This is where you can read the manhwas. https://www.lezhinus.com/en/comic/pawn https://www.lezhinus.com/en/comic/painter But be aware that these manhwas are 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 of Painter Of The Night: https://bebebisous33analyses.wordpress.com/2020/07/04/table-of-contents-painter-of-the-night/ As for The Pawn’s Revenge, this is where you can read other essays: https://bebebisous33analyses.com/2021/06/06/table-of-contents-of-analyzed-mentioned-manhwas/
Warning: I used the German version Snow White “Schneewittchen” as basis. Hence I translated myself the quotes.
Everything started with this panel: (chapter 22) The protagonist starts viewing himself as the main character from the fairytale Snow White. Hence he comes to the conclusion that since he is Snow White, then there must be a hunter and a witch, the famous stepmother of Snow White. (chapter 22). That’s why he believes that Do Seong-Rok is the huntsman, while Jeon Hee Seong is the witch, because the former didn’t kill him. The former prostitute had planned to get rid of the young man, as he represented a source of danger for her. That’s why she ordered the killing to her lover. Soon after the release, an user asked Evy who was the Prince in this story. The author replied by denying his existence in this story.
What caught my attention is that there are more references of Snow White in this manhwa, like for example the presence of the shared apple. (chapter 24) Thanks to The Pawn’s Revenge, I came to recognize that even Painter Of The Night has so many common denominators with this fairytale. (chapter 23) That’s the reason why I decided to compare the two manhwas with Snow White. This means, I’ll also explain why they diverge. But for that, it is necessary to explain the fairytale Snow White and its functions.
1. The fairytale Snow White and its purposes
Actually, the focus of this fairytale is the daughter-mother relationship creating some rivalry and jealousy. Though there exists so many stories about this topic (for more read this article https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/07/the-tale-of-snow-white-and-what-the-various-versions-mean-to-us/), only two are famous, the fairytale written by the brothers Grimm (19th Century) and the version from Walt Disney, “Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs” (1937).
1. 1. Grimm versus Walt Disney
But the famous psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, who considered tales as very important for the child’s development, looked down on the version from Walt Disney calling it “empty minded entertainment”, as the creators had modified too much the Grimms’ story to the point that it had softened and robbed the meaning of this fairytale. Why did he say that? It is because the darkness from the Grimms’ version had totally disappeared. The stepmother in Walt Disney’s version doesn’t eat the lever and lung of a boar boiled in salt in order to keep her beauty, or she doesn’t asphyxiate Snow White with a lacing strap. The jealousy had turned into more in a rivalry and competition because of beauty. Besides, the movie focused on fated love too, for the prince met Snow White as a child. As you can see, the prince plays a bigger role in the movie. For Bruno Bettelheim, only the Grimms’ version is the true one, as it truly deals with the oedipal complex.
The oedipal complex is when a young daughter feels jealous of her own mother, she is unconsciously attracted to her father. But since having such feelings is forbidden, she projects her own jealousy onto her mother. That’s why the daughter feels that her mother is jealous of her. The darkness from the child is now personified by the “mother”. I need to add that the German authors turned the mother into a stepmother in the second version. For Bettelheim, the fairytale helps a child to overcome the negative emotions (oedipal complex, jealousy, rivalry), it also helps him/her to understand the world around by giving him/her a meaning to life. Furthermore, it explains to the young daughters the future transformation unconsciously: it announces the adolescence and adulthood through sexuality. We have to imagine, when Snow White lives with the dwarfs, she is protected growing up in an environment free from sexuality. So when the Queen offers the apple and both are eating from the same apple, Snow White discovers sex and temptation. The apple is a reference to the bible. And now, you comprehend why I choose such a title. The Queen is a witch introducing Snow White to sexuality. As you can see, Bruno Bettelheim judged the fairytale from the point of view of a psychologist. Yet what he failed to realize is that fairytales have other functions.
1. 2. Fairytale and History
First, fairytales were not written for just children, but also for grown-ups. They were supposed to teach lessons to the adults.
“They were meant to entertain adults while they were spinning, sewing, repairing tools, and doing chores late at night. John Updike tells us that fairy tales were the television and pornography of an earlier age, and a story like that is revelatory about the true uses of enchantment.” quoted from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/07/the-tale-of-snow-white-and-what-the-various-versions-mean-to-us/
How to deal for example, when a lord betrays or abandons a servant? Here, I would like to outline that the notion “family” is strongly connected to the house, and as such a household including the staff. Imagine that Snow White is a maid. Remember that the Queen acts as a lord, the head of the house, so when she orders Snow White’s execution, the young girl can only escape from this terrible fate thanks to the hunter’s fake generosity. This story shows that a servant or even daughter has no right, the lord can do whatever he wants. He won’t get sanctioned. And this remark leads me to the following statement. Bettelheim didn’t recognize that fairytales actually reflect history and the society of their period.
And now, you comprehend why the Disney version was less brutal, more romantic and the Dwarfs were portrayed as rich but hardworking miners. When the American author released the fairytale, marriage in America is associated to love. There exists the myth about fated love too. In addition, American society is promoting free market economy and hard work: American dream. Therefore we see the Dwarfs working so hard in the mine while singing. In the other version, it is just said casually. The parents are supposed to protect their children from any kind of violence, the children have even rights. Consequently the cruelty was removed. Moreover, motherhood is considered as sacred, while in the past, it was different. In the 18th Century and even before, parents didn’t ponder on how to raise their children properly. There were neither psychologist nor pediatrician nor educationalist. The children just needed to learn how to act and dress according to their social status. They were treated like small adults. However, slowly from the end of the 18th Century on, government and as such society started perceiving children differently, as a tool for their own politics. Napoleon created lycées (high schools) in order to increase his army. He promoted education, while in truth he misused it for propaganda and indoctrination. My point is that when the brothers Grimm published Snow White, people treated young children differently than in 1937 in the United States. In Germany, adults used fear to control the children!
Secondly, violence was a way to expose the children to the brutality of their world (there were many revolutions in Germany in 19th Century). But there’s more to it. And we have a proof that Snow White from the brothers Grimm reflected the society of the 19th Century: the presence of a lacing strap.
“But the old woman quickly laced and laced so tightly that Snow White lost her breath and thought she was dead.”
It was a reference to the corset. Young girls would try to lace their corset so tight that they could faint. This was one of the lessons in Snow White: “Don’t lace the corset to tight, because you could have the same fate than Snow White!” This explicates why Walt Disney didn’t include this scene in his story. The corset had vanished from fashion a long time ago. How did I realize that old fairytales are a mirror of the past? It is because when I was a P. A. of a History professor, I was asked to translate his essay about the definition of House and Foreign in late Middle Age and early modern times, and he used the fairytale “Town Musicians of Bremen” from Grimm as an example. The servants were indeed part of the House, once they were old, they would be thrown out of the mansion. The house was a synonym for family, like I mentioned above. During the Middle-Age, European cities, like Bremen, became more and more powerful leading to their emancipation from lords. Bremen like other cities became independent, hence the city councils could hire hire their own musicians. Though this fairytale was written in the 19th Century, it let transpire the social norms and mentality from a previous period. That’s why I came to the conclusion that Snow White must also reflect society from the 19th Century. I could give you another example.
In the Grimms’ version, the presence of sexuality was hidden, because it was symbolized by the apple. Since religion occupied a huge place in the 19th Century, people knew the bible. Consequently they could comprehend the message. But the moment Snow White ate the apple, she discovered sex. But note that she fell into a deep sleep right away. Once she woke up due to an accident occurring during the transportation of the coffin, Snow White had already found her husband, the prince. The latter had selected her as his bride, as he couldn’t forget her. The prince had even asked for the dwarfs’ permission.
“Then he said to the dwarves, “Let me have the coffin, and I will give you what you want for it.”
In other words, this fairy tale was promoting marriage of convenience and the interdiction of sex before marriage, while in the Disney version we have the opposite message. Since the prince kisses the protagonist, before he marries her, it implies that sex can occur before marriage.
Thus even if I consider that The Pawn’s revenge and Painter Of The Night are new versions of Snow-White, they can only be different. Now, sexuality, sexual education and homosexuality are no longer a taboo. That’s the reason why there is no hidden message concerning this topic. As a conclusion, the stories will reflect Korean society or modern society as such. The stories will teach lessons to the readers and give meaning to their life, but only if they decide to ponder about these stories.
This truly exposes that Grimms’ and Walt Disney’s Snow White is just a mirror of the past. But don’t get me wrong: these fairytales are still useful. First, like Bruno Bettelheim, they help children to forge their own identity and to navigate in the world as moral compass. Since the characters are black (evil) or white (good), the children can easily differentiate between right and wrong. Simultaneously, the fairytales prepare them to recognize that reality is more complex. We have the perfect example in Snow White (Grimm) with the huntsman.
1. 3. The lesson taught by the huntsman
It seems that people only remembers him as a good-hearted man, as he had pity and disobeyed the Queen’s orders. But what many don’t know or overlooked is that the huntsman embodies cowardice and selfishness. In truth, he is just a weak-hearted person and a hypocrite.
“And because she was so beautiful, the hunter took pity on her and said, “So run along, you poor child!” The wild animals will soon have eaten you, he thought, and yet he felt as if a stone had rolled from his heart, because he did not need to kill her.“
He acts kind and benevolent in front of Snow White, while in reality he envisions that she will die. At no moment, he wants to save her. She survives, because he doesn’t want to feel guilty and fate is on her side. This means, he just refuses to become responsible for her death. Others will do it for him. That way, his Queen won’t notice that he disobeyed. And notice that the moment the stepmother discovered that she had been played, the huntsman’s disobedience was not punished. Why? It is because she didn’t discover it right away. She ate the lung and lever believing that these were the parts of Snow White.
As you can see, the fairytale was teaching the meaning of fake kindness, cowardice and hypocrisy. But the irony is that in the latest movies, the huntsman was turned into a hero! In addition, it also exposes the “powerlessness” of the Queen. The huntsman could fool her due to her obsession. Simultaneously, it teaches that disobedience doesn’t lead to a death sentence. Here, I would like to point out that after the end of World War II, many German soldiers or guards from camps of concentration claimed that they didn’t dare to disobey. They just followed the orders they had received as a justification for their misdeeds. The reality is that it was just a myth. Historians could prove that no one got executed or no one was forced to become a guard in a camp of concentration.
1. 4. Definition of a fairytale
Because of these parallels between The Pawn’s Revenge, Painter Of The Night and Snow White, I wondered if the manhwas could be considered as fairytales. The presence of violence or sexuality can not be judged as evidences that they can not be fairytales, for they are considered as old form of pornography, destined to adults too. So what is the definition of fairytale?
The story must contain the following elements:
- The presence of magic and supernatural beings: witch, animals acting like humans, fairies etc.
- The characters are seldom given a precise identity. The characters are portrayed very briefly. They are associated to features, like for example, the Queen embodies vanity, superficiality and jealousy.
- The existence of trials, the heroine has to go through different bad experiences in order to grow and mature.
- The place and times: They are usually not defined in order to give a timeless dimension.
- The ending: People usually think that all the fairytales have a good ending, but this is not true. The fairytales from Andersen (The little Mermaid, the little Match girl) have often tragic ending.
According to this definition, The Pawn’s revenge can’t be considered as a fairytale, for there is no magic. But I would like to point out that The Pawn’s revenge still contains some “supernatural elements”. Lee Je-Oh compares the serial killer to a grim reaper (chapter 1) or a god. Then the characters are often associated to animals: dog, mutt, snake, horse, pig, elephant, chicken (chapter 2). Furthermore, the figures in this story are perceived as living pawns of Janggi. (chapter 12) Finally , I compared Jeon See Heong to a mermaid (chapter 6) bewitching her prey. On the other hand, the figures have a precise identity. The time and the place are quite defined. As for Painter Of The Night, it looks like the same. We know the birthdays of Yoon Seungho and Baek Na-Kyum and there’s no magic or supernatural elements. Yet, we sometimes see the presence of magic and a lustful spell. Imagine, in this scene we have the impression that the painter’s spirit summoned the Ghost Seungho to approach him. Striking is that this repressed desired got fulfilled. While he had his eyes closed, the lord approached him. Another positive aspect is that the time and space are not defined. It’s just Joseon period, but that’s it. The mention of Hanyang can not be seen as transgression, because remember that there exists the fairytale Town Musicians of Bremen. The town has no name. Byeonduck said that her manhwa was not a historical story, but she found her inspiration in History. Besides, the trials of the two protagonists are more in the center, while Lee Je-Oh and Do Seong-Rok have already struggled, before the story starts. Consequently, Painter Of The Night resembles a lot more to a fairytale than The Pawn’s revenge, though the sentence “once upon a time” is missing.
On the surface, this comparison seems pointless, yet I wanted to expose that these stories might not entirely correspond to a fairytale, they still resemble to Snow White. Just like the fairytales, the manhwas can have a deeper meaning, for they serve the same purposes: Teach lessons to adults, incite the readers to question their own society and social norms, develop a better understanding of psychology, encourage them to become more committed, less indifferent to injustice, more thoughtful and not judge people too quickly.
1. 5. The ingredients of Snow White
In order to be able to contrast the stories to the fairytale, it is necessary to list all the elements present in Snow White from the brothers Grimm. Besides, this version resembles more to the manhwas due to the sexual content. Seduction and temptation are more obvious. Nevertheless, I will not just list the characters and the relevant items present in the fairytale, but also the topics while giving some explanations:
- The 7 Dwarfs: owners of mines
- The presence of a witch (The Queen as the stepmother in the original story)
- The huntsman
- Snow White: Dark hair, white skin and red lips.
- The prince: a symbol for marriage
- The mirror of truth
- Arrogance and vanity: She keeps looking at her own reflection in the mirror. She feels entitled to be the most beautiful.
- Hidden fears and anxieties: The Queen still doesn’t believe her own eyes, hence she needs a confirmation from the mirror of Truth. In reality, the mother is full of insecurities, that’s the reason why she desires a confirmation.
- Reflection and critical thinking: She doesn’t ponder about the reason why the mirror of Truth is telling her that Snow White is more beautiful. She doesn’t distinguish between seeming and being.
- Jealousy and rivalry
- Oedipal complex
- Guilt and responsibility: Because the hunter didn’t want to feel guilty, he refused to follow the order. Yet he didn’t save her as well. Notice that the stepmother and the hunter desired to put the responsibility on others. The Queen blamed her step-daughter for her failure, whereas the huntsman desired to delegate the dirty work to others (animals). Both showed no true remorse in the end. The Queen failed in her quest, because she never reflected on her own actions. She is definitely responsible for her own failure and misery.
- Loyalty and betrayal: While the Queen betrays the daughter, the huntsman does the the heroine and the Queen. He is only loyal to himself and his own interests. Despite the discovery of the scheme, she doesn’t punish him, she vents her anger on the protagonist. On the other hand, Snow White still has a good impression of the huntsman.
- Neglect: the father seems inexistent and he doesn’t intervene.
- Obsession and blindness: The Queen is determined to become the fairest that she doesn’t understand what the mirror of Truth is telling her. She misunderstands the message: the mirror of Truth is telling her that “Schneewittchen” has the better personality. She is a 10000 better than the Queen, as she is more kind and selfless. The Queen doesn’t recognize her true personality.
- Abandonment: Notice that Snow White is sent away to woods in order to get murdered. This gesture symbolizes abandonment and betrayal. But the Queen is not the only one to blame. The father doesn’t seem to miss her disappearance as well. He neglects and abandons his daughter.
- Selfishness and fake altruism
- Death and murders
- Hypocrisy: Snow White never discovered the huntsman’s true personality.
- The presence of justice and injustice: While the huntsman escaped a punishment, the Queen was sentenced to death: “Iron slippers had already been heated over a fire, and they were brought over to her with tongs. Finally, she had to put on the red-hot slippers and dance until she fell down dead“. This means that the real perpetrator was only caught many years after the crimes. And it is, because the huntsman had told her what the Queen had ordered him to do. She relied on his testimony. But the protagonist never discovered the true thoughts of the huntsman. Yet, like I mentioned above, the hunter was not innocent. He might have committed no big crime towards Snow White, yet he was definitely a sinner and had not a good heart. According to our actual laws, the huntsman has perpetrated a wrongdoing: non-assistance of a person in danger. The moral of this fairytale is that true justice will never happen immediately or even worse: there exists no real justice.
- Ambition and Greed: Her quest to be the most beautiful exposes her greed. In fact, her fight is pointless, as she can’t fight against aging. She is already doomed to failure.
- Unconscious/conscious: Here, I would like the readers to keep in mind that according to Bruno Bettelheim, the fairytale was speaking to children’s unconscious, while the adults can learn lessons from this story consciously.
And now, it is time to analyze how similar the manhwas are to Snow White.
2. The Pawn’s revenge
As this essay is already long and to outline the similarities, I will put the common denominators to bold. Simultaneously, I will follow the list developed above by examining the main figures.
2. 1. The 7 Dwarves
Since the 7 Dwarves are owners of mines and seem to be very rich, I couldn’t help myself connecting these supernatural creatures to the following characters: Contrary to the fairytale, they embody not innocence, generosity, selflessness and chastity, but the opposite: sex, hypocrisy, corruption, selfishness, ruthlessness and immorality. They are not owners of mines, but they possess brothels which reminded me of chicken farms . They don’t live surrounded by nature and among animals, but in the city. The animals are the humans, they are treated like chickens. In other words, they stand in opposition to the dwarves of the fairytales: corruption, urbanization, poverty and misery. They don’t work themselves, but let others work for them like slaves. Yet they act, as if they were normal citizens abiding laws. This explicates why Ma Jong-Seok hides his affection from Snow White. He can’t be labelled as homosexual. The dwarfs, associated to different vices, symbolize the negative aspects of free market economy and the problems, when the government is not strong enough or too corrupt to stop such an evolution. I could even say, we have here the negative reflection of Snow White and the 7 Dwarves from Walt Disney. Motherhood is no longer sacred, the kids are exposed to any kind of abuse. Snow White is now held captive in the mansion of the dwarves! He is exposed to exploitation, the perverted version of Grimes’ version. In the fairytale, the young girl was supposed to take care of the house in exchange of protection, here we have the opposite: Enslavement. The male prostitute has no choice. But what they didn’t realize is that the witch would betray them. Hence I consider the apple as the tool the witch used to get rid of her rivals! The fruit served as a diversion, she was busy listening to their affairs so that she could develop her plan to climb the social ladders.
2. 2. The witch
Since Jeon Hee Seong was the one who introduced Do Seong-Rok to sex, she can definitely be seen as the witch and evil queen. She seduced him with her experience and insight. She could read him like an open book. She knew that he was so pure and innocent, hence she compared him to a lamb. Her resemblance to the evil mother explains why she is seen with the apple. However, unlike the fairytale, the fruit doesn’t symbolize sexuality, but betrayal. She is actually spying on the boss of the red light district and his minions. She behaves exactly like the Queen, as she is not longing for warmth and love. But her wish is still different, as she wishes power and wealth. Yet, they resemble each other, as both felt somehow powerless. In the fairytale, the absence or passivity of the king, Snow White’s father, gives me the impression that the evil Queen could have been a neglected wife, and the lord selected her as his new wife, out of convenience. He needed to have a wife by his side, and couldn’t remain as a widower. She was treated like a trophy explaining his absence. But because he married her for her beauty, it signifies that she had no power. Her appearance was her source of strength, and now you comprehend why she became obsessed with her image. If she lost her beauty, she would become even more powerless than before. She had nothing else to do. Jeon Hee Seong was forced to marry Choi, and while the Queen from Snow White was neglected, the witch was abused by her husband. So both were unhappy in their marriage and life. This explains their desire to get power in their own way. As the manhwaphiles can detect, both witches have something in common: ambition and greed, though Jeon See Heong uses her beauty differently. She is aware of her own attraction and has no fear or insecurities. She doesn’t need a mirror to tell her how beautiful she is. Her body is her tool, not the mirror. Yet both have another aspect in common: they try not to do the dirty work themselves. Both hire a killer, the only difference is that due to the huntsman’s betrayal, the Queen learned her lesson. She had to do it herself, if she wanted to get rid of her rival. And this leads me to the following observation. The witch from The Pawn’s revenge has two reasons to use others for her dirty work. First, she is no queen, hence she could get charged with murders. Secondly, if we use the fairytale as a parallel, she could have a similar mindset than the huntsman. She doesn’t want to feel burdened by guilt, notice that she is never facing the consequences of her order and decisions. She didn’t see the corpse of her dead husband and the gambler Lee Soon-Cheol. She just communicates through a cellphone. Besides, even Do Seong-Rok felt uncomfortable after killing two people. Hence I perceive Jeon Hee Seong as less bloodthirsty than she appears to be. She could be more of a coward.
On the other hand, in the manhwa the witch is still relying on her lover, Do Seong-Rok. She got angry, when she realized that he had disobeyed her and let him become responsible for Lee Je-Oh. However, it is just a matter of time, until she gets aware that Do Seong-Rok is no longer bewitched by her. In chapter 26, he can no longer have sex with her. Hence we have a parallel with the fairytale: the allusion of aging and change. The woman is no longer attractive to him, because he has perceived her true nature. She manipulated him and he got aware that she was fake. With this, we would another similarity with the fairytale, the distinction between seeming and being. He realizes, that her promises were all an illusion. In this scene, the manhwaphiles can sense her witchcraft.
And since Jeon Hee Seong has already chosen Ahn Jae Oh as her official partner due to his social position, it becomes understandable why her relationship with Do Seong-Rok was doomed to failure. I would say, since the police officer is on the verge to become a congressman, the protagonist could only appear weak to her. His strength were his loyalty and blinded trust. Consequently Ahn reminds me of the king from the fairytale, while I perceive Do Seong-Rok not just as the huntsman, but also as a second Snow White. First, he had dark hair and a white skin like the protagonist. Secondly, he was as pure as Snow White. But since he was neglected and had abandonment issues, he longed for maternal warmth and love. In the Korean version, we see his father promising to come back, an indication that he had no mother. Hence I judge, Do Seong-Rok’s relationship with the witch was a form of an oedipal complex. She served as a surrogate mother, that’s how much he longed for a mother and family. The manhwaphiles will realize the common denominators: neglect and abandonment perceptible in the beginning of the fairytale. Secondly, note that Do Seong-Rok had changed the color of his hair, when he met her again. That’s why I deduce that the card she gave him should be perceived as the apple from the fairytale. (chapter 16) With her appearance, her words and this card, she casted a spell on him. That’s why he was so full of lust during their second encounter. The red hair could be judged as the indication of the lustful spell. Simultaneously, this color implies the loss of virginity and the beginning of adulthood. The most fascinating is that in the bedroom, two colors are prevailing: red and white, which coincidences to the red and white side of the poisoned apple from Snow White. The witch’s beauty was so strong that he had to transform himself. (chapter 16) This was his desire to resemble her, to get closer to her. Since he was a man, the witch didn’t see him as a rival. This explicates why she didn’t feel jealous at all. But for me, there’s no ambiguity that she filled the void left by the missing mother. Hence, since he was having sex with a surrogate mother, this can not be considered as the real discovery of sex. I conclude that when he met Lee Je-Oh, he discovered real sexuality. That’s the reason why he can no longer have any erection with the Queen. If we judge The Pawn’s revenge as a fairytale, then it teaches, homosexuality is a normality. He didn’t know about this, until he saw the male prostitute having sex with the pimp and felt aroused.
Moreover, by sleeping with him, Jeon Hee-Seong somehow committed a sin. Let’s not forget that she was already married. The woman embodies evil, for she promotes cheating, betrayal, murder, selfishness and avidity. Her ambition is to become the Queen of the red light district. This means, the readers are witnessing the raising of the evil mother, who is on the verge of becoming the Queen! But due to her greed and ambition, she doesn’t realize her own blindness. Her arrogance makes her overlook the male prostitute, Lee Je-Oh. She trusts too much her beauty, and believes to be smarter than others. Thus her arrogance is the reason why she will fail in the end. She showed her true face to Do Seong-Rok too soon, when she showed her anger, because the huntsman had disobeyed her order. The man could see a glimpse of her true personality. Due to his past experience, he had learned his lesson. In addition, she is underestimating the power of love. Thus she had planned to betray and abandon her lover, but she doesn’t anticipate the killer’s betrayal. Exactly like the stepmother, she is not reflecting on her own actions. She didn’t pay too much attention to her words over the phone and the consequences. The absence of critical thinking will be another reason why she is doomed to fail: too obsessed to reach the top. She has the impression, she is almost there, the presence of the ring offered by Ahn is the proof of her success. And now, you can see why I saw so many parallels with the fairytale.
2. 3. Snow White and the huntsman
Naturally, this is not surprising that Lee Je-Oh considers Do Seong-Rok as the huntsman. The latter’s actions resemble to the ones from Snow White. Yet, unlike the hunter, the red-haired man has not a weak heart, but a good heart. He is not a coward or a hypocrite. He can feel pity, and doesn’t fear to dirty his hands. On the other hand, he has nightmares, as his unconscious is telling him that he made the wrong choice. And in this scene, we have the presence of conscious and unconscious. He shouldn’t have listened to his lover’s suggestions, but he is still in denial. That’s the reason why he keeps starring and looking at the letter with a fake confession. Hence I believe that contrary to the hunter, he feels some remorse, as he senses that he has been tricked. In my opinion, by sleeping with her, Do Seong-Rok got tainted by her darkness. This explicates why when he strangled Ma Jeong-Sok, he had an erection. And remember that in the Grimms’ version, we had the presence of a lace in connection to Snow White. And this reinforces my interpretation that the killer is actually more a combination of both characters: the huntsman and Snow White. He has become the “perverted version” due to the Queen’s influence, he is her step-son. Striking is that Lee Je-Oh is giving him another interpretation of his wrongdoings: he liberated him from his prison and misery.
2. 4. Snow White and the mirror of Truth
Since Jeong Hee-Seong resembles a lot to Lee Je-Oh, he appears to be indeed the real Snow White. Exactly like Do Seong-Rok and Snow White, he has dark hair, a white skin and red cheeks. Moreover, similar to the Grimms’ version, the main lead has been neglected and abandoned by his father.
Their fate seems similar, yet there is a huge difference. The male prostitute learned not to rely on others. When he tried to free himself, he didn’t ask for help, he stabbed Ma Jong-Seok himself. However, he was encouraged to use the knife by the witch, that’s how he discovered her true personality. Her beauty can no longer bewitch him. Striking is that he could already perceive her true personality, even before knowing her true identity.
In my opinion, Lee Je-Oh is actually a combination of the mirror of Truth and Snow White. Through his comments, he is confronting Do Seong-Rok and forcing him to reflect on his actions, questioning his relationship with the witch. But notice that he has a similar attitude with other characters. He confronts Choi Yeong-Gil with his hypocrisy and negative attitude. Just before the pimp is killed, he confronts him with his true personality and sins. He is responsible for the misery and death of many people. Once cornered, the “dwarf” is forced to confess his affection to Lee Je-Oh. Both dwarves had something in common: hypocrisy. Hence you can comprehend why I come to the conclusion, Lee Je-Oh is the mirror of truth. He embodies honesty and loyalty, just like the protagonist, he longed for a home and family.
Hence the huntsman’s “jail” corresponds more to the house of the dwarfs from the fairy tale. It’s the place where love, trust and innocence are protected. Since I have already predicted a revolution, I believe, Lee Je-Oh will give another sense to Do Seong-Rok’s murders. They will try to destroy this corrupted world full of selfishness and greed. That’s how Lee Je-Oh will become the witch’s rival. He will ruin her plan due to his sense of justice. The manhwaphiles will certainly remember that the fairytale is centered on jealousy, rivalry and competition. The young boy was already jealous that he felt the need to steal the killer. Right after having sex with him, he considers Do Seong-Rok as his boyfriend. He compliments him and caresses him, giving him the warmth and affection the killer had been longing.
What also caught my attention is that both Snow Whites are “corrupted”. While the one kills, the other lies, schemes and steals. This stands in opposition to “Schneewittchen” from the Grimms’ version. It is comprehensible, because both protagonists got tainted by their parents. Lee Je-Oh’s father was selfish and had no sense of responsibility, while Jeon Hee Seong desired to use the main lead’s weaknesses (isolation, lack of experience and innocence) to her advantage. This signifies, both are the products of bad parenting and a ruthless and selfish society. So if the two Snow Whites start working together and keep killing others in order to clean society, what will happen to this city? Chaos. But Lee Je-Oh would see it as delayed justice.
2. 5. The absence of the Prince
Why did Evy say that there was no prince in this story? My explanation is the following. Since the prince embodies “marriage” and in South Korea, homosexual marriage is not allowed, there can’t be a prince. Secondly, since I have already portrayed that the two protagonists have two functions, this signifies that both could also be perceived as the prince. They both free each other, as they give each other what they need. In the episode 27, Lee Je-Oh decided to lie to Kang Hyeon-Jong in order to protect his lover. He gave him an alibi and used the video as an evidence. This means that from now on, he is now responsible for Do Seong-Rok, just like the latter is now accountable for Lee Je-Oh’s survival. And since there’s no justice in this world, I believe that the prostitute Snow White will take matters into his own hands and give justice to others. Remember that Snow White sentenced her stepmother to death! This signifies that she gave justice herself.
As a first conclusion, though The Pawn’s Revenge doesn’t correspond to the definition of a fairytale, the manhwa and Snow White are really similar due to the topics and characters. It truly shows that such stories are a great source of inspiration. Then the readers should question themselves why the city and its inhabitants are portrayed in such a negative light. From my point of view, it is related to the huge political scandals South Korea had to face like for example with the president Park Geun-hye, and the economical boom with the development of new districts which doesn’t lead to a diminution of poverty. Then, there was the Sewol ferry incident, where many students died, while the captain and the crew abandoned them. This terrible event caused a huge mistrust in the authorities and the adults’ hypocrisy and selfishness. As the manhwaphiles can detect, I view this story as a mirror of our modern society: the failure of parents as role model, the disintegration of families… Simultaneously, it teaches the same lessons: recognize hypocrisy, selfishness and the importance of reflection. Lee Je-Oh could become the killer’s ally, the moment he recognized his own mistake. He imagined his intelligence made him superior, he underestimated the huntsman’s strong will. He might have felt pity, but he was not a fool, rather a dangerous man because of his strength. He mistook his innocence for stupidity. That’s why Snow White is superior to the witch.
As you can imagine, I won’t write the comparison with the Painter Of The Night here, for the analysis is already so long, however I would like the readers now to ponder on the following question: Who is the witch with her lustful spell, Snow White, the mirror of truth, the 7 dwarves, the huntsman and the prince in Byeonduck’s work?
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 reddit-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.
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/
Announcement: I updated the essay “Sins”
In the essay “Sins”, I had pointed out the parallels between episode 40 and 75. We had a stroll through town, and both main leads had a long conversation. But there’s another aspect I had overlooked, the reason why both episodes were connected to each other. While the first one stood under the sign of “responsibility”, the other embodies “regrets”. And now, the manhwaphiles can grasp the connection. The moment a person becomes responsible, he must make choices. And if the decision leads to a disaster, then the person will come to regret his choice. This explains why Jung In-Hun stood in the center of both episodes. Thus I will examine the characters’ decisions and regrets.
1. Definition of regret
But before starting, I would like to outline the difference between remorse and regrets, though these expressions are often employed as synonyms. What distinguishes them from each other is the nature of the action and decision. When the person did something wrong and now feels some remorse, it means that the person acknowledges the wrongdoing. On the other hand, there’s an absence of judgement in regret. It’s totally neutral. The person just wished, he or she had made a different choice. This signifies that a person can regret a decision, but feel no remorse. In other words, he has no guilty conscience. This indication might seem anodyne, yet it is the opposite, for in Painter Of The Night, many characters feel regrets, but are not suffering from pangs of conscience. They don’t see their actions as a crime or a sin. This truly exposes that these characters are not reflecting on their actions, even the absence of remorse displays their ruthlessness and selfishness.
2. Jihwa’s regrets and remorse
Naturally, remorse and regret can coexist. We had a perfect example with Jihwa. First, the red-haired master expressed regret concerning the painter’s abduction. (chapter 61) Observe that he has realized that Baek Na-Kyum’s disappearance doesn’t change the situation. Yoon Seungho will never come to return his affection. The abduction and even the murder are totally pointless. Yet, while confessing to his “priest”, he doesn’t acknowledge the wrongdoing perpetrated against the artist, for all his thoughts are revolving around his love for Yoon Seungho. He doesn’t see the pain afflicted to Baek Na-Kyum.
He only feels remorse, when it comes to his childhood friend. (chapter 61) For the first time, he is admitting his sins. He has always hurt his friend (the letter, the ruined painting, the topknot incident, chapter 59), that’s why the main lead could never reciprocate the feelings. And now, you understand why the young master Lee said this: (chapter 59) Since Yoon Seungho would always overlook his wrongdoings, the latter never felt the urge to reflect on his actions. Why should he feel regret or even remorse, for their relationship never changed? But with the painter everything changed. The noble would no longer close an eye to Jihwa’s sins.
Under this new light, the manhwaphiles can grasp why Jihwa made the following reproach to his friend. (chapter 59) Lee Jihwa used the name of lord Song on purpose, he knew definitely that this would scare and wound Yoon Seungho. I am even thinking that he imagined Yoon Seungho would behave like in the past, refusing to leave his mansion. Since I interpreted that the lord had a flashback in episode 1, I deduce Jihwa had planned with a letter to cause a flashback in Seungho, just like he had done in the past: the topknot incident. We had two clues for this signification.
First, Yoon Seungho had also triggered a flashback in his lover Na-Kyum unconsciously, when he trapped him under the bed in episode 66. Secondly, the childhood friend had discovered the main lead’s weakness (chapter 59). In this panel, Yoon Seungho has a flashback. Thus, Jihwa used this to his advantage, when he was displeased with the protagonist. Nevertheless, I suspect that Lee Jihwa was not truly responsible for the topknot incident, for he had been incited by Min’s words. Yet, instead of regretting his actions, the second lead preferred putting the whole blame on the victim, which often happens with perpetrators and accomplices. He didn’t want to be confronted with his terrible reflection. So back then the young lord Lee didn’t reflect on his actions, rejected his responsibility, for he didn’t want to feel guilty. Let’s not forget that the painter is just a low-born, the second lead didn’t see him as a human.
As you can imagine, Jihwa didn’t realize his wrongdoing, when he let the painter abducted. Since he was still alive, nothing had happened. But the moment Yoon Seungho barged into his room confronting him with his bad action, the other recognized that he had indeed hurt his friend again. But unfortunately, he didn’t learn the right lesson from this experience. He started regretting that the painter was alive. He had now in his mind this: if the artist vanishes, then his crime and sin will disappear. (chapter 61) Really silly regrets! As you can see, he decided to make the opposite decision. And now, you comprehend why Lee Jihwa remained silent, when he got confronted by the Joker. (chapter 76) Min had used his past to bind him to the second scheme. That’s his “punishment” for using the past as a way to tame his childhood friend. This truly shows Jihwa’s lack of intelligence. He never takes time to ponder over events and behaviors. He takes words and behavior as face-values. This is totally normal, for neither Yoon Seungho nor father Lee encouraged him to nurture his mind. Sure, the main lead was too hurt to take this burden. Besides, this is not his role, for he is not his guardian.
The irony is that unlike in the past, Yoon Seungho showed real leniency and forgiveness towards his friend. (chapter 67) He caused a commotion, but he never reported the incident to the authorities. Once again, we can detect father Lee’s stupidity, hypocrisy and superficiality. He didn’t scold or warn his son again despite the main lead’s request, allowing Min to influence his son in the bad way.
As a conclusion, as long as the red-haired aristocrat doesn’t acknowledge his sins towards Baek Na-Kyum, he will keep making mistakes and never learn his lessons.
Hence it is totally possible that Jihwa gets punished, when the second crime occurs, even if he is not participating actively. One might get upset and argue that he is innocent this time. But like I said it before, passivity and silence are indeed crimes! He doesn’t use his knowledge to stop a kidnapping and a rape, therefore it is failure to assist a person in danger. Moreover, the readers will certainly remember that The Joker’s second plan was to ask Jihwa to do nothing, while Min would impersonate him at the kisaeng house.
I can’t help myself thinking that Jihwa could obtain his friend’s forgiveness, though the former gets punished by the authorities. Let’s not forget that once the officers get notified, the system can not be stopped so easily. One thing is sure: Jihwa will learn to recognize the nature of a sin, real guilt and the importance of reflection. He needs to focus on education, exactly like Baek Na-Kyum. The only difference is that the latter never had the access to books and to a real good teacher. But let’s stop here with the predictions.
3. The priest’s sins
So the moment the young master Lee expressed his remorse in front of the criminal, the latter changed into a priest receiving a confession. Since the latter is an assassin or thief, he embodies sins and guilt. That’s why he could only become Jihwa’s mirror. The former definitely dirtied his own hands by accepting requests from nobles, while Jihwa accepted to “soil” his hands for Min’s sake by hiring No-Name. The “butcher” will teach to Jihwa the true meaning of guilt and sins. In addition, he shows him the ugly side from aristocrats through their actions. (chapter 61)
Naturally, I believe that No-Name is not different from Jihwa, putting the blame on others and not recognize his own culpability. He puts the blame on the aristocrats, as they are the masterminds behind the crimes. That’s the reason why he showed pity towars Baek Na-Kyum. (chapter 66) With these words, he expressed a certain remorse linked to pity, yet it was limited, for he viewed the nobles as the culprits. He never included himself in the reproach, he even showed himself in a good light (“I’ll let you go”). According to him, he was benevolent and generous. But he contradicted himself, as he threatened his prey. (chapter 66) Moreover, there’s no ambiguity, the painter didn’t pay attention to this confession. The Joker wanted his victim to remember his threat, thus Na-Kyum could only forget the helping hand’s “good heart”. This explicates why the painter got so frightened that he even got a nightmare, he kept remembering the mask of the Joker. (chapter 61) As a reminder: Baek Na-Kyum never saw Nameless’ face. This image is related to Jihwa at the tavern. (chapter 59) His pity for the noble Jihwa was stronger than for Baek Na-Kyum’s, hence he didn’t see the negative side of his last actions. In his mind, he had truly showed his good heart! But the painter let him see in chapter 76 the real impact of his so-called “good heart”.
The latter got a flashback because of the mask and the clothes. Baek Na-Kyum noticed the mask and the colors (purple/beige), visible in the nightmare. Nonetheless, even if the aristocrats are schemers, the assistants are by no mean pure and innocent. They are accomplices, and their silence is one of the reasons why the lords are not punished. In addition, without helping hands, the nobles wouldn’t be able to commit so many wrongdoings easily, for they would be forced to witness the consequences of their own actions. (chapter 61) They might feel remorse. Jihwa got so horrified by the brutality, he had to vomit. As you can see, both second leads have a similar attitude in the beginning. This explicates why neither Jihwa nor the Joker recognized the real nature of their wrongdoing, when they took away the artist.
Yet, the incident in town served as an eye-opener for the Joker. (chapter 76) The latter could realize that his action had affected Baek Na-Kyum. He definitely sensed that the artist had a panic attack and he couldn’t act, as if nothing had happened. This explicates why he kept looking at his previous target. (chapter 76) He could see with his own eyes that both main characters had an affection for each other. Consequently, I deduce that he made the opposite decision from Jihwa. The low-born recognized his sin and guilt. This is the other reason why first he rejects Min’s suggestion and even gets infuriated (chapter 76), when he gets threatened by Min. He won’t act, as if nothing happened. In fact, now he has every reason to get involved again, though he is refusing the participation. He is well aware that he could get framed. Min already warned him. (chapter 76) That’s why exactly like in the beginning of the second season, he will remain passive by monitoring the nobles’ moves. He will definitely use other channels to get updated. And one more time, I am confirming my prediction that Nameless will play a key-role in Min’s defeat. He will definitely help the two protagonists and even Jihwa indirectly by confronting him with his true image.
As you see, I judge Nameless in a better light, though he’s a murderer. He is slowly recognizing that this world is not black and white. His actions are truly condemnable, but I have the impression, he will become Yoon Seungho’s hand of justice. As long as The Joker supports a crime, he is not blameless. His courage, patience and intelligence are his strengths, hence he was able to make the right decision in episode 76. He was no longer willing to dirty his hands for others. Hence I connect him to “pitiful regrets”.
4. Baek Na-Kyum’s regrets
In episode 75, the painter expressed many regrets.
4. 1. The guilty Yoon Seungho and Heena
One of them is that he regretted his decision to stay by the lord’s side. Remember that in chapter 68, he announced to his sister that he wouldn’t follow her. This could only upset his noona, hence she said this: (chapter 65) She implied that her brother would come to regret his choice, as he had not realized that he was pressured and it was a rushed decision. She instigated fear in her brother letting him know that such a “love” is just a trivial and temporary emotion. Since the lord had changed, exactly like his noona had predicted, the painter was starting regretting his choice, for he was getting more and more swayed by the noble’s good and kind behavior, while the other had a different evolution: he would love him less and lose his interest for him. The painter was interpreting the inexistence of love sessions as a sign of disinterest from Yoon Seungho, for the latter had always expressed his love through sex. The artist feared a change of heart from his lover. Hence the former felt awful, while in reality he was responsible for his own misery. He just needed to approach the lord himself, as the latter had already declared that he would view Baek Na-Kyum as a lord. But notice that though he was regretting, he put the blame on his lover. He didn’t want to assume the responsibility of his choice, he preferred blaming his companion. Since he had refused to listen to his “mother”, he needed to find someone else for his wrong decision.
Yet, we all know that in chapter 69, Yoon Seungho had planned to let him go, visible thanks to this image: This was a new version of this situation: (chapter 34) The problem is that in episode 69, Yoon Seungho never let his companion know. He didn’t even show it by opening the door for him.
But the low-born’s reaction to make Yoon Seungho into the guilty one is normal, because the young man was actually imitating Heena. When the latter met her surrogate son, she put the whole blame on her brother. (chapter 68) He is now in this situation, because he didn’t come back to the kisaeng house and he didn’t write to her. When the artist dismisses her reproach, he was just following her request, she diverts his attention by saying: (chapter 68) With these words, she implies that that this is not the time for regret. They have more urgent matters. Because she worries so much for him, they should quickly leave the mansion. And note, at no moment she expresses regret, when she sent him away from the kisaeng house. The absence of regret and remorse from Heena is palpable in this panel too: Here, she makes an allusion that if anything, Jung In-Hun is accountable for that situation, for he was supposed to look after him. As a conclusion, the head-kisaeng has never regretted her decision. She even had not the impression that she had done something wrong towards her son. Let’s not forget that she never contacted him herself during their separation and this for a long time (more than 15 months). This means, she doesn’t view herself as a sinner. Her remorseless and regretless attitude really exposes her selfishness, for she is blind to the wounds she afflicted to Baek Na-Kyum: abandonment issues.
And now, you comprehend why Baek Na-Kyum copied her afterwards. Her behavior tainted on him. Furthermore, I believe that her words and attitude must have wounded her son unconsciously. He must have sensed her lack of sensitivity and selfishness deep down, explicating why he decided to put his fate into Yoon Seungho’s hands, though he feared him. With this new interpretation, it becomes understandable why the painter felt regret later. It was a combination of fears initiated by Heena’s words and his intuition, which he mistrusted now. As you can imagine, I judge his “regret” as quite silly, especially because he was contradicting himself. On the one hand, he had been pleased with the change (chapter 74), on the other hand he judged the change as something bad: futile and superficial. So in the tavern, the artist was wishing that he had listened to his noona . But fortunately, his random encounter with Nameless made him realize that such thoughts were totally pointless. (For more, read the essay “Sins”) Because the lord had changed, he saved and comforted Baek Na-Kyum. He had acted the exact opposite to his attitude during and after the abduction. He rushed to his side, exactly like Baek Na-Kyum had hoped (chapter 60) With this incident, the painter experienced that the noble’s feelings had not changed at all, and he was indeed reliable and trustworthy. That’s why he closed his eyes at the end. His intuition had not misled him. This signifies that from that moment on, the painter will stick to his initial choice. He won’t leave Yoon Seungho’s side. At the same time, this incident with Nameless destroyed the little power Heena still had over her son. Now, the son is living his life as an grown-up without his mother’s interference.
4. 2. The remorseful painter and scholar
But before regretting his decision to stay in the mansion, the low-born expresses his regret concerning painting. But it only occurs, when the lord gets curious about the reason why he dropped his passion. (chapter 75) He was missing painting. Deep down he wished, he hadn’t vowed to stop painting, because he was so sad and hurt. Though he felt so miserable, he saw it as an obligation, for it was his punishment. Because of him, Jung In-Hun had failed to secure a position. (chapter 75) This means, Baek Na-Kyum felt remorseful. He had the impression, he had done something wrong. It was, as if he had sinned, therefore losing his passion was the price he had to pay for his sin.
This topic came to the surface, because Baek Na-Kyum had started talking about his past and more precisely about his lessons revolving around sin and afterlife, reinforcing my interpretation that the kisaeng house was a place full of Christians. This truly shows that the young artist only received a religious education, because he still can neither write nor read.
In this scene, the painter looks really pitiful, for he is blaming himself entirely. The sin is so big that he accepts the scholar’s hatred towards him. (chapter 75) This explicates why for each bad action Jung In-Hun did towards him before, the latter would still overlook the betrayal and abandonment. He accepted all of this deep down, as he felt culpable. Thus the manhwaphiles can comprehend why Jung In-Hun is still so sure about his power over the painter, (chapter 44) and even left him without biding goodbye, though he had hurt him so deeply before. He knows the artist’s weaknesses: his adoration for him and his so-called sin. Thus the teacher appears as remorseless. He has no regret either. He never suffered from huge pangs of conscience, when he beat him or abandoned him. (chapter 6) His attitude resembles a lot to Heena’s.
But remember how I described this conversation in the inn. I compared it to a confession, and Yoon Seungho was a priest embodying Truth.
Back then, he just said this to Baek Na-Kyum (chapter 75). He tried to free his lover from his guilty conscience. But I doubt that these words were enough for liberate the painter from his remorse. Therefore I am suspecting that in the next season, Yoon Seungho will be forced to reveal the true reason why the scholar failed to secure a high position and expose his lie to Baek Na-Kyum.
Remember how he sent a black man to dig information about the learned sir. For this story is going in circle, we have to anticipate that the protagonist will repeat this action. However, this time he could ask for the learned sir’s dirty secrets. Another possibility is that he mentions the Christian religion, for I am suspecting the scholar of using this religion to get free support from low-borns. And this attempt of separating the learned sir from the painter would definitely serve Kim’s interests, as the latter had already tried to ruin the relationship between the artist and the teacher during the first season. The butler’s initial goal was that the main lead doesn’t meddle in politics and official positions. He had to lie low in order not to attract the attention from the king.
While the painter is still attached to the scholar by his sin, the moment the truth is unveiled, the artist has no reason to feel responsible for the scholar’s fate. And now, the readers can comprehend why the artist said this to the head-kisaeng. (chapter 68) It was not just, because he wanted to hide his true emotions and thoughts from his mother, he was still bound by his “sin”. Besides, he has other “sins” to cover up: Heena is still unaware of his illiteracy. Remember how the painter felt embarrassed. Once Baek Na-Kyum is freed from his guilty conscience, no one can stand in the way of the lovers.
Therefore I conclude that the scholar has still power over the painter, but it is just a matter of time, until the scholar’s lie is unveiled to Baek Na-Kyum. Byeonduck has already announced that Jung In-Hun’s secret and past will be revealed soon. With such a prediction, Kim will appear in a good light, as he will give the impression that he is helping his lord and the painter again. His stans will come to the deduction that I was totally wrong. However, the explanation is quite simple. Kim’s interests will be just aligned with Yoon Seungho’s. But this doesn’t mean that once the learned sir is sent away, Kim will remain passive again. In fact, this could lead the lord’s next mistake. He trusts the butler one more time, and since the butler has achieved one goal, he can let the second kidnapping occur without dirtying his hands. That way, he can become the unofficial lord of the mansion again. Since I am predicting that Jihwa will do nothing, I am expecting that the valet fakes a letter, for the butler was always connected to a fake letter.
4. 3. Painting and regrets
In chapter 75, the painter felt regretful, when he had to renounce on his passion: painting. And I started pondering about this aspect. I wondered if Heena didn’t regret herself that she allowed her son to draw such erotic pictures. (chapter 1) We know that she neglected him, as she was too young to assume her responsibility as a mother. So maybe she regretted adopting him, hence she wanted to share her burden with others (kisaengs and the scholar). She must have resented him at some point for painting such images, as she despises sex. But then I realized one important aspect in the following panel. Heena could only see the lewd pictures, not the boy’s passion for painting. She never realized that if she had encouraged him to paint something else, he would have picked up a different topic: painting nature and landscapes.
However, since the kisaeng was overwhelmed with the task, the orphan was trapped in a kisaeng house. Besides, the young mother viewed the kisaeng house as a prison. Secondly, in this place people only come for entertainment, yet they act behind veils and closed doors. Hence he could never witness what was going on there. And if the door was open, he witnessed violence. (chapter 68)
So since Baek Na-Kyum was encaged in such a house, he could only seek for topics within his reach. Hence at some point he caught two men having sex as peeping tom. This topic fascinated him so much that he started painting. But deep down, his true desire was just painting. Since the kisaeng neglected him, she couldn’t change the topic of his drawings. That’s why she blamed Baek Na-Kyum for this passion. She associated painting to erotic pictures.
What caught my attention is that Baek Na-Kyum was so impressed by the lord’s orchid. (chapter 75) Then he even created an inauguration painting with Jung In-Hun, revealing that he was inspired by his admiration and love proving that sex is not his obsession. He is just misunderstood by Heena noona. Consequently, I believe that later he will regret to have painted such an image (chapter 44), as it doesn’t reflect reality. That’s why I come to the conclusion that Yoon Seungho could become the painter’s teacher, and not just his muse. As a painter himself, he will incite his companion to select other topics. Let’s not forget that the noble invited his “guest” to a hunt. We should envisage that Yoon Seungho makes a similar request: they go outdoors so that the painter can paint a landscape.
In reality, Baek Na-Kyum became an erotic painter due to his circumstances, while his true passion was just painting. Heena never gave him the opportunity to nurture his talent, too blinded by her prejudices and belief.
But as you can imagine, though Heena and the scholar have a similar attitude, I am expecting a different evolution. The kisaeng will be confronted by her sins (not teaching her son writing and reading, misjudging the learned sir’s true nature, her abandonment and betrayal), hence she will feel immense remorse, whereas it won’t be the case for the learned sir. The latter will mostly regret his decisions by putting the blame on others. Silly regrets for Jung In-Hun, but pitiful regrets for the mother, as the latter always believed that she was acting out of love and selflessness.
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 reddit-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.
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/
Now, it is time to focus on Black Heart and his famous tear. (chapter 76) Contrary to Baek Na-Kyum and Jihwa’s crying, the villain is shedding one single tear while laughing. It looks like he’s having fun and entertained. But if you replace the scene in the whole context, you’ll come to a different conclusion.
1. The context of Min’s tear
He is actually far from enjoying this “joke”. First, he had to witness before that he had been defeated by his rival Yoon Seungho. He couldn’t separate them. He was so annoyed and upset by the situation that he vomited. In other words, he was green of envy and simultaneously he was green (sickly)🤢🤮 due to his opium consumption. This signifies that he was definitely not in the best mood.
Then in the shed, he hears from Nameless that Jihwa had sex with the criminal behind his back. Though it looks like this secret puts him back in a good mood, I noticed two details:
- His eyes are always closed, especially when the tear comes out
- Secondly, his laugh is very short-lived.
2. The closed eyes and the tear
The manhwaphiles should wonder why the Joker has his eyes closed. It can’t be explained with the laughing, as his laugh comes to an quick end (only 2 HAHA), and he is already talking to Jihwa and the commoner. But observe that while mocking his puppet, he avoids eye contact. So why does he have closed eyes? In order to get an answer, I tried to compare it to the previous situations, when he laughed. That’s how I realized that Byeonduck never let the readers see his gaze, when he was laughing.
- chapter 19:
- Chapter 43
- Chapter 53:
- Chapter 54:
- Chapter 69:
The absence of his face (19, 43, 54, 69) and of his eyes (chapter 53) is an indication that he is actually wearing a mask. That’s why I deduce that the Joker is actually closing his eyes in front of the second leads, for he is attempting to hide his pain and vulnerability. After seeing how Baek Na-Kyum escaped from all his traps (the wine, the sex orgy, the murder, the kidnapping, the gangrape, the rape, the sex at the kisaeng house), he has to discover that he is also losing control over his puppet Jihwa. This can only increase his stress and bad mood. The manhwaphiles should remember how much Black Heart loves using his power and influence over Yoon Seungho’s childhood friend. That way, he feels powerful. This explicates why he punished him in chapter 67. He made sure to scare and humiliate him so that the latter would become obedient again: .
But during that night, he hears that Jihwa had even violated social norms. His disciple had sex with a commoner. Let’s not forget that the second lead had declared this in chapter 18:
Jihwa: “Yoon Seungho has fallen into sodomy that he is now reaching for a low-born”.
In my eyes, the red-haired aristocrat was just repeating what Min and the other nobles were advocating. This sexual encounter between the second leads could only infuriate Black Heart, as the latter in reality follows traditions blindly out of fear.
3. Fear and laugh
Here, I need to elaborate the signification of Min’s laugh. In truth, his laugh is not a signal for pleasure and excitement, but the opposite. It reveals his discomfort and anxieties. This means, his laugh is linked to negative emotions and nervousness, which the character tries to mask from the others. Why do I interpret it so? I could use the situation from chapter 53. He has just been punched by Yoon Seungho and he fell onto the ground. This was definitely painful. But notice that though he is laughing, he is hiding his mouth with his hand, a sign that he is masking his true thoughts and emotions. In this panel, the readers are seeing Min the clown as his best. The covered mouth and the absence of the eyes are strong indications that he is not honest at all here. Since he is laughing, we have to imagine, he is feeling the opposite: scared and hurt. But he has to grin and bear it. That’s his MO in my eyes. Furthermore, there exists this famous study organized by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram that revealed people often laughed nervously in uncomfortable situations. People in his study were asked to give electric shocks to a stranger, with the shocks becoming increasingly powerful (up to 450 volts). The higher the shocks, the more the participants were laughing in order to mask their embarrassment and fear. They did it to reassure themselves and give the impression to others that this was normal.
One might argue that in episode 43, Black Heart had no reason to feel discomfort. He was truly making fun of Jihwa’s hypocritical behavior. But even so, this truly outlines that while he was truly mocking Jihwa in episode 43, the new version of this scene (chapter 76) has to be different. Why? It is because this time, Jihwa didn’t act, like Min had anticipated. In chapter 36, The Joker had made sure that the second lead wouldn’t stick to his promise. He had manipulated him to visit Yoon Seungho’s mansion. In chapter 76, Min has to discover that nothing he had planed worked out. The assassination didn’t take place immediately, then he never involved Min like requested. Finally, Jihwa had even sex with the criminal. That’s why this comparison even reinforced my interpretation that Min’s laugh is more often a sign of stress, anxieties and negative emotions than real pleasure and enjoyment. Consequently I believe that the tear and the laugh are in truth a sign of discomfort, pain and stress.
4. The tear and Black Heart’s comment
But there’s another clue why I believe that his tear is the result of negative emotions.
What caught my attention is the presence of an oxymoron: a comedy of errors. While comedy stands for fun and lightness, error embodies gravity and seriousness. The contradiction indicates the presence of emotions, the noble is definitely torn apart by this revelation. Besides, notice the idiom “you found yourself in” which portrays Jihwa as weak and rather stupid. The words imply that the disciple is a puppet. According to Min, he had sex, because Nameless convinced his disciple to this. He was a victim of circumstances in Min’s eyes. That’s why his words truly exposes a huge reproach. Black Heart’s words reflect that he is very serious in that moment, he is even talking about money.
If I had to rephrase his true thoughts, this would be the result: “How could he let himself be so manipulated to make such a mistake? Is this a joke?” That’s why I believe that Min is not shedding a tear out of joy or out of laughing, rather because he is frustrated and pained. That’s the reason why in the same scene he will lose his temper in front of Nameless, and shows his true face: nasty, violent and arrogant. And note the contrast of the mouth. The lips are positioned in the opposite way than when he smiles. And now, you understand why Min had his eyes closed. He was hiding his true emotions from the others, as the eyes are the mirror of the soul. Yet during that night he could no longer keep his mask as the Joker.
5. The signification of the tear
Another huge divergence is that unlike all the other characters weeping, he only sheds one tear which is quite significant. This shows that Min’s heart has been wounded, yet due to his true personality, he can’t cry buckets. Let’s not forget that I had already diagnosed him as someone suffering from ASPD (Antisocial Personality Disorder). His lack of empathy is the explanation of his lack of tears.
One might say that this is just a crocodile tear.
- Crocodile tears: “display false, insincere, hypocritical sadness or remorse” quoted from https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/crocodile+tears%2c+crying%2fto+cry
This is definitely correct in the sense that the lord fakes his happiness and pleasure, while in my opinion he is masking his hurt, frustration and stress. In that panel, he is definitely a hypocrite, nonetheless I doubt that his emotions are insincere. It is just that he is a crocodile himself, therefore he has never shed a tear before.
As you can perceive, the appearance of the tear is important in my eyes. We have to imagine that until the appearance of the painter Min felt bored to death or better said bored to tears.
“bored to death/bored to tears”: extremely bored to the point of distraction, frustration or irritation. quoted from https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/bore+to+death%2ftears%2c+to
That’s why he kept looking for fun and entertainment. (chapter 66) Striking is that when the lord found Baek Na-Kyum in a terrible situation, he looked excited. In my opinion, the situation was pleasing to his eyes for two reasons. Min could see how Yoon Seungho had mistreated the painter, therefore he sensed that he could have an opportunity to approach the artist. Since Yoon Seungho was not willing to share his lover to others,. Min had only one possibility left: separate the couple. That’s why he found it entertaining. He imagined that his chances to taste the low-born had increased. This explicates why he takes pleasure in the misery of others. He is able to profit from the suffering of others. In other words, he never had to put a lot of effort. Everything was always delivered to him on a silver plate.
But since he was using others to play his games, this means that Min never had to work either. I am quite certain, the readers remember this idiom:
“blood, sweat and tears”: a huge amount of effort, dedication and hard work. quoted from https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/blood%2c+sweat%2c+and+tears
That’s another explanation why he couldn’t shed a tear. Note that during the first season, he made requests to Yoon Seungho (chapter 19, 33). The latter had to bring the painter to the bedchamber in order to show the pictures or to bring him to the sex orgy. Then he asked the same thing during the second season. The host had to fetch his artist. Then he incited Jihwa to hire Nameless and gave him the information about the criminal. Nonetheless he never went there himself. Striking is that the more he lusted after Baek Na-Kyum, the more he became proactive. In chapter 56, he visited his “student” on his own, and made the request to be involved: “Let me in on it”. Then he visited the protagonist’s mansion on his own in chapter 66, this signifies that he was more and more walking around. In chapter 69, we see him waiting at the kisaeng house. He hoped to meet the artist there, thinking that Baek Na-Kyum would want to run away from Yoon Seungho. The fact that Byeonduck portrayed Min walking in so different scenes (52, 56, 66, 76) is an indication that Min is becoming more and more active. In poetry and literature, the walk is often a metaphor for life. That’s why I come to the conclusion that the tear symbolizes Min’s revival. Hence this picture truly mirrors Min’s life before his meeting with Baek Na-Kyum. (quoted from https://9gag.com/gag/awXAwnW) This image is inspired by the song “Beautiful” written by Eminem, because the latter referred to the presence of a mask and act by singing “hide behind the tears of a clown”.
As you can observe, Black Heart is making a similar experience than Yoon Seungho. He is starting to live his true life and as such dropping his disguise: The Joker. And this picture truly mirrors Min’s life before his meeting with Baek Na-Kyum. But old habits are hard to die.
Min: “What if I said I could have you killed?” (chapter 76)
He threatened the criminal to have him eliminated. His words expose that Black Heart wouldn’t still do it himself, but he would use others. On the other hand, his remark displays a transformation, for Min is now taking responsibility for a person’s death. By becoming more active, he is no longer running away from accountability. This signifies that at some point, he will be responsible for his own actions and words and won’t be able to put the blame on others. Simultaneously, this situation forces him to show his true colors. However, there’s a huge difference between the wealthy main lead and Black Heart. Instead of transforming into a phoenix and shine, Black Heart will turn into a monster, a zombie. Since Min can now feel pain, this indicates that he is alive. I can’t help myself associating him to rotting flesh due to the opium and his nausea. Because of the connection between work and tears, I am expecting that Min will begin to show an interest in the officials and get in touch with Jung In-Hun.
6. The tear and the clown
To summarize, the Joker was always hiding his true self from others. He played The Joker in order to cover up his own anxieties, emotions and thoughts. Then he never had to make any effort. Finally, he always felt entitled due to his social status. Thereby I come to the conclusion that Black Heart was quite similar than Yoon Seungho in the end. He was also living like a ghost, yet he was different at the same time. Since he fears to break social norms, yet resents them deeply, he learned that he had to hide his true self behind a mask. Therefore he became a clown, a Joker who would use others as his puppets and as such toys. But as a clown, he couldn’t show his true emotions, for it was not his “function”.
tears of a clown: A phrase used to describe a person who appears joyful and chipper around people but is actually emotionally distraught. Usually this results from heartbreak or a severely stubbed toe. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=tears%20of%20a%20clown
This expression corresponds totally to the image from chapter 76: , the clown was in really distressed and wounded, but he had to grin and bear it. He had to keep playing his role of the Joker, until his position as the puppet master got threatened by Nameless’ intervention. This explicates why The Joker had to stop Nameless from talking. The Joker realized that the commoner could have a huge influence over the second lead.
Min: “Such insolence from a filthy, lowly cutthroat…. How dare you, a worthless peasant, question your superior? You’d do well to bite your tongue and keep playing your tricks, jester.” (chapter 76)
He attempted to humiliate him through insults, but nothing worked on the commoner. In this scene, Min was defeated for the first time, though he managed to keep the red-haired noble by his side.
7. The tear and Min’s obsession
Since I elaborated that Min and Yoon Seungho had so many similarities, the Joker’s tear is another indication that the main lead will also come to cry. Yet, contrary to Black Heart, I am expecting the lord crying a river. In addition, this means that the reason for the appearance of Min’s tear is caused by Baek Na-Kyum, though it happened in front of Lee Jihwa. On the other hand, the manhwaphiles shouldn’t forget that the latter is a different version of Baek Na-Kyum. Therefore we have to imagine that in the past Min became interested in the second lead due to his closeness to Yoon Seungho too. That’s the reason why Min chose to snatch Jihwa from Yoon Seungho. Remember the main lead’s words in chapter 55:
Yoon Seungho: “I brought you here as a new plaything, that’s all…” (chapter 55)
Because the main character and Min are similar, this image is in my eyes an evidence that Min considered Jihwa as his plaything too. First, the protagonist showed an interest in painting, so did Min. The former was close to his childhood friend, therefore Black Heart desired the same relationship between Jihwa and himself. And now, you comprehend why he is determined to taste the painter. Yoon Seungho’s gaze revealed that he was sexually attracted to the painter, and the latter had a similar reaction. Hence Min feels the need to lust after Baek Na-Kyum. But he is making a huge mistake: for he sensed sexual attraction in their gaze, he believes that this is the real foundation of the relationship between the two main leads. Yet, it becomes obvious that Black Heart has fallen in love with the painter, but unlike Yoon Seungho, the Joker is not willing to admit this. He fears the consequences: to be laughed.
But why is Min so obsessed with the main lead? It is, because he envies the protagonist for his way of life. On the one hand, he lives above social norms and doesn’t pay attention to rumors and traditions, hence he has a bad reputation. On the other hand, the nobles keep seeking his company despite everything. Yoon Seungho is attracting attention, therefore the clown can only judge Yoon Seungho as a rival. However, people are mocking him behind his back. That’s why Min can’t truly take the main lead’s place and can only copy him. In my opinion, Min is longing for freedom too, but in a more destructive way.
And now, you comprehend why Jihwa became his disciple. Min was able to earn his trust, which explains why Jihwa admires Min’s relationship with the noble with the mole in chapter 59.
Jihwa: “We have seen each other in the most wretched of states. Of course our relationship is not the same as yours.”
From my point of view, Min was motivated to take away Jihwa from Yoon Seungho and have the same influence over Jihwa than Yoon Seungho. But even here, Min failed in one aspect. The red-haired noble was always faithful to his childhood friend, therefore their relationship never turned into a sexual relationship. It is possible that first Min was aiming to have him as a sexual partner, until he realized that Jihwa only had eyes for Yoon Seungho. That’s why in the end, Black Heart played with the second lead’s naivety.
However, Min’s obsession over Yoon Seungho is slowly changing. I would say that he is now getting obsessed with Baek Na-Kyum. This would explicate why Min shed one tear in the shed after witnessing the embrace. He definitely felt agony in that moment, thereby he felt the need to vomit. But since Jihwa’s tears are famous, I can’t restrain myself thinking that Min’s tear was provoked by Jihwa’s betrayal. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. And this leads me to the following conclusion:
Min has now discovered that his influence over Jihwa is in danger, then this means that he has to pay more attention to his student. It is definitely possible that the “mentor” torments Jihwa more than before. But it could backfire on him. At the same time, his obsession for the painter is increasing, therefore I am expecting that Min will be forced to make a choice at the end: who is more important in his eyes? Jihwa or Baek Na-Kyum? And the moment Black Heart selects the painter, the second lead can only recognize Min’s hypocrisy and false preaching. One thing is sure: Min will shed more tears in the future… he will be more and more tormented which will be his karma.
As a conclusion, Min’s tear was a sign of his revival. The tear was triggered due to pain and stress. The puppet master experienced how little control he had over people. However, the master attempted to hide his heartache by masking with a laugh.
There will be a third part. 😉
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 reddit-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.
Be aware that most of the manhwas I am using as illustrations are mature Yaois, which means, it is about homosexuality with explicit scenes. Please support the authors by reading the manhwas on the official websites. This is where you can read the manhwas.
- BJ Alex / Dine with A Vampire / The Beast Must Die / Legs That Won’t Walk / My Suha / Painter Of The Night / Legs That Won’t Walk / The Blood Of Madam Giselle / The pawn’s Revenge / Unintentional Love Story are on https://www.lezhinus.com/
- ENNEAD https://www.tappytoon.com/en/comics/ennead-mature
- Under The Green Light: https://tapas.io/series/under-the-green-light
- True Beauty: https://www.webtoons.com/en/romance/truebeauty/list?title_no=1436
- Doctor Frost: https://www.webtoons.com/en/mystery/dr-frost/list?title_no=371
Here is the link, if you are interested in more analyses about these manhwas: https://bebebisous33analyses.com/2021/06/06/table-of-contents-of-analyzed-mentioned-manhwas/
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In this essay, I won’t examine a certain manhwa very closely, but I will focus on the mask, its different forms and functions in manhwas. Yet, the highlight of this analysis will be BJ Alex. Now, you are probably wondering why I picked such a topic. While reading these stories, I often noticed the presence of a mask, though it was only palpable through the mind’s eye and not to the eye. The reason for their presence is quite simple. The use of mask is strongly intertwined with the protagonists and identity quest. Therefore there is this question in the title: “Who are you?” Many characters are using a mask to hide their true personality or thoughts from their counterpart. Before starting to study the different types of masks and their utilization in the different manhwas, it is important to look at the definition of mask.
“Mask: a form of disguise or concealment usually worn over or in front of the face to hide the identity of a person and by its own features to establish another being. quoted from https://www.britannica.com/art/mask-face-covering
1. Mask and acting
As you can note, the mask is related to acting, but also to protection. That’s why in certain cultures, during religious ceremonies the priest will wear a mask, for he will represent the deity or the spirit the participants are asking for help or protection. This is no coincidence that in the theater of ancient Greece, the actors were wearing masks too. They had two reasons for this. First, women were not allowed to play a role, so a man had to take over their part. Secondly, by covering their faces, they would hide and protect their true identity. In other words, the mask in a religious ceremony and in a theater play ensures that the spectators are not confusing the identities. They have to distinguish between the seem and real, and as such between the person behind the disguise and the character represented. In other words, the viewers are asked to accept that the people covered with a mask are not representing themselves, but a different person: a god or a character.
2. Mask as protection
As for the protection, I could use as an illustration the mask put on the mummy in the sarcophagus. It was to protect the deceased in the afterlife. And these two functions (hiding the identity and protection) have not changed at all nowadays. That’s why we have in BJ Alex, the main lead Ahn Jiwon hiding his face with a mask, while he is following his ex-lover. (chapter 55) He doesn’t want to be recognized, but more importantly he is determined to hide his true feelings from Nam Dong-Gyun, for he believes that he has no chance to be his lover again. Moreover, during the Corona pandemic, people are requested to wear a mask in order to stop the contamination.
3. The use of a real mask
3. 1 A necessity or a desire?
To sum up, the person behind the mask would like to cover his/her identity or his/her true personality, implying that this person will play a role, while the mask will serve as a shield too. This explicates why in The Beast Must Die, the protagonist hides his ASPD (Antisocial Personality Disorder) from others. If people knew that he was a psychopath, he would get isolated. His parents are already very distant with him, for they view him as a monster. Due this experience (he killed a dog and his mother caught him), he got aware that he was not allowed to act on his urges. For him, the mask is a necessity, as he is living in society. He doesn’t want to end up in jail. But is it the same for Nameless from Painter Of The Night?
The criminal puts on his mask, when he decides to kill the vicious servant. (chapter 54) He is switching his identity to become a killer. In this panel, the manhwaphiles see the transformation of the figure, as his face is already half-covered. He is no longer a joker, but not the ruthless murderer yet. However, when he kills the servant, he has the cover on. (chapter 54) By putting a mask, he is protecting himself too, for he is acting as someone else, therefore his heart can’t be wounded. In this case, it is more a desire, though in truth it is a combination of both. The “butcher” has to hide his true identity. So when he wears his mask in chapter 44, he is doing his job. He won’t be recognized, but also he won’t feel remorse. He has been paid for that and the mask is helping him not to get emotionally invested. On the other hand when Jihwa met him in chapter 51, the manhwalovers could perceive the low-born’s true personality which coincides with the absence of the mask. In that episode, he was literally naked in front of the noble, which explicates why he showed concern and care for his client. He let the noble express his worries. Let’s not forget that the jester is a person with a pure heart, when he is true to himself. Hence I come to the conclusion that the mask serves as a protection for the criminal’s mind and heart. And now, you comprehend why Nameless didn’t feel remorse for hurting the painter. According to me, in this scene, it was Kim who was scaring the painter. (chapter 66) This is important, because the mask had two purposes here: to hide the identity of the perpetrator, but also to slip into a role, No-Name’s, the assassin. The main lead’s face was covered and turned around. At no moment, the “butcher” could see the victim’s gaze and facial expressions. The mask helped him to be ruthless, while he threatened Baek Na-Kuym. He might feel pity, but that was it. (chapter 66) In that scene, the manhwaphiles thought that they were seeing Mumyeong, hence they imagined that Jihwa’s safety meant more than the artist’s life and possible scars. But if you take my theory seriously, this was Kim, then the words from the butler had a different meaning. He was hiding his action behind the nobles. Only after paying attention to the mask, I realized the existence of two masks. (Chapter 61) (chapter 61) Smiling mask versus threatening mask. The presence of two masks explicates why No-Name had the impression that after the painter’s return nothing bad had really happened. He was not aware of the butler‘s wrongdoings. Simultaneously, since the artist had not been killed, No-Name imagined that he had done nothing wrong. (Chapter 61) Hence the existence of the Joker’s mask outlines the criminal’s duality. He can be a ruthless killer, yet he can be gentle and caring too. At the same time, it implies the presence of a biased view.
But let’s return our attention to the scene, when Nameless stands up in order to eliminate the vicious servant. Putting the mask had another purpose in that scene as well. It was to scare Deok-Jae. And note that in that moment the domestic got paralyzed, when he saw No-Name putting his mask and approaching him. Observe the divergence between the two panels from chapter 54. When Deok-Jae recognizes the seriousness of his situation, the mask is covering the low-born’s chin. Scaring an enemy was another function of the mask in real History. Greek, Roman or Japanese soldiers would wear one in order to instigate fear in their opponents. The mask gave their enemy the impression that they were not fighting men, but demons. As you can see, it was to disguise their true nature.
3. 2. The mask: a source of power and magic
And this leads me to the following observation: the mask in different cultures is often associated to supernatural powers. When a shaman wears one, he can chase evil spirits, cure illness, predict events etc… it was, as if the cover contained divine powers. Hence this is not surprising that in ENNEAD, the god Seth loses his mask (chapter 73), the moment he is deprived of his powers. It was, as if he became a human. This is particularly perceptible, when he accepts the judgement of Maat and says this. Striking is that in this panel, the mask doesn’t appear as a source of advantage, rather as a hindrance. He couldn’t see and hear the consequences of his crimes due to the mask. He was blind and deaf. By removing his mask, he becomes human and can face reality: he is facing his sins and the suffering of his victims, their wounded soul.
This leads me to the following conclusion, Seth chose to hide his pain under his mask. He acted as a terrible god, for he had lost his own identity. When Seth discovered that everything in his “life” was fake (his family [chapter 35], his son, his title [chapter 35], his power over the desert [chapter 35]), he lost his identity. Osiris made sure to imprison his brother, because the former was lusting after him and had the impression that the latter would always escape his control. (chapter 35). At the end, he raped him in order to claim him. The latter got literally destroyed, hence he hid his pain behind the mask and chose to hurt others. (chapter 37) In other words, the loss of identity was the reason why Seth decided to hide himself under the mask. Who was he in reality? The god was so tormented by his tragic past, Osiris had hurt him with his actions and words. He made sure that his brother would doubt himself. Hence the mask became the only reason to keep living. This item helped him to hide his wounds, but also not to lose himself completely. Hence I conclude that the “evil god” wasn’t just blinded by his heartache, but also by his mask, for the latter hindered him to see the real impact of his terrible actions. (chapter 37)
As you can see, we have the functions I mentioned in the introduction: disguise, protection and identity quest. Therefore we could say that in ENNEAD, the mask is a source of power, yet represents a hindrance. While Seth becomes human (chapter 73), his son makes the opposite experience. He transforms himself into a god, Anubis, hence he gets a mask. (chapter 73) However, this signifies that he won’t see his wrongdoings too, he will be oblivious to the pain he is causing to others. This time, his blindness will be caused by his resent. While in the past, Anubis was a sensitive and gentle person, but no real god due to Seth’s curse, in chapter 73 he becomes Osiris’ true son, an evil god. Why do I judge him like that? It’s related to Osiris’ words. The latter is encouraging his son to feel hatred for the one responsible for his curse, Seth. Moreover, he asked his son to forget his past signifying that he should cut ties with his previous family. Therefore I believe that in the future, Anubis will fight against Seth and even Horus. Nevertheless, the wounded Anubis doesn’t realize that he has been manipulated by Osiris. The latter used his vulnerability and fear to approach him and appear as his savior. (chapter 73) Besides, Osiris was in fact accountable for his injury (chapter 37) and curse (though indirectly). The latter took possession of Anubis’ body in order to approach Seth. (chapter 37) In other words, the god of the afterlife used a disguise, though his brother had the impression that Osiris was real. Yet, one might argue that in that scene, Osiris was not wearing a mask. However, since he took possession of Anubis’ body, we can clearly see the presence of a cover. Let’s not forget that this terrible god is not allowed to leave the Underworld, hence he needs a subterfuge to enter the world of the living. That’s why I perceive it as a disguise. While the Egyptian god used Anubis as his vessel, Kwon Sungha from Dine With A Vampire took a new identity: he became Sooin’s bodyguard. As you can see, in both cases magic provided the villains a new occasion to deceive their target. And this shows that a mask can eventually cover a whole body, when it is to create a new “identity”.
4. The visage and make-up as masks
However, I would like to remind my readers that a mask in literature and especially in manhwas can also have many different forms… We shouldn’t reduce it to the use of a real mask. And this is also visible in ENNEAD. On the surface, the goddess Isis is wearing no mask, just like Ra or Hathor. Yet, note that they are all women. Secondly, if you pay attention to their appearances, you’ll detect the presence of a hair dress and make up, especially around the eyes. This is no coincidence in my opinion. These accessories should be perceived as a “mask”. The make-up and hair dress are a form of disguise. This becomes really obvious in the manhwa “True beauty” from Yaongyi, where the heroine Jugyeong Lim hides her insecurities and true self behind a make-up. This is the real and natural protagonist (chapter 7), while we have here the disguised heroine (chapter 0). This goes to the point that her boyfriend Sujeon Han has no idea how she really looks like. As a conclusion, the make-up and hair dress should be judged as a mask too. That’s why in traditional Chinese theater, the actors have painted faces. It was, as if they were wearing a mask.
5. The importance of the eyes in connection with a mask
Besides, let’s not forget the saying: the eyes are the mirror of the soul. Therefore the gaze reveals the true thoughts and emotions of the person to his beholder. While a person can control his facial expressions, it is impossible to control the gaze. (Doctor Frost, chapter 2) That’s the reason why the author Black Apricot didn’t drew a mouth, when she presented Song Ji-Sung here. (chapter 9). She wanted her readers and the main lead to realize the character’s true personality. The latter was upset, because Kwon Soo-Young was keeping his distance from him and it looked like, he had found a new protector/boyfriend. When the protagonist Kwon Soo-Young had met Song Ji-Sung for the first time, he had only paid attention to his smile. Therefore he had misjudged his personality. And now, if you contrast the previous panel with the following one (chapter 16), you’ll notice an important detail: The eyes are closed, when the character is smiling. In this situation, the figure was actually hiding his true thoughts, this explains why the main lead couldn’t correct his false impression about his future lover. He had no idea about his true nature, as the latter keeping concealing his true intentions, he was faking his emotions with his facial expressions. This confirms my interpretation: the face can also be a mask. For me, this character is like Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In this picture, Kwon Soo-Young got scared, when he saw this gaze and refused his lover’s advances. He is brutal, selfish and very manipulative. And now, you understand why in ENNEAD we had two different kind of masks: Seth and Horus are wearing real masks, while Osiris and Isis use their own face and make-up to conceal their true personality.
But closed eyes is not the only strategy to create a mask and as such create a certain deception. The nature of the gaze can be changed due to the make-up. As you can see, the hair dress and the make-up can be viewed as disguise… and remember that a mask is judged as a disguise. That’s why in ENNEAD, Isis is a real hypocrite and deceiver. She is similar to Seth, as she has been terribly wounded by Nephthys and Osiris’ betrayal, yet she chose to blame Seth. She decided to protect her husband’s reputation in the end. She prefers blaming the real victim of this tragedy. And this observation leads me to the next conclusion. It is no coincidence that Osiris is painted in green. (chapter 7) Sure, the color refers to his death, a decayed body, nonetheless the readers should judge the painting as a cover. Since he is using a whole body to disguise himself, this signifies that he is hiding his true personality and thoughts more than Isis or Ra. That’s why it is not surprising that this god is particularly scheming and deceptive.
5. 1. The absence of eyes
And note that in this image (chapter 73), the god’s face is not even visible, a sign of his deceptive nature and lies. He is not revealing his true plan to Anubis. What caught my attention is the importance of the eyes, since the latter are a reflection of the person’s true character. In other words, the absence of eyes in a manhwa can have a different meaning that just an indication of “blindness”. The absence of eyes is a clue for deception and manipulation. That’s why in the Pawn’s revenge, Jeon Hee-Seong is seen without eyes in chapter 6: The hair fringe and the shadow serve as a mask. In this scene, she used her body to divert her lover’s attention and hide her true intentions. She was inciting Do Seong-Rok to kill on her behalf. However, this temptation left such a deep impression that the main lead was tormented in his sleep later. His unconscious was telling him that he had been manipulated. As you can see, the absence of eyes in the manhwa can be viewed as the presence of a mask and as such a sign of deception. We have another example in BJ Alex: (chapter 10) The mask is a combination of shadow and absence of eyes. Here, Ahn Jiwon was remembering his first love and boyfriend, who faked affection and care for him. As a conclusion, the eyes symbolize honesty and naturality and its absence the presence of a mask.
Therefore the readers should pay attention to the characters’ gaze and eyes. This observation brings us to my next point.
5. 2. The presence of glasses
I came to this topic “masks” due to Painter Of The Night and Dine With A Vampire. In both stories, we have two characters wearing glasses, the scholar Jung In-Hun and the internist Kwon Sungha. While examining their characters, I made a connection between the glasses and their personality. I defined the function of the glasses as a mask, because both almost act the same, as vicious hypocrites. They hide behind their glasses and their fake smiles so that people misjudge them. And remember doctor Frost’s advice: Observe that each time the villains from the two manhwas smile, their eyes are closed. It was, as if they didn’t want their eyes to betray them and the glasses were a tool to redirect people’s gaze to their smile not paying attention to the eyes. This item serves as a guarantee that people would rather look at their smiles in order to mislead them. This explicates why people close to them are not aware of their manipulations. Not only Sungha’s girlfriend has no idea that he is two-timing, but also he chose her because of her social background. Baek Na-Kyum also fell for his teacher’s lies, as he could never see the scholar’s real gaze. However, the teacher reveals slowly his gaze and as such his true personality, that’s why in the chapter 29, the low-born detects his first betrayal, but he doesn’t realize his vicious and double-faced nature.Observe that the smile is less pronounced, giving the impression that it is vanishing. Simultaneously, the eyes are shown oozing a rather cold and heartless side. In the scene at the library (chapter 40), he’s finally able to perceive his own reflection in the scholar’s gaze, since the smile has totally disappeared. The gaze exudes coldness, despise and filth. Combined with the harsh words “you were born to be a prostitute”, the painter’s identity and personality are literally destroyed. The scholar has reduced Baek Na-Kyum to a prostitute, the lowest rank among the commoner. They have no rights and no real identity as they are forced to do what their clients want. (chapter 41) Hence it is not surprising that the protagonist remembers the cold gaze. His eyes were the other reason why Baek Na-Kyum’s heart was so wounded. He could sense despise and rejection. In other words, the scholar had used two weapons to hurt the main character: the gaze and the words. This connection between the smile and the eyes is visible in Dine With A Vampire too. As soon as the smile vanishes, the eyes become visible unveiling their true personality. That’s why it is not surprising that Kwon Sungha has the same behavior towards the main lead Joo Sooin. The former has also destroyed the protagonist and reduced him to a puppet. The villains keeps calling him a pervert. He was even worse than Jung In-Hun in the sense that he kept abusing him mentally and physically after the coercive persuasion. Both are hypocrites hiding behind their glasses and their gaze. Therefore they are portrayed as cruel and mean hypocrites. The other common denominator is their hatred and rejection for homosexuality. Kwon Sungha seems to be even worse than the scholar, as he is in reality a repressed homosexual. He has sex with Joo Sooin, but resents him because he sees in him the reason for his “perverted” sexuality. He rejects sodomy because of the Church and his mother. Both reject this sexual orientation. I could mention Carter Nathan from The Blood of Madam Giselle (the fake and the real (chapter 13) or Jung from Unintentional Love Story as well as selfish and ruthless hypocrites. In other words, the next time you read a manhwa, be careful with characters wearing glasses, they might be dangerous and their smile might be fake.
However, the manhwaphiles shouldn’t generalize, Mathew Rayner from Under The Green Light represents an exception. (chapter 16) The main lead explains that he chose to wear glasses, because he desired to avoid rejection and fear. He had noticed that the absence of facial expressions (smile) and his cold gaze would be misjudged by people. Here, Matthew used the glasses as protection. And this illustration reinforces my interpretation: glasses in manhwas have a huge importance in the end, they should be considered as masks too.
6. The mask wearers
But the example with the glasses illustrates that there exist two types of characters utilizing masks. The first ones are the villains and antagonists who are hiding their true personality in order to achieve their goal. They need people and good connections so that they can gain power or more money. As for the second category, they are the main leads trying to hide their own issues and wounds (Nameless, Mathew Rayner, Ahn Jiwon, Yoon Seungho, etc). For them, the mask is a shield, they are trying to protect themselves from torment and rejection. Their acting is not mainly to hurt others. And note that the moment Kang Moo from “The Beast Must Die” removed his mask, he unveiled his inner thoughts and emotions to his lover Lee Ki-Rin. The latter is the only one who can control him.
7. BJ Alex: Mask and identity quest
This manhwa is very interesting for two reasons. First, in BJ Alex, the author used so many different types of masks. I have already mentioned two of them: (the absence of eyes and the shadow in chapter 10, the normal mask in chapter 55) . Why are there so many? The reason is simple. The central topic of this manhwa is the protagonist’s journey to find his true self! Remember what I wrote in the introduction: a mask concerning a protagonist is always connected to identity quest.
So it is time to focus on the main character Ahn Jiwon. He is introduced wearing a mask, for he is broadcasting. (chapter 1) This is his second identity: BJ Alex. On the one hand, he desires to remain anonymous so that no one can recognize him in real life, on the other hand this signifies that he is living a double life. He would like to protect his privacy, but also his secret life as homosexual. That’s why he said this, when his relationship with Nam Dong-Gyun was revealed: As you can observe, a name and as such notoriety can also serve as a mask. The president of the council was admired by his peers, he was so perfect that some students even wondered, if he was human.
Here, I could also mention two other manhwas, where reputation was used as shield and mask: Yoon Seungho in Painter Of The Night and Park Do-Hyeok in My Suha. The latter utilized his grand-mother’s favoritism, for President Lee considers Park Jiwon’s father as a black sheep. Since Park Do-Hyeok’s father was obedient, she assumes that the red-haired grand-son is the same. Due to this privilege, the villain was able to create the perfect illusion, he is the perfect grand-son. That’s why he is also faking his smile and the president is not recognizing it. But why is reputation a mask? It is, because people often judge others on hearsay and first impressions. The social medias are the perfect example for superficial and quick judgement. But we have to question ourselves about Ahn Jiwon’s initial motivations to hide behind a good notoriety.
But let’s return our attention to the manhwa BJ Alex. Ahn Jiwon had the reputation of the prefect student , for he was always friendly and kept helping people. In the beginning of the story, he doesn’t even know the other protagonist very well, yet he is willing to take care of him, when the latter is drunk. The president is seen constantly smiling and has never externalized negative emotions (anger, violence…). This explicates why the uke was so shocked and confused, when he saw a brutal BJ Alex. The latter had discovered his secret, hence the former felt vulnerable. On the other hand, Nam Dong-Gyun wondered about Ahn Jiwon’s true personality. But the uke was not the only one who had no idea about Ahn Jiwon’s true character. The latter was also confused.
What caught my attention is that Ahn Jiwon is not only hiding his identity, he is also hiding his true self from his fans. Note that during the streaming, he told old or possibly fake stories, until he met Nam Dong-Gyun. His interaction with the other main character affected his broadcast so much, for his stories felt more real, genuine and exciting. Besides, observe that in the picture above, Mingwa didn’t drew his eyes. This is relevant, because it truly exposes Jiwon’s life. He is soulless, signifying that he isn’t true to himself in reality. Why? It is related to his childhood. Due to his neglecting parents who always favored the eldest son, the main lead was forced to live in his brother’s shadow. But the worst is that his parents never looked at him. This explicates why the parents in all the panels are represented without eyes. This signifies that the protagonist was never confronted with his own reflection. (Doctor Frost, chapter 11). That’s why he became an empty man in the end. He has no idea about his true self (his likes and dislikes). He was forced to follow his parents’ requests and his brother’s shadow. This emptiness is palpable in chapter 49, when the main lead confesses this:
All these observations lead me to conclude that Ahn Jiwon had not only be wearing one mask in fact, but minimum 3!! We have
- the mask BJ Alex (chapter 1)
- Then he became a second version of his eldest brother: (chapter 49) Since the adults kept criticizing him, he imagined that if he copied his brother, he would get recognition and acceptance. In other words, he forced himself to become a second version of his brother. But even copying his hair dress and tastes, he was doomed to failure, for the parents had already categorized him: he would always be inferior to their eldest son. He realized gradually that this wasn’t right, for his parents still didn’t perceive his true identity. That’s why he feels drowning, when he loses his mask. He doesn’t have the impression to exist.
- Furthermore he had imagined, if he was popular at school, his parents would change their mind about him through the comments from people (other parents, teachers, students). (chapter 49) That’s why he chose a third mask: he tried to be admired at school. He was caring and considerate towards his fellows. However, since he had made this rational decision, in his mind he was acting. Hence he didn’t truly enjoy this situation. (chapter 49) He felt that he was forced to smile. Besides, I believe as he was fake, this admiration was quite superficial in his mind. Therefore he didn’t feel truly loved. That’s why at some point, he wondered if he would ever be loved… However, the readers should interpret this question differently: he was asking indirectly, when his true self would be recognized by someone. And the one who made him discover his true sexual orientation was unfortunately a player. That’s why the main lead was so devastated and hurt, when he discovered that his relationship was based on deception and fakeness. So after being sent to the army, Ahn Jiwon chose to act like in the past. He became a role model as a student, yet he could no longer hide his homosexuality. Hence he led a double life.
Through his interactions with the other protagonist, Ahn Jiwon was forced to recognize that he needed to drop the mask BJ Alex. In the presence of Nam Dong-Gyun, the dark-haired man came gradually back to life. The break-up and their last sexual encounter, where the uke refused to look at him, made him realize that he was in reality Ahn Jiwon and not BJ Alex. The latter was just a role and not his true self.
Because of the uke’s frankness and sincerity, the main lead was forced to feel emotions. And this leads me to the following observation. The author even used panels to illustrate a mask. (chapter 08) In this scene, the charater is disguising his true thoughts. The black and red are representing his emotions: he is irritated, because he needs to have sex with Nam Dong-Gyun. Note how Ahn Jiwon is avoiding his counterpart’s gaze. The figure is acting, his mask is his face and the presence of the colors symbolizes the repressed and hidden thoughts and emotions. Mingwa colored one picture in chapter 51 marking a turning point in the protagonist’s life. For the first time, he was acknowledging his feelings and as such his own desires. This picture represents the removal of one mask. He is slowly living for real, but in this chapter he still hadn’t found his true personality. The other mask (his reputation as good student) was still existent. Besides, he still believed that his smiling and caring attitude were just an act, while in truth he was genuine and caring. But due to his past, he had already internalized that this was just an act. And now, you comprehend why the latest episodes from BJ Alex are in color. The main lead had finally found his own identity and place.
As a conclusion, the masks in manhwas can be represented in many ways: real masks, absence of eyes, glasses, make-up, facial expressions (Painter Of The Night, chapter 54), colors, reputation, etc. The protagonists are often hiding their true thoughts and emotions due to their past, while the villains are using masks to deceive people.
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