mean? The idiom comes from French and means “lethal/deadly woman”. In addition, if the manhwaphiles look up, this is what they will find:
Femme fatale: a woman who is very attractive in a mysterious way, usually leading men into danger or causing their destruction quoted from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/femme-fatale
To sum up, a femme fatale is a sexually attractive woman who uses her female body as a weapon to defeat her male opponents exposing them to danger and their own destruction. However, the characters are not realizing their own situation, and when they become aware of her true nature, it is already too late for them.
Their fate is already sealed: death. Striking is that a synonym for femme fatale is siren. Why? It is related to the famous Greek story “Odysseus” from Homer, where the sirens tried to lure the protagonist Ulysses and his sailors to their death with their beautiful singing. With their voice, they would incite the sailors to jump into the sea so that the latter would drown.
- Jeon Hee-Seong: a new version of the siren from Odysseus
And this leads me to the following observation. A femme fatale is not just seducing men with her sex appeal, but also with her voice and words. In “The Pawn’s revenge” Jeon Hee-Seong is even presented as a siren, when she asks her lover to kill for her sake. (chapter 6) Note how she manipulates him. First, she diminishes her own position. (chapter 6) She is just a pawn, mistreated by men. Besides, they are living in a dog-eat-dog world, hence it is necessary to become ruthless, if they want to survive. (chapter 6) As she is powerless, she needs his help. Alone, she won’t be able to change her position. And with her description, she achieves to move the protagonist’s heart. He is willing to dirty his hands, if it signifies that he will be able to remain by her side. With her request, she is implying that he will find happiness by her side. Nonetheless, the innocent man is still hesitating, thereby he would like a confirmation from her. They will be together, if he follows her suggestion. Yet, she doesn’t answer to his question directly. As the manhwaphiles can detect, a femme fatale is strongly connected to the fake vow of pleasure and enjoyment.
“The femme fatale entices, promises and eludes. […] [She] fascinates with her beauty and the inherent promise of happiness […]. At the same time, however, she is perceived as threatening. The danger emanates from the sexuality embodied in her and the involvement in a story full of intrigue.” quoted from Carola Hilmes, Die Femme fatale. Ein Weiblichkeitstypus in der nachromantischen Literatur. Stuttgart 1990“. (translated by me)
In my eyes, the former prostitute’s argumentation resembles to the beautiful singing of the sirens. And when the femme fatale grabs his hand (chapter 6), it was, as if a siren was grabbing the innocent man’s hand in order to drag him into the sea and as such into the darkness. (chapter 6) Moreover, observe the position of her legs, it definitely reminds us of a siren, as her legs resemble to a fishtail. Moreover, if I include the following panel, this perception gets reinforced. Her hair on the bed makes me think of hair under water. Sure, in this panel, she appears in Do Seong-Rok’s nightmare. However, we have to imagine that this situation truly happened. The main lead is realizing in his sleep that he has been tempted and is now in danger. This scene represents a turning point in Do Seong-Rok’s life, as he is slowly recognizing that his lover won’t keep her vow: she would save him, if he needed assistance. He wanted her to become his safety net and comfort. (chapter 16) And now, if you connect this promise with the siren’s temptation, you’ll realize what the abandonment signifies in truth: he will drown and die. He will lose his life and soul.
2. A siren without eyes
But let’s return our attention to the picture from chapter 6. Her mysterious appearance is reinforced with the absence of her eyes. In this picture, the protagonist got scared, as he was sensing that the beautiful woman was not like she appeared to be. For me, the black background and the absence of her eyes makes her look like a seductive monster. Simultaneously, it also reveals her fakeness, for the gaze is perceived as the mirror of the soul. Therefore, the panel illustrates that the character without eyes has in reality her own agenda. On the other hand, her words represent a warning, because they are actually reflecting reality. Notice the contrast between the expression “look at the state” and the absence of Jeon Hee-Seong’s eyes. Since there exists no gaze, it means that the main lead can’t see his own reflection in her eyes. With her words, he is reminded that he should use his own eyes in order to recognize his true state and feelings. He shouldn’t rely on the reflection of her gaze. And now, you understand why the killer got scared. For the first time, he was seeing his true self: he was a murderer due to her manipulations. Yet, in chapter 6, he is still in denial after the nightmare. That’s the reason why he rejects Lee Je-Oh’s offer to be his ally. (chapter 6)
This shows that the former prostitute could seduce the young and naïve man with her deceptive gaze, like the readers could witness it in this picture. She gave him the impression that she was admiring him, she would love him. Hence EVY drew such an image: while making love to her, the main lead could see a very positive image about himself. He imagined that he was seeing affection in her gaze and facial expressions (blushing), while in truth it was just a sexual reaction. Consequently, I deduce that a femme fatale is using her eyes to manipulate her preys and victims. The men are projecting their own emotions and desires onto the femme fatale. Moreover, this projection is often linked to fear. The male characters fear that they might lose control of the situation. That’s why officer Ahn gets nervous and doubts her relationship with Do Seong-Rok. (chapter 11) They are puppets of the femme fatale. This angst is truly palpable in chapter 6. Do Seong-Rok got scared, because before he had met detectives looking for Lee Je-Oh, Ma Jong-Seok and Choi Yeong-Gil and couldn’t get in touch with his lover. He felt totally vulnerable. He needed her presence in order to stay calm and find a solution to his problem: the existence of a witness.
3. Victim or perpetrator?
After reading the first two parts of this analysis, the readers have the impression that this is just a rhetorical question, because the answer seems evident. A femme fatale is a perpetrator. However, in truth this is far more complex. Let me give you an example. The first famous femme fatale is Eva. Why? It is, because after listening to the snake, Eva encouraged Adam to eat the apple from the Tree of knowledge. In other words, she “seduced” him to commit a sin. Since the original sin is perceived as a metaphor for sexuality, the woman will lure men thanks to her beautiful body. This explicates why during the Middle-Age, Church looked down on women, as they were judged as the descendant of Eva. In the clergy’s eyes, they were responsible for the eviction of paradise. That’s the reason why from 1450 to 1750, many women were condemned as witches. All the different Churches (Protestant, Catholic, eg.) saw in the female body a source of witchcraft. Let’s not forget that women can give birth and procreation was very mysterious to people back then. That’s why this is no coincidence that the former prostitute calls herself a witch. (chapter 16) Yet, if you pay attention to Eva’s role, she was herself a victim, for she listened to the snake and got tempted to eat the fruit.
3. 1. Jeon Hee-Seong: the snake or Eva?
In the manhwa, this character is compared to a snake, a symbol for evil and sin. This comparison seems to be correct due to her behavior in chapter 6 and 16. Striking is that in this image, the femme fatale seems to be associated to the Tree of knowledge, for she is hidden by the plant. It gives the feeling, both have somehow connected, as if she came from the plant. Here, she is explaining him about the game, a metaphor for the real world. They are living in a ruthless world, where the weak ones will get killed (social Darwinism). Since she is teaching him her knowledge, she appears to be the snake. On the other hand, if the manhwaphiles remember the detective’s words, they will realize that Jeon Hee-Seong became a prostitute, because she was forced. (chapter 9) Imagine, she had to sell her body, yet she would never be able to escape from this “chicken farm”, for the debts would always keep increasing. Koo Jeong-Mo calls her a snake, but he is a hypocrite. He might have not killed her, nevertheless he did something terrible to her. (chapter 11) He justifies his crime by saying that he just attempted to run his business. Just like his foe, he is diminishing his sin. On the other hand, his words truly outline his immorality and wrongdoing. If it was not murder, then what did he do to her? He calls her a snake, because she betrayed him. However, he was the one who backstabbed her first. There’s no doubt that she was forced to marry Choi Yeong-Gil, a violent man. (chapter 9) The former pimp suspects her for being the mastermind behind the murders. Nevertheless, the manhwalovers should keep in mind that she is his competitor too. She is now running her own business. If she was caught and accused, he would get rid of his rival. Since he backstabbed her in the past, it truly exposes that his comparison is only partially correct. As the former prostitute is not just a perpetrator, but also a victim, I come to the conclusion that the female character resembles more to Eva than to the snake.
4. A comparison of femmes fatales
I came to this aspect after looking for other “femmes fatales”. So far, I compared the figure from The Pawn’s revenge with persons from the bible and Odysseus. Both stories are very old. This is the list of “femmes fatales” I selected, though I could mention more:
- Carmen from Prosper Mérimée (19th Century)
- Nana from Emile Zola (End of 19th Century)
- Madame de Merteuil from “Dangerous liaisons” written by Choderlos de Laclos (18th Century)
- Lulu from Frank Wedekind (the theater plays are called: Earth Spirit and Pandora’s box) – End of 19th/Begin of 20th Century
- Brigid O’Shaughnessy from The Maltese Falcone written by Dashiell Hammett (20th Century)
4. 1. Vulnerability and Dependency
What do have these women in common? They are all weak and powerless. Vulnerability doesn’t necessarily mean that they are all poor. Madame de Merteuil belongs to old aristocracy and is as such wealthy. Brigid O’ Shaughnessy isn’t truly poor either. However, they are all living in a world ruled by hypocrite and violent men. I would even say that these female figures are all trapped. They have either no rights or are still caught in the past. Madame de Merteuil asks Vicomte de Valmont, her confident, to get revenge on her behalf. She wants to humiliate an ex-lover who has decided to marry someone who stands in opposition to Madame de Merteuil’s personality: chaste and innocent. The Marquise is well aware that her former lover is actually following social norms. Women shouldn’t feel sexual pleasure and should be submissive to their spouse. As you can see, the female noble hates her condition. As a woman, she is not able to live freely, as she has to rely on men. Furthermore, she has to hide her true self from others in order to maintain her good reputation. A woman’s reputation was vital back then. That’s why she seduces men in the end. With her sex appeal, she feels powerful and independent. At the same time, through her unusual behavior, she is able to fascinate men. However, none of her ex-lovers desire to break taboo, except her friend Vicomte de Valmont, for her sex partners will always choose social norms (faithful wife etc.)
And if you compare her to Jeon Hee-Seong, you’ll notice the similarities. The latter wants to break free too. She would like to become truly independent, that’s why she is just using Do Seong-Rok, though she is well aware of his innocent and genuine side. She behaves exactly like Brigid. Both are women trying to make her way through a world run by ruthless, vicious men. So maybe manipulating is the only trick up their sleeve that they can use to survive this masculine, aggressive society. The only huge difference is that the Korean woman is using truth to manipulate her lover. (chapter 16) Note that she announces to the future criminal that she will be ruthless, selfish and she might even betray him in order to achieve her goal. To sum up, she is more paltering than lying by commission.
Then by comparing these femmes fatales, I recognized another pattern. Carmen, Nana and Lulu are powerless, as they belong to the lowest social class. Nana and Lulu are even prostitutes. Nana was somehow neglected and abandoned by her parents. She even ended up becoming a teenager mother. The famous French novelist wanted to outline through his main character that heredity and social circumstances would predestine her to become a femme fatale. She learnt through harsh experiences that sex is the power of the poor and weak. Once she discovered that she could use sensuality and erotic in order to get admiration and money, she internalized this rule. Nana was not truly calculative, as she kept making debts, while driving men to their death or ruin. She could no longer change her way of life. And Lulu had also a similar fate. The only huge difference is that she got married thanks to her backer. Lulu was married off to two men in turn by Dr. Schön, her mentor and lover. Both husbands tried to mold her in their image, and due to Lulu’s affairs, they both died. Lulu shot Dr. Schön and lived in Paris and London with his son Alwa, a writer. She began to sell her body again and ended up falling victim to the serial killer Jack the ripper. Note that the marriage doesn’t offer any liberty and protection to Lulu. Her husbands tried to form her. They projected their own desires and expectations onto her. This was the same case for Madame de Merteuil and Carmen. All the men in these stories expect from the femme fatale to be faithful, caring, genuine and loyal, while at the same time, they try to maintain their reputation intact. Schön was Lulu’s lover, yet he tried to marry a honorable daughter. As you can see, he felt that Lulu was not proper enough to become his wife.
This projection of sexual desires is quite recurrent. Therefore it is not surprising that officer Ahn questions her relationship to the killer. (chapter 11) He would like her to be faithful. There’s no ambiguity that he considers himself as her real partner. Yet, I don’t think that she is with him, because she is in love with him. She is treating him as her ally and support, as long as he helps her to get powerful and rich. Let’s not forget that he is trying to become a politician. I had already perceived the Korean prostitute as someone who was trying to climb the social ladder. For her, freedom means being powerful and wealthy. But she wants to be independent. And this interpretation was confirmed by the author herself. She told me that Jeon Hee-Seong desired to become a king!
Furthermore, there exists another parallel with Lulu. Jeon Hee-Seong was also imprisoned in her marriage. Not only she was forced to marry her violent husband, but also she couldn’t escape from this abusive relationship. Lulu kills herself her second husband Schön, while the latter tried to pressure her to commit suicide. Brigid also got rid of her “enemies”. Only death can liberate them. And this leads me to the following statement: their body might be used as a weapon, but not all of these femmes fatales are willing and capable to dirty their own hands. The Eva from “The Pawn’s revenge” prefers to delegate this to her lover. There’s a reason for that: it is more difficult to prove her culpability. Furthermore, she won’t feel remorse, as she was not directly involved.
4.2. The reason behind the existence of femmes fatales
The femme fatale is often connected to emancipation of women. The works from the 18th and 19th Century expose the conflict between sex drive and social constraints. At the same time, all the stories outline the hypocrisy of society and its patriarchalism. Men are allowed to have affairs, but for women it is out of question. I doubt that officer Ahn is single and intents to marry the former prostitute. They meet at a hotel, which represents a clue that they have more a sexual relationship than just a partnership. However, the problem is that all these women have learned that they need to act like men in order to survive: ruthless, selfish and immoral. None of them are able to recognize true love due to their sexual experiences. Consequently, I think that even if they are manipulative, these women shouldn’t be judged as entirely calculative. They are still led by their impulses. Therefore Nana keeps making debts, Lulu can’t stop having affairs and Madame de Merteuil ruins her only ally and accomplice due to her jealousy.
And now you comprehend why the Korean femme fatale used Do Seong-Rok. His innocence, his selflessness and empathy made him the perfect tool for her goal. At the same time, she is overlooking the male prostitute Lee Je-Oh. Since none of her targets has ever resisted her, she can’t imagine that Do Seong-Rok will distance himself from her.
4. 3. Their fate
And now, it is time to conclude this essay. The final common point of these femmes fatales is that they are all doomed to fail. This is particularly perceptible in the theater plays from Wedekind, the spectators can witness the rise and downfall of the protagonist. And if you compare their fate, you’ll notice that they all end in tragedy:
- Carmen and Lulua get killed
- Nana and Madame Merteuil become ill and lose their beauty. Nana even dies at the end. Madame de Merteuil is forced to go into exile.
- Brigid O’Shaughnessy is delivered to the police.
Since Ma Jong-Seok told Lee Je-Oh, he would eventually get some STD, it is possible that the femme fatale could face such an adversity. Moreover, the detective Kang Hyeon-Woo is already suspecting her and the latter is not corrupt, it is possible that she gets arrested, for officer Ahn was not able to protect her or even abandoned her. The final possibility is that she gets murdered, as she represents a witness and accomplice of Do Seong-Rok’s crimes. While examining her, I recognized another pattern: her scenes contrasts to Lee Je-Oh’s. In chapter 6, the manhwaphiles discover how she persuaded the red-haired man to dirty his hand, and in the same episode the male prostitute has a similar behavior. He is attempting to seduce Do Seong-Rok with his words and body. He even suggests to become his ally. And this observation truly reinforces my former statement: Jeon Hee-Seong and Lee Je-Oh will become rivals. One thing is sure: because the former prostitute is a femme fatale, she won’t get what she truly wants.
Feel free to comment. If you have any suggestion for topics or manhwas, feel free to ask. If you enjoyed reading it, retweet it or push the button like. My instagram-tumblr-twitter account is: @bebebisous33. Thanks for reading and for the support, particularly, I would like to thank all the new followers and people recommending my blog.