Monday, January 28, 2013

Choi Young and his loyalty to king and country

by Hanjae

This is an addendum to my earlier reply to @guadi regarding Choi Young and his loyalty to king and country and deals with how he overcame the weight of the burden that translated to his shaking right hand, but it's rather interesting because it links to @myphim's point about the choice Gongmin faces - to be a man, or be a "good king" who places his people above all? Can the two coincide? The parallels are quite fascinating.

What Young had to realize was that the perceived "difficult choice" between either his heart (Eun Soo) or his duty (the king) was not a choice at all. He did not have to choose either; rather, it was a question of balance. To use a rather modern analogy, one of the main problems that married people face regularly is the conflict between the interests of his/her family and spouse. They find themselves caught in between when the two parties disagree, but rather than picking one side, often the best answer is to compromise. This is the answer that Young had to arrive at with the understanding of Gongmin and the support of Eun Soo.

Much of the pressure on him arose originally because Eun Soo's best interests were in direct conflict with Gongmin's wishes. There is a recurring theme of Young being forbidden by Gongmin from delivering Eun Soo to the portal or exacting punishment on Ki Chul/Deok Heung. This backs Young into a corner where he can neither protect Eun Soo by sending her home nor by eliminating her enemies, leaving him only the option of countering Gongmin's commands by his actions. This is emphasized in Episode 17 and 18, where Gongmin would have heartily disapproved of Young's attempt to save Eun Soo - the only difference is that Young decided not to give Gongmin a chance to disagree by acting first.

The flip side of the coin is also evident when Young chooses to do his duty by the king, whose decisions unfortunately brought danger or emotional distress to Eun Soo. We saw this again and again - when Gongmin forced Young to renege on his promise to send Eun Soo through the portal, in Gongmin's early dealings with Ki Chul when he used Eun Soo as a bargaining chip and again when Gongmin allowed Jo Il Shin to use Eun Soo as a propaganda tool. In every case, Young was forced to make a difficult choice between saving one and sacrificing the best interests of the other - taking Eun Soo and fleeing left Gongmin and Noguk vulnerable to Deok Heung's schemes, for example, while running to the king's defense resulted in Eun Soo's kidnapping by Ki Chul at the end.

We saw Young's conflict with the problem reflected in a very literal manner through the shaking of his hand and the dropping of his sword, which reflects the increasing weight of the burden that was his honor and duty. What is significant here is that, just as we cannot blame Young for leaning towards one side or the other, we cannot ignore the importance of both Eun Soo's support and Gongmin's understanding of Young's turmoil in Young's final, successful arrival at a conclusion that balances both love and duty. There are two factors that I think were crucial to Young overcoming his burden:

1. Firstly, it is Eun Soo's support and the lesson she had taught him with her joie de vivre that gave Young the strength to fight to survive, to live, in the face of Ki Chul's power. As Jang Bin had said, the very best doctor not only brings the patient back to life with her medical skill, but gives him the strength to continue living. That is what Eun Soo did - first with her medical skill, and then with her love and support.

2. Secondly, Gongmin finally understood through Young's answer to Ki Chul's question - "Don't you want to be king?" - that Young was loyal to the death. Much of Young's burden was caused by Gongmin's constant tests of loyalty; although I can understand where Gongmin was coming from with his insecurity, it also drove Young to the brink where he felt like he had to choose between Eun Soo and country because he couldn't have both. Therefore, it was key that Gongmin finally understood Young's request at the end - that Young is loyal, but if Gongmin cared for him as a friend and valued citizen, he should also care for Young's needs rather than forcing Young to prove his loyalty by sacrificing things that are also important to him (Eun Soo). That's the compromise that Young finally arrived at; the only way to balance both love and duty is for their interests to coincide. Eun Soo is ever flexible, but Gongmin had to come around.

Finally, Ki Chul's challenge to Young was also proof that Young's loyalty was unshakeable. Thanks to Ki Chul, Young realized that the real answer is to face the burden (of carrying the lives of so many on his shoulders) head on, rather than allow it to take over him as it did his master. I don't think it would be at all fair to judge him for his very human "selfishness" on his way to reaching this answer - it is hardly wrong for him to do everything within his power to ensure the safety of the person who meant more to him than anything else in the world. Perhaps at times it went against what is "honorable" and "dutiful," but would it have been honorable if he failed to fulfill his duty to Eun Soo by keeping her safe? It is a double-edged sword. To look at this in a glass-half-full manner, in a way Young was also thinking of the safety of the king when he pleaded for Gongmin to let him resign in Episode 18. He no longer wanted to put the king and the Wudalchi in danger due to his own perceived inability to protect all parties.

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