The Pawn’s Revenge: Promising break and broken promises 🔞

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(chapter 34) In episode 34, the criminal Do Seong-Rok announced to his partner Lee Je-Oh that he was releasing him. He was free to go, he could return to his true home. But why did the red-haired man push away his lover? Anyone reading the manhwa will certainly reply that he did it to protect the prostitute. He had just received a message from Jeon Hee-Seong telling him that the police would arrest him soon (chapter 33). This explanation is naturally correct, but as you can imagine, the main lead‘s choice is far more complex. I would say that he was not truly aware of the motivations behind his behavior. This will be in the center of this analysis. But for that, I need to elaborate the reasons how Do Seong-Rok came to trust Jeon Hee-Seong in the first place. In the essay “The goldfish and the lamb – part 2“ I had portrayed Do Seong-Rok as naïve, but now I can explicate more precisely why the main lead came to trust the witch first. The author Evy gave us more insight at the end of season 1 and in season 2. As the title lets it transpire, promise stands in the center of this essay.

1. Empty words

What caught my attention is that the red-haired man had been abandoned in an orphanage with the following message: (chapter 12) The father employed the idiom “promise“ which is a synonym for hope. By leaving such a note behind, not only he gave hope to his son, he would come back to fetch him, but also he gave the impression that he was very serious about his intention. Why? It is because the message was written. It was, as if he had written a contract, where he committed to keep his promise. The note became the symbol for hope and commitment. At the same time, this signified that the note would contradict the expression “empty words“. Therefore it is not surprising that Seong-Rok kept thinking about his biological family, and had many questions. (chapter 38) He was clinching onto this promise. He was not an orphan, he had just been entrusted to the orphanage for the time being. Thus he waited. The problem is that this “contract“ had no name, hence it was void. The main lead never realized it. But as time passed on, the pressure on him kept increasing, as his family had not appeared yet. Slowly, he was cornered. If he had spent more than 12 years without his family, then he was truly an orphan. That’s the reason why he pressured the director of the orphanage and discovered the identity of his father. The latter had definitely sponsored the orphanage in order to lessen his guilt. That’s the reason why the woman knew about the identity of the relative. So when he saw where his father was living, he recognized the falsehood of the note, but he was in denial, till he saw his father. The latter saw his son as a threat, thus he showed his displeasure. (chapter 38) But to silence him, the relative approached him and begged him to keep his distance from him and his family, for he could hurt innocent people (his wife and his younger son). The father’s behavior exposed to Do Seong-Rok that he had been truly abandoned, and this right from the start, as he was an illegitimate son. His father had married into a wealthy family. His merely existence embodied shame and guilt. (Chapter 38) This is important, for it destroyed the main lead’s self-esteem in a certain way. He didn’t feel needed at all. It was, as if his existence had no meaning. This impression got reinforced, when the father gave him money to send him away. (Chapter 27) He had only got to his side to push him away. When the father returned to his family, the young boy could sense that he had no one by his side. Not even the orphanage, which had covered up for the father’s cowardice.

From that moment on, he had no goal in his life. (chapter 27) The hope had kept him alive, but now without any hope, what could he expect from life? Nothing… he was not wanted or needed.

And now, the manhwaphiles are probably wondering why the father left such a note in the first place. Why did he give hope to his son, when he never had the intention to return? In my eyes, the father did it to lessen his remorse. That way, he would create a fake image about himself. He was not a bad person, he had never meant to hurt or abandon his son. Consequently, he had made sure that his son would live in comfort. However, the result was that the man ruined Do Seong-Rok’s life, for the message created the illusion that he had indeed a family waiting for him. This explicates why the protagonist said this: (chapter 27) He was still hoping, but his despair was always present. Since water is a synonym for life, this means that as an orphan he could live in comfort (exoneration), but he was still missing warmth and affection. There’s no ambiguity that he must have kept thinking about them the whole time. Therefore it is not surprising that for his birthday, he wished a family (chapter 27) and not a console or video game. Furthermore, for the son, it meant that he would never be adopted! How could Do Seong-Rok get adopted, if he had been left with such a note? To conclude, the promise in the note was in reality fake. It stood for empty words. Simultaneously, it ruined the main lead’s life, for it pushed him to question his own existence. Why was he born in the first place, if he was not loved or needed? The son got traumatized, when his relative turned his back on him after begging him to vanish from his life. It was, as if he had been abandoned a second time. Do Seong-Rok felt lost, his existence had no meaning at all. Hence it is not surprising that he chose to destroy the letter. (chapter 27) It was, as if he was cutting ties with his biological father. In addition, since Do Seong-Rok associated the paper to a promise, this means that he came to the idea that a promise should be expressed in words and not written. At the same time, he learned a terrible lesson: (chapter 38) He would never make an empty promise. If he can’t keep a promise, then it was better to never promise, for it would create an illusion and disappoint the person who was clinching onto the promise.

2. Do Seong-Rok’s “promising“ meeting with the femme fatale

What caught my attention is that as a soldier, he got abandoned by his comrades too. (Chapter 16) He was also left behind, and contrary to the past, this time he was saved by Jeon Hee-Seong. (Chapter 16) She protected him from committing a wrongdoing. She talked to him, and showed an interest in him. (Chapter 16) She even gave him her address to contact her after he had left the army. (Chapter 16) This panel even stands in opposition to this one: (chapter 27) As the manhwalovers can sense, the femme fatale behaved the exact opposite of the father. She didn‘t push the main lead away at all. She even recognized him after the separation, so he had left an impression on her. Thus we could say that she gave a meaning to the protagonist‘s life. She even paid an expensive hotel for their encounter. He felt recognized first, then appreciated before feeling needed. Therefore it is not surprising that Do Seong-Rok desired to protect her, (chapter 16) and was even willing to risk his life for her. (Chapter 16) He was by her side in the street, and he didn’t mind being seen with her. She only pushed him away, when she was cornered implying that she had no other choice. She had to marry Choi Yeong-Gil if she wanted to escape prostitution. In other words, we could say that she never rejected the main lead. She insinuated that he was her source of joy in her life. (chapter 16) So technically, she announced that she was leaving him officially, but not emotionally. That way she pushed the main lead to remain by her side, while giving the impression that she was leaving him behind against her own will. She had no other choice. Striking is that in that scene, the prostitute spoke the truth, when she portrayed herself as ruthless. Her justification was that she was a poor victim. (Chapter 16) She would do anything to save herself, even use him for her own benefits. The latter didn’t mind, for in his eyes, he was helping himself. (chapter 16) She was still giving a meaning to his life. He would act like a knight in shining armor who needed to defeat his enemies. (chapter 16) However, when she suggested the murder, the main lead put a condition on his assistance. (Chapter 06) But striking is when the main lead asked her this, he never requested from her that she signed a paper or a contract. This promise was just oral. This was related to his trauma: the left note with the fake promise.

3. The siren’s fake promises

On the other hand, similar to his father, Jeon Hee-Seong left a short message. (Chapter 9) Contrary to the father, she confessed her love to him. That way, she created the illusion that her love was sincere. As you can sense it, the fake love confession had the same function than the father‘s message. It gave hope to the main lead. This is no coincidence that the protagonist was acting, as if he was waiting for the return of his lover. (Chapter 9) But exactly like in the other message, the love confession contained no name at all. It was totally anonymous, therefore the love confession was fake too. In my eyes, Do Seong-Rok learned the following lesson: a love confession should never be written too. That’s the reason why he cried after he realized that she was already betraying him. (chapter 16)

In other words, Do Seong-Rok was put in the same situation 10 years later. The only difference is that this time, the love confession was the motivation for the main lead, while the promise of rescue had been just exchanged orally in the bar. He naturally believed that her affection was genuine, this was the implied condition for his help. The main lead never requested a contract for the promise due to his traumatic past. He had already made the experience that such a promise could be like empty words. But naturally, the protagonist was not entirely stupid. He had strongly internalized that a person can only make a promise, if the latter can keep it! Hence Jeon Hee-Seong was forced to give him an insurance. This was the recorded phone call from Seo Sang-Joon proving that he had been responsible for Lee Soon-Cheol’s death. (chapter 40) However what the criminal didn’t know is that he had been played by the femme fatale and her lover. That’s the reason why the protagonist was by her side, when she received Sang-Joon’s call. (chapter 40) Another evidence for this theory is that the man with a short temper had the car which actually belonged to Do Seong-Rok. The woman knew about the convict’s bad temper and anticipated his reaction. He was supposed to wound or kill Lee Soon-Cheol, then Do Seong-Rok’s task was to eliminate the others before putting the whole blame on the convict. That’s the reason why the murderer used a stone to assassinate the witch’s husband. Their plan was to frame Seo Sang-Joon, well aware that the red-haired man would become a murder suspect in order to redirect the investigation from her. Both were aware that she would get suspected first, for she had a strong motive.

What caught my attention is that the woman is often seen by the main lead’s side. (chapter 16) (chapter 24) (chapter 40) This is important, for it corresponds to the main lead’s biggest wish. (chapter 27) If she was by his side, she would never turn her back on him. But thanks to Lee Je-Oh, he discovered that her presence by his side was just an illusion, for she was rarely by his side. He had warned him before. (chapter 9) He kept reminding him that the woman was not reliable or even trustworthy. (chapter 28)

Striking is that after having sex with him, she never faced the young man. She turned her back on him, a sign that she was not honest at all. Her facial expressions would have betrayed her, while her words would reflect her true thoughts. (Chapter 16) Her words in the bed were actually ambiguous: a reproach or a compliment? That‘s the reason why the protagonist couldn‘t detect her deceptive nature. She was speaking the truth the entire time. And after meeting Lee Je-Oh, the red-haired man was forced to face reality. Hence his past with the woman came to haunt him. Gradually, his unconscious forced him to see the reality of his choices and actions. He had been manipulated and become a killer. In his first nightmare, the woman was portrayed without eyes (chapter 6) while revealing her intentions. (Chapter 6) Then when Sang-Joon called the femme fatale, she might have been sitting next to him (chapter 40), but observe the gap between them. She was still not facing him. Besides, I would like the readers to pay attention to the window in the background. The frame symbolized their separation. They were not really together, as there existed a thin wall between them. Moreover, the prostitute was even talking to the convict, so in reality she was not focusing on Do Seong-Rok. Therefore, it is not surprising that Do Seong-Rok saw the truth on the sofa, while he was facing her. (chapter 27) He was forced to face reality, she was only feeling compassion for him. When she visited him in the mansion, he looked at her properly for the first time: (chapter 27) She had the same facial expressions than his father. She was abandoning him. This is no coincidence that right after he questioned her about the depth of her affection. (chapter 27) He was testing her. He could detect her deception, for she never replied to his interrogation. (chapter 27) She attempted to divert his attention by criticizing him, something which sounded so natural. And her departure (chapter 27) reminded him of his own father’s desertion. As a conclusion, after rescuing Lee Je-Oh, the main lead discovered his lover‘s true personality. She wouldn‘t keep her promise, for she had never loved him. He realized that her promises were always fake, just like her insurance. The former prostitute had never committed herself to him, she had never been by his side, while he had helped her this entire time.

On the other hand, Jeon Hee-Seong was well aware that Do Seong-Rok was very sensitive to lies, thus she never used lies by commission. That’s the reason why she never replied to his question about her affection for him. Her manipulations were different. Either she lied by omission or she used paltering, revealing the truth in delay or she mixed a truth with a lie (chapter 27). As a reminder, commissioner Ahn is not the leader of the enemy, he has already abandoned the group leaded by Koo. The witch is hiding the fact that she is representing the third party. But let’s return to our main point, the instruments of Jeon Hee-Seong’s manipulations.

I also think that the messages from the cellphone played a huge role in the deceptions as well. Do Seong-Rok had the impression that he was still close to her, as he was still in contact with her. (chapter 11) Therefore Lee Je-Oh stopped his lover to respond to her phone calls. He was well aware of the signification of the phone calls. Note that after the kidnapping of Lee Je-Oh, he tried to text her. This is important for two reasons: the texts could hide the true emotions and thoughts of the characters. If Do Seong-Rok had called her during that night, his voice would have revealed his emotions and hesitation, the phone call would have betrayed him. The femme fatale had adopted such an attitude a long time ago. She preferred texting him so that her manipulations wouldn‘t be detected. She wouldn’t be forced to act, her strength was to remain as natural and genuine as possible in front of the red-haired man. Hence her words were often connected to criticisms. (chapter 27) But because of Lee Je-Oh‘s presence, the red-haired man was put in a situation where he had to deceive Jeon Hee-Seong, and that‘s how he discovered the truth little by little. She was throwing him away, for Ahn Jae-Oh could offer her wealth and power, while he had nothing to propose to her: (chapter 38) This scene is important, for it indicates that the killer has adopted Jeon Hee-Seong’s mind-set! Life is like Janggi, and he is just a pawn in the big game.

4. Lee Je-Oh’s promises

The irony is that the prostitute had a totally different childhood. He had been neglected and pushed away by his father constantly! (chapter 9) He had strongly internalized the slap on the hand as a sign of rejection. Therefore it is not surprising that Do Seong-Rok’s words in episode 9 brought him back to his childhood reliving a certain trauma. Moreover, because the father was neglecting him, the young boy was left to his own devices. Thus he stole the knight in the shop. He learned through his father, that he needed to become proactive, and not wait for someone’s help. If he desired to have his wish fulfilled, he needed to act on his decisions. Furthermore, if he had accepted his father’s reproaches, then he would have become suicidal. Who can bear hearing constantly that you are a “shithead”, a “bastard”? No one… the insults from the father encouraged Lee Je-Oh to reject such insults and to retaliate in the end. He never accepted his living conditions. (chapter 26) This explicates why Lee Je-Oh fought against Ma Jong-Seok either. He might have been aware that the pimp had developed an affection for him, but he could clearly see his dishonesty and hypocrisy, for he was not helping him at all. The latter took advantage of the situation. Thus he could detect the falsehood of Jong-Seok’s promise right away in the prison. (chapter 10) Consequently, I come to the deduction that Lee Je-Oh was raised to make up his mind. He learned through his bad experiences that life was cruel, and he should never expect anything from anyone. On the other hand, in order to live properly, he needed to have goals in a short-term, and once he made his choice, he would stick to it. Yes, he stands for real promises, but not for illusion or dreams. His words are never empty and never written. He embodies reality. Under this new light, the manhwaphiles can grasp why Lee Je-Oh perceived the murderer as a god. (chapter 4) Only a god could show pity and assistance towards a prostitute, not humans.

But let’s return our focus on the prostitute’s promises. You see Lee Je-Oh making deals all the time. He is always serious. It started with this: (chapter 6) He would be his ally. (chapter 12) He promised that he would never betray him again. Then later, he declared himself that he was Do Seong-Rok’s business partner. (chapter 28) Then he put conditions to this deal: (chapter 28) And once he met the convict Sang-Joon, he introduced himself as his boyfriend. (chapter 29)

But why would he clinch onto the killer like that? The latter had indeed saved him, freed him from his condition as a prostitute. He had viewed him as a human before anything. He had not forgotten the man’s words in front of the pimp: (chapter 3) He had been the first person who had helped him. He would even feed him and take care of him. He would cook for him, dry his hair or give him a bed. For the first time in his life, he felt appreciated and treasured. He discovered gentleness, concern and warmth. Not even Ma Jong-Seok would treat him like that. (chapter 21) He could sense that Do Seong-Rok was on his side, though the latter still had a girlfriend. That’s the reason why Lee Je-Oh refused the rejection from Do Seong-Rok in front of the mansion. He knew deep down that the man had a reason to act this way. Even when he had treated him roughly in the car, he was well aware that the man was not entirely himself. Therefore it is not surprising that Lee Je-Oh announced his determination to snatch the killer from Ms. Jeon away, for the red-haired man had not respected their deal, their promise. (chapter 34) He had broken his promise, hence Lee Je-Oh would turn his words into a reality.

One might wonder why Do Seong-Rok didn’t explicate his situation before, why he didn’t ask the main lead for help. He had two reasons for this: (chapter 33) In his eyes, the protagonist wouldn’t be able to keep his promises. All these words were empty. How could he take Lee Je-Oh seriously, when the young man had been living in a cage for so long? He had no idea that Jeon Hee-Seong had played a huge role in the man’s misery. (chapter 26) Through this wrong choice, Lee Je-Oh discovered the treacherous side of this woman. Because of her, he suffered a lot. He was trapped in hell for 3 years. (chapter 26) She had deceived him with a fake dream, as if he could liberate himself by stabbing the pimp. So since the prostitute was strongly connected to Ma Jong-Seok, Do Seong-Rok could witness how miserable Lee Je-Oh’s life was. (chapter 7) Though the character claimed to have fought back, he never viewed it. Thus in his mind, the prostitute was powerless. That’s the reason why he didn’t trust the man’s statement: (chapter 32)

Besides, Do Seong-Rok couldn’t protect his lover, thus how could he keep Lee Je-Oh by his side? He would put him in danger, thereby he couldn’t make any promise at all. (chapter 32) He didn’t desire to generate hope. And now, you comprehend why Lee Je-Oh chose to accept the break-up after hearing his lover’s explanation. (chapter 34) He knew that Do Seong-Rok was thinking of Lee Je-Oh’s best interest. (chapter 34) The protagonist needed to show Do Seong-Rok that every words he had said to him were true and genuine. He was a man of his word, he would assist him. He would keep his promises. Though he left his side physically, he was still thinking about him. And it was the same for the suspected murderer. This break was necessary for Do Seong-Rok to perceive the main lead’s strength and power. He was intelligent and even cunning enough. He was forced to face the reality of his situation. Jeon Hee-Seong would never visit him in jail, for this would be seen as a sign for her involvement.

Through his past experience with Jeon Hee-Seong, the black-haired man knew that the woman was a scammer. He proved his oppa that he would protect him no matter what. (chapter 39) And he finally did it. He is now Do Seong-Rok’s boyfriend, and the latter is now called “oppa” in front of others. Though they are now separated by the window, they are in verity standing on the same side. (chapter 39) They are taking care of each other. He brought him new clothes, while the other offers to pay the fine. Their attachment reached its peak, when the main lead stroke his lover’s hair. (chapter 39) He could feel the warmth and affection despite the presence of the glass. He might have debts and no connection, yet with his cunningness, he was still able to ruin Jeon Hee-Seong’s plan. So a pawn still has a value. Each piece in Janggi is indeed important. And now, you are probably wondering how Lee Je-Oh ruined her “perfect crime”?

In my opinion, her intention was to let Seo Sang-Joon and Do Seong-Rok to take the fall. That way, she would be left out of the equation. The two men had worked together. That’s the reason why she asked her future husband Ahn to manipulate the file. (chapter 36) What she doesn’t know is that a promise was the cause for the destruction of her plan. How so? (chapter 31) If Seo Sang-Joon had not made a move on Lee Je-Oh and caused trouble, the prostitute would have never seen this scene: (chapter 31) The convict was scared of jail! He was really distressed in front of Lee Je-Oh. (chapter 31) The prostitute is well aware that this man just needed to get scared and cornered, then he will commit suicide. As you can see, the femme fatale’s promises are all linked to illusion and downfall, while the dark-haired man embodies reality and real promises.

Thus I couldn’t help myself smirking, when I read Lee Je-Oh’s following promise: (chapter 16) 😉I believe that he is wrong. His reaction was natural. He had never seen a man crying before. He only had met dishonest, angry and violent men. Note that Lee Je-Oh never said what he had on his mind. He kept his thoughts to himself, hence his words never became a reality. He still embraced the man. This means that he will fall for this kind of moronic love!! 😎 He was already getting more and more jealous towards Jeon Hee-Seong. Though the young man keeps describing Do Seong-Rok as his weapon (chapter 21), he still values him as a human. Without him, he has no protection. He is the new knife the femme fatale chose to dump, the new version of this scene (chapter 26). The only difference is that back then, she won, while now it is the opposite. To sum up, Lee Je-Oh embodies actions, promises and reality, whereas Jeong Hee-Seong stands for the opposite values. She will never get involved herself directly.

Before closing this essay, I would like to reveal a thought I had concerning the evolution of this story: Do Seong-Rok has a wealthy father (chapter 38) but neither Lee Je-Oh nor Jeon Hee-Song are aware of this. Back then, the father tried to buy his son’s silence with a few bucks … but technically, he could blackmail his father to get some money in order to pay his lover’s huge debts!! By doing so, he would be able to help his lover to escape from Koo’s claws. On the other hand, I believe that Do Seong-Rok and Lee Je-Oh are fighting the injustice and prostitution in this city, as they are now on the verge of becoming the femme fatale’s enemies.

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Painter Of The Night / Payback: “Innocent or not guilty?“⚖️

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In daily life, people view the idioms “innocent” and “not guilty” as synonyms. However, from a legal standpoint, there exists a difference. Innocent signifies that a person did not commit the crime, whereas not guilty means that the prosecution could not prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a person committed the crime. Therefore, the court does not pronounce a defendant as “innocent” but rather “not guilty”. Thus the prosecution’s task is to bring up as many evidences as possible to prove the guilt of the accused. At the same time, I would like the manhwalovers to keep in their mind that that innocence stands in opposition to sin and not just to crime! So technically, someone might have not committed a wrongdoing, but he can have acted reprehensively. This signifies that we are dealing here with moral and social norms. Thus a sin is not judged by the court, but by gods and people. This explicates why the legal system never says “innocent”, but “not guilty”. This nuance could be perceived in two different manhwas, Payback and Painter Of The Night. Some readers might question the purpose for such a study. In my eyes, it helps us to perceive the characters under a different light.

1. Lee Yoohan, innocent or not guilty?

In the story Payback, the main lead Lee Yoohan had a dark past. He had dropped out of school (chapter 1), and he was no longer living with his single mother and brother Lee Hansoo. He described himself as a small but confident delinquent, as he used to work for a loan shark in order to earn money very easily. (chapter 1) And one day, his brother Lee Hansoo met him in order to ask him for money. Their mother was sick and they needed to pay the hospital bills. Lee Yohan agreed to help, thus under pressure, he chose to threaten a debtor’s son. Observe that the main lead chose to use a knife and take the child as hostage. He was walking on a thin line between legality and crime. As you can see, Lee Yohan was no saint. But it didn’t matter to him so far, for he had no faith at all. He refused to believe in karma. (chapter 1) He was definitely a disillusioned teenager, therefore he was not thinking about the future. However, the fact that he became totally reckless during that day indicates that he still valued his family. He might not have been close to them, but he still cared for them. That’s the reason why he agreed to accept the brother’s request. We can sense his worry here. (chapter 1) When the borrower was confronted with such a ruthless behavior, he warned the main lead: (chapter 1) However, since he had given up on his dreams and had no hope, Yohan didn’t take the threat seriously, until he was confronted with reality. (chapter 1) The same man killed his brother Lee Hansoo in front of the main character. The man had acted like that, for he had lost everything: his home and as such his family. I would add that he had failed to protect his son. Out of despair and anger, he decided to retaliate, to make the young man suffer, like he had been hurt before. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The assassination was like a wake-up call for Lee Yohan. From that moment on, he turned a new leaf. (chapter 1)Why? He considered himself as the murderer of his own brother. (chapter 2) In his eyes, it was, as if he had killed himself the brother and his own mother! (chapter 27) He recognized that his actions had been the trigger for the debtor’s crime! At no moment in the manhwa, the main lead blamed the real culprit, not even his own mother who had given up on him. He admitted that in the end, it had always been his own choice to live like a thug! Striking is that he considers himself as responsible for his mother’s death, as because of his terrible way of life, he had caused her worries. As you can see, Lee Yoohan could not be considered as guilty for his relatives’ death, but he had definitely his share of responsibility in his family’s suffering.

Striking is that the young man paid off all his debts, as he saw them as his way to atone for his sins. Thus he never allowed himself to rest. How could he enjoy life, when he was a sinner? In his mind, he needed to suffer, but at the same time, he could never grief for the loss of his mother and brother. He had not the time for that. That’ the reason why Yoon Jae’s best friend asked him this: (chapter 27) No, he didn’t cry, hence the owner of the club wept for him. (chapter 27) He could sense Lee Yohan’s agony. He had lost his family at such a young age, he might have been a sinner, but anyone could sense his affection and conscience! He might have lived like a thug, but he was not a bad person per se. It is just that he had made wrong choices, just like the man who had stabbed his brother. In the main lead’s eyes, it was not karma, like the culprit said: (chapter 1) This means that Lee Yohan still refused to believe in divine punishment. Therefore it is not surprising that the protagonist punished himself so hard, and accepted his suffering without objection. He was not allowed to feel warmth and affection. (chapter 15) Thus he rejected the advances from Yoon Jae. In chapter 15, we could sense that the main character was preoccupied about the existence of god. Was there a divine punishment or not? (chapter 15) And Yoon Jae denied such a thing, but added then: (chapter 15) But is it not the same? Yes and no… For Yoon Jay, if someone acts badly towards another person, the former will be treated the same way. On the other hand, each kindness will be returned. But one might argue that the gods can interact through humans and use them as pawns to give people their karma. And this is what we are discovering in Payback. Lee Yohan helped Yoon Jae and even showed him a crying man. The famous director Yoon got moved by the main lead’s tears (chapter 15) proving that not all humans were cold and distant. They could express regret and admit their mistake. For the first time, Yoon Jae discovered warmth and sensitivity.

Lee Yohan would have kept punishing himself and putting a distance between himself and others, if his path had not crossed the famous actor Song Myungshin again! One day, he overheard a conversation between the artist Song Myungshin and his manager, and discovered the truth about the whole incident. The actor had been himself threatened by the debtor, so in order to save his own skin, he designated the younger brother to the future murderer. (chapter 1) The most terrible thing is that the actor had been helped constantly by the protagonist. Since the former had a dream of becoming an actor, the “thug” was generous to help him financially and emotionally. The assassination worked for Song Myungshin, for he had planned to steal the money from Lee Yohan. (chapter 1) That’s the reason why he didn’t even call the police. The murder would divert the main lead’s attention from the theft. When Lee Yohan heard this confession, he got upset for two reasons. Song Myungshin showed no remorse and a total indifference towards Lee Hansoo and the main lead. (chapter 1) But most importantly, he never suffered any karma. In fact, he could benefit from his sins and crimes. This could only reinforce his impression that there was no god out there giving punishment to the sinners. The actor took pride of his bad action, as he decided to take Song Yohan as his stage name! Yohan was a reminder that thanks to him, he could enter the entertainment scene. As a conclusion, karma hasn’t punished the actor Song Myungshin yet. Therefore Lee Yohan was determined to take his revenge. What he didn’t realize is that his first encounter with the other main lead would help him to achieve his goal: to give “punishment” to Song Myunshin. So he didn’t know yet that the gods were aware of this injustice, thus they let him meet the famous director Yoon Jay. (chapter 15) On the other hand, the existence of Lee Yohan gave the director hope, he could smile again and as such find happiness. The rabbit announced the return of innocence in Yoon Jae’s life. In other words, the two main leads were quite similar in their disposition: both had been wounded by their past, and had no hope. And thanks to the famous and powerful director Yoon Jay, the main lead is slowly starting living again. Little by little, he is interacting with people again, helping others, though he never does it openly. The best example is the actor Lee Hansoo who has the same name than his own brother. (chapter 6) In this scene, he refused to be addressed as hyung, as in his eyes, he didn’t deserve such a title. He had not acted like a hyung to his true little brother.

To sum up, Lee Yohan is a sinner, and he is not denying his responsibility for the loss of his family. For me, he punished himself too harshly. He never believed in karma, he saw that everything was related to his own choices. He had trusted the wrong persons in the end. And now, the gods are rewarding Lee Yohan’ for his remorse and new leaf. What made me smile while reading this manhwa is that when the former thug met Yoon Jay, he was wearing a rabbit costume with Jihwaha! (chapter 14) I couldn’t myself thinking of the antagonist Lee Jihwa, for he was put in a similar situation.

2. Lee Jihwa, a criminal or a sinner?

When in chapter 101 Lee Jihwa heard the report from Seokdae, he said that he had done nothing wrong, as he had never committed such crimes: (chapter 101) Indirectly, he was claiming his innocence. Thus the servant suggested to the young master to go to the police bureau in order to clear his name, but the young master refused to do so. Why? The problem is that Lee Jihwa couldn’t prove his innocence. And deep down, the childhood friend knew this. How could he prove that he was not involved in the scheme, when Min visited him (chapter 100) on different occasions, and both went to the scholar’s home together? Yes, this time Min’s threat had become a reality. (chapter 76) He could no longer back out. He couldn’t put the whole blame on the Joker, because this means that he would have to admit his own complicity. Yes, Lee Jihwa was trapped. He could sense that he had been framed by Black Heart, but the former couldn’t claim his innocence because of his knowledge! That’s how I realize why the young man was punished this way. Remember how he had blamed his childhood friend for his misery, and had used his knowledge as a proof for his reproach! (chapter 57) (chapter 57) Thanks to his knowledge, he was above any reproach, while it was not the same for Yoon Seungho. The latter was indeed ignorant, for he had forgotten many things. Consequently, the gods chose to punish Lee Jihwa for his arrogance and passivity. Now, he knows, but this doesn’t help him at all. Hence he decided to forget! This means that he behaved like Yoon Seungho, who repressed everything. The only difference is that contrary to the childhood friend, the main lead had been a real victim the entire time. Thus the second lead imagines that once he forgets and runs away, he will be able to escape punishment. However, he is wrong, for by choosing oblivion and desertion, he has to give up on his name Lee and identity. He can still be addressed as Jihwa, like you could see above. Yet, we have to question this. Is Lee Jihwa truly innocent like he claims it?

According to our modern legal system, he would be accused of complicity and of non-assistance to a person in danger, and this in four cases! First, when he arrived in front of Jung In-Hun’s house, he saw the painter wounded. (chapter 99) But what did he do? Nothing. Secondly, he witnessed how the kisaeng was dragged away to get killed, though it was staged. Here again, he did nothing. (chapter 99) I would even say that he even faked ignorance, because he was lying. The drop of sweat is the clue for this interpretation, besides Min contradicted his testimony in the shaman’s house later. (chapter 100) He had contacted the antagonist on many occasions, so he had heard from Black Heart before. It was never out of the blue. He knew about the existence of the plot and its goal: Taste the painter and kill him. He had been informed a long time ago. Then in the shaman’s house, he saw the painter dead in his vision, hence he pushed The Joker away and fled. (chapter 100) He turned his back on Baek Na-Kyum. But that means that he abandoned the artist once more time. In three occasions, he was well aware what was happening and he could have intervened. Yet, he let it happen. Besides, he handed over the drugs and dildo to Min. As you can see, he was never an innocent person, but not just a sinner. He was an accomplice. And he knew this, thus he couldn’t go to the bureau of investigation. Min was well aware of this. (chapter 101) Naturally, his crime was nothing compared to Min’s.

On the other hand, since he didn’t participate actively in the plot, he never hurt the painter or Heena himself, Lee Jihwa views himself as innocent. But inaction is still action. Thus I still don’t think that the antagonist recognized his own sins. Why? It’s because he called himself a victim later. (chapter 101) He didn’t see why he should die, when in his eyes, he had done nothing! And the antagonist’s prophecy became a reality. (chapter 50) By fleeing, he didn’t stop his friend from committing a murder. Thus he is responsible for their deaths. And he knew that Min and the other nobles would die. (chapter 101) He chose to save his own skin instead of saving their life, though here he was more fearing the king‘s reaction. During the same night, Lee Jihwa got tested 4 times, and each time, he refused to help. That’s the reason why the gods chose to punish him by making lose his title and name. He will become the culprit of a mass murder, he killed Black Heart and the other two nobles. And this would reflect the truth, for the red-haired master didn’t intervene. He could have acted like Baek Na-Kyum (chapter 53) and even follow his friend. And this distinguishes him from Lee Yohan so much. The latter recognized that each decision he made had consequences. And note that the idiom “choice” was connected to silence and assistance. (chapter 76)

As you already know, for me, Lee Jihwa had already imagined that the artist was dead. Because Yoon Seungho trusted the childhood friend, he came to believe the same. The gods were showing the red-haired master the future: he would become a huge sinner, he would have blood on his own hands, though he never did the deed himself. (chapter 50) It was, as if he had murdered the nobles himself. The gods were teaching him a lesson: Knowledge and passivity are crimes. In other words, Lee Jihwa became a sinner and a criminal because of this night. And this because he refused to face reality.

One might refute this perception, for the young master had been left in the dark concerning Min’s plan. (chapter 83) But was he really ignorant here? I came to a different interpretation recently. How? First, why does the second lead have a drop of sweat in the last picture? This is an indication for a lie. But there exist stronger proofs. Don’t forget the following rules: there’s always a reflection within the same chapter, and each chapter is reflected in the next. In the antagonist’s memory, Lee Jihwa was portrayed as someone who would disobey his father! (chapter 83) He would trespass the house of the Yoons and enter the shed, even the lord’s bedchamber! (chapter 83) As you can see, Lee Jihwa was acting as a rebellious son in the past. He was not respecting social norms and the elders. This signifies that we have the exact opposite in the present. Observe the seasons: summer versus winter. Thus I come to the following deduction. He is following the order from his father, he is not dragged (chapter 83), but he brought Min there. Why would Min say this? (chapter 83) Why would he come to see the mess? His words are indicating that someone must have told him about the scholar’s death. Since we saw this, (chapter 83) we thought that when the plotters came, Min was leading the way. But if we take into consideration chapter 76, we realize that back then the childhood friend brought Min to Nameless’ barn. (chapter 76) Thus it could have been the same! Lee Jihwa had brought Min to the scholar’s house, then Min was the one giving the signal to leave the humble dwell, just like in chapter 76. The red-haired master let Min meet The Joker, before Min was the one asking Lee Jihwa to follow him, when he realized that Nameless refused to help him. (chapter 76) So when we view this, (chapter 83), we should envision that the roles were switched, when they went to Jung In-Hun’s house. Besides, keep in mind that in season 1, Black Heart had been the one giving the information to Lee Jihwa. (chapter 43), so from my point of view, we could have a similar situation, someone had asked him to bring lord Min to that mansion! It can not be Min… From my point of view, Lee Jihwa was acting on his father’s orders. That’s the reason why Lee Jihwa never entered the mansion, and he told Min the story about the incident in the bedchamber. Father Lee had been the one who brought it up first. (chapter 82) Why would Lee Jihwa suddenly mention this story to Black Heart, when he had remained silent the entire time? Even Min wondered about this! (chapter 83) Another clue for this signification is the vocabulary of Black Heart. The latter is speaking like father Lee: lunacy (chapter 82) (chapter 83), Baek Na-Kyum is called as a peasant (chapter 82) (chapter 92). Finally, don’t forget what Min said about Yoon Seungho. (chapter 83) This shows that Black Heart stands for social norms: respecting the elders. But he never realized that in verity he was getting fooled by the Lees. We saw where the main lead was living in the shed, but did Lee Jihwa say this to Min? No, I don’t think, he mentioned it… he was left in the dark about this, just like the readers were not informed, when lord Song was mentioned by Lee Jihwa. (chapter 83) But Min was not naive like Jihwa, he knew that once involved, someone had to pay for the subterfuge and crime.

As you can see, Lee Jihwa was repeating his wrongdoings from the past, he was betraying not only his childhood friend, but also Min and as such lord Song, for he revealed his identity. The only difference is that Min had indeed manipulated and betrayed first. But this doesn’t change the fact that Lee Jihwa stands fake loyalty. It is just the result of his education. He was influenced to follow his father’s instruction. Yes, the story is repeating itself, and father Lee was trying to use someone in order to cover up his son’s crime. One thing is sure: Min was well aware that Jung In-Hun had been killed, but he was informed that the crime scene in the scholar’s room had been staged. In my eyes, Black Heart never realized that he had become the pawn of Kim and the Lees. Father Lee’s goal was to turn Yoon Seungho into a murderer, but he had no idea that Kim had himself planned to have Lee Jihwa killed. Father Lee thought that he could recreate the situation from the past, when the Yoons were framed of treason. Back then, the main lead got blamed, but now everything is different. How so? The noble didn’t act like planned. He never used violence against the kisaengs (chapter 93) (chapter 99), the servant Seokdae or even his son Lee Jihwa. The loss of hair was the proof of his leniency. (chapter 101) Each time he spared them. How can father Lee claim that the main lead is behind the murder in the shaman’s house? Secondly, his own son vanished which will be considered as a sign of culpability. Finally, lord Shin is a survivor and his last image is that he got unconscious, when he spoke to Lee Jihwa. This means, Lee Jihwa will become a criminal! Because of this situation, I am hoping that the red-haired master will reflect on his own actions and decisions. He followed the elders’ advice blindly and paid a huge price for this. He would never get loved by the main lead. He came to lose everything: his home, family and title. He is now a commoner. From my point of view, father Lee will be forced to cut ties with his son in order to save his own skin, but it is also possible that he even loses the mansion. (chapter 82)

To conclude, Lee Yohan and Lee Jihwa are both sinners, yet the red-haired master is an accomplice of a murder, for he never intervened himself. While the thug still has a “clean record”, it is not the same for the second lead. Moreover, the main lead from Payback has a better understanding of sin and crime, but this is also normal, for he is growing up in a different environment. In Joseon, the sons had definitely less choices. Due to the big influence of Taoism and Confucianism, the juniors were asked to follow the orders from the elders blindly. Black Heart thought that he was really smart and cunning, while he was not. In truth, he was the perfect reflection of Joseon nobility and society: following social norms blindly and never questioning the elders. Thus he copied their behavior. He obviously listened too much to Kim and other adults, therefore it is not surprising that at the end, he paid for his wrongdoings with his life. All the schemers in this party were too arrogant and miscalculated.

As you can imagine, I prefer Lee Yohan known under the name of Lee Baekwon, for he never denied his responsibility. (chapter 27) On the other hand, contrary to Lee Jihwa, he grew up in a poor environment, thus he had to work in order to live. He could never live carefree like the spoiled only son of the Lees. Finally, I would like my readers to question themselves this: Will Lee Jihwa come to admit his responsibility in the death of the nobles and in Yoon Seungho’s suffering? I have to admit that I am hoping for his return, for the two friends need to have a proper talk, and according to me, Lee Jihwa apologized or at least expressed regret in front of his friend, thus he got spared. Yet, I would like very much to see such an apology to the main lead. But before his departure, he still viewed himself as a poor victim who had been wrongly framed exposing that he had not grasped the true nature of his wrongdoings. (chapter 101) So working for a living will teach him how to become responsible and strong!

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